Canadians clear quarterfinal hurdle, eliminate Czechs at world juniors

Justin Cuthbert
·4-min read
EDMONTON, AB - JANUARY 02: Connor McMichael #17 and Dylan Cozens #22 of Canada celebrate a goal against the Czech Republic during the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship quarterfinals at Rogers Place on January 2, 2021 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Connor McMichael and Dylan Cozens led Canada to an easy victory over Czech Republic. (Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

It was a bit of an unspectacular start to the knockout round for the Canadians at the world junior championship.

Canada struck early and then sort of just sat on its lead, eventually skating away with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic on quarterfinal Saturday in Edmonton.

Dylan Cozens scored for the third consecutive game, and Bowen Byram and Connor McMichael also had markers for Canada, which once again received high-end netminding from undisputed starter Devon Levi, who dealt with his heaviest workload to date.

It’s likely the Canadians will meet Russia in the semifinals, though the matchups have not been set in stone just yet.

Heat check

So, where are we with this Canadian team?

On one hand, it hasn’t been threatened for even a moment in this tournament, never trailing and now out-scoring the competition 36-4 through five games. The Canadians also have one of the clear two-best forwards in the tournament in Dylan Cozens leading the way offensively, as well as the top defender at the event in Bowen Byram forming arguably the most dominant pair with returnee Jamie Drysdale. Meanwhile, Devon Levi has also been the best netminder from a statistical standpoint in Edmonton, authoring superior numbers when compared to elite prospects like Yaroslav Askarov, Spencer Knight and Kari Piiroinen.

Everything else, though, has fit under the category of ordinary for Canada. Outside from the collective forechecking clinic put on in its New Year’s Eve victory over the Finns, everything beyond the control of Cozens, Byram and Levi hasn’t seemed so special. Yes, we’ve seen Quinton Byfield, Phil Tomasino and others really have a profound influence at times in the tournament, but when it came to troubling what has been a stingy Czech Republic side, it seemed few could make a difference. It was clear that coach Andre Tourigny wasn’t overly pleased with what he saw given how many changes were made to the forward groupings throughout the game.

It was the sort of win that would have many fans considering themselves thankful that Canada ran the table in group action and drew the least dynamic opponent possible to begin the knockout phase. Yet, the unexceptional performance from the Canadians could have just as much to do with the circumstances, and the fact that they captured an early lead against a team that still wanted to work to frustrate, even when trailing.

While the level of competition is increasing for the Canadians in the tournament, it seems only until they reach that elite tier of opponents will we find out just what this team really is. Fortunately that comes sooner than later.

Levi impressive

Despite the lack of ambition at times from the Czech Republic, it still managed to present goalie Devon Levi with his toughest test, and he hasn’t blinked yet.

Levi is steadily assembling one of the better stat lines in history for Canada at the world juniors, now stopping almost 97 percent of his shots faced following his second shutout.

What’s most impressive about the unheralded netminder’s performance to this point is his ability to track that puck. He is constantly square to the shooter, even when scrambling, absorbing shots mainly through strong positioning.

The fact that Canada has not looked remotely vulnerable at any point in the tournament is more to do with Levi’s performance than anything else.

Byram on another level

It was too easy tonight for Bowen Byram.

Never appearing to seem threatened by what the Czechs had to offer from an attacking perspective, the fourth-overall selection from the Colorado Avalanche looked loose in the quarterfinals, free and clear to do as he liked in his nearly 25 minutes.

Byram has been noticeable with just about every shift to this point in the tournament, but finally hit the back of the net versus the Czechs.

His goal is worth another look.

It’s a toss up between Cozens and the Unites States’ Trevor Zegras was considering the top forward in Edmonton, but Byram to this point is without competition when choosing a standout defender.

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