Canada breezed into the semifinals of the World Junior Championship with a 8-2 win over Switzerland in front of 5,533 in HarborCenter Tuesday night.
Seven different players scored for Team Canada, which advances to face the surprise team of the tournament, the Czech Republic, in Thursday's semifinal.
"I think any guy that goes on the ice, or any line, we have so much confidence in them," said Brett Howden about Canada's balanced offense after having a goal and three assists in the win over the Swiss. "Any time you get a line out there, I feel like it's a wave. We just keep coming and coming and that's how we need to play. Not backing off at all. Always keeping our foot on the gas pedal and keep going every shift we have."
Howden, Cale Makar and Drake Batherson (power play) gave Canada a 3-0 lead in the first period. Batherson scored again at 6:12 of the second while Jordan Kyrou made it 5-0.
Switzerland then changed its goaltender, pulling Philip Wuthrich for Matteo Ritz. That sparked the Swiss, who got on the board about a minute later on a goal from Dario Rohrbach.
Connor Timmins responded for Canada and the teams traded goals on the same power play in the third a shorthanded tally for the Swiss from Axel Dimic and a power play goal from Canadian captain Dillon Dube. Maxime Comtois added a goal with 51 seconds left for Canada.
Canada has just one loss in the tournament, the shootout loss to the U.S. in the outdoor game during the preliminary round. And Howden, a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016, sees Team Canada improving each step of the tournament.
"All the way from selection camp to now, we've improved a ton and we still want to keep getting better," Howden said. "We're never satisfied with what we've done or where we've gotten to because we haven't won anything. The tournament's not over. We're still trying to improve each day and not looking too far ahead, just focusing on the task at hand."
And the task at hand is that infamous hockey cliche about the little things. Because the little things, you see, really aren't so little.
"You know it sounds like the little things are easy and they don't mean much but in reality they mean a big part of the game," Howden said. "It's getting back on top and finishing our checks and just staying disciplined to our team structure. Everyone's bought in really well and everyone's doing it for the team. That's where our big success has been."
Czech Republic 4, Finland 3 (SO)
For the first time since 2005 the Czech Republic is heading to the World Junior semifinals.
Filip Zadina scored with 2:26 left in regulation to tie the game. After a scoreless overtime, Kristian Reichel and Martin Necas scored in the shootout for the Czechs while only Kristian Vesalainen scored for Finland. That gave the Czech's the win in front of 5,109 in KeyBank Center.
For Reichel, the shootout goal was a continuation of the family legacy. His dad, Robert Reichel, scored the first goal in a shootout win for the Czech Republic over Canada in the semifinals of the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Czechs went on to win the gold medal with Dominik Hasek in goal.
The younger Reichel remembered that moment.
"When we were at the bench before the shootout, the coach asked us who wants to shoot first and who doesn't," Reichel explained. "I said I want to go first. I want to score a goal for everyone in Czech Republic. After I scored, I remembered it was 20 years ago that my dad scored on the first shot against Canada in the semifinals at the Olympics."
Finland dominated the play, holding a 54-30 advantage in shots on goal, but Czech goalie Josef Korenar was outstanding.
"We had plenty of chances to put the puck in the net, but the Czechs kept going and their goalie was amazing," said Finland coach Jussi Ahokas. "He played a great game, and we didn't score. That was the difference."
Zadina opened the scoring, giving the Czech's a 1-0 first-period lead. Finland responded in the second to take a 2-1 lead on goals from Aapeli Rasanen (power play) and Olli Juolevi.
Reichel scored to tie the game, 2-2, heading into the third. Finland took a 3-2 lead 6:30 into the third on a tally from Kristian Vesalainen but Zadina scored his second of the game to send the quarterfinal into overtime.
The win puts the Czech Republic in the semifinals for the first time since 2005 when they won bronze.
"It feels awesome," Reichel said. "We worked so hard for this. We deserved it. They were better but we were luckier in the shootout. Now we're celebrating."
It's a disappointing end for Finland, which won gold in 2014 and in 2016. Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 27 saves in the loss.
Sweden 3, Slovakia 2
Sweden remained undefeated in the tournament, advancing with a 3-2 win over Slovakia in front of 1,445 in HarborCenter.
After a scoreless first, Sweden got on the board just nine seconds into the second period on a goal from Isac Lundestrom. Fabian Zetterlund extended the lead to 2-0 at 6:55 of the period.
Slovakia got on the board with a power play tally from Martin Bodak at 7:41 of the second period.
Sweden regained its two-goal lead when Lundestrom scored his second of the game in the third period, but Bodak responded for the Slovaks to cut the lead to 3-2.