By Frank Wolf
Pittsburgh, PA- Team Czech knocked off previously unbeaten Team North America Wednesday in their final tune up before the World Cup of Hockey kicks off Saturday. Thomas Plekanec scored the game winner late in the 3rd period to give the Czech’s a 3-2 victory. Connor MacDavid was held without a point for the third straight game of the preliminaries.
“I thought he played his best game” head coach Todd McLellan said afterwards adding “I thought his intensity went up.” One scary moment for the captain came at the end of the 2nd period when Roman Polak (TOR) rode the Edmonton forward into the boards. MacDavid went down briefly. Several NA teammates came to his defense including Auston Matthews who cornered Polak, but nothing came of it and no penalty was called.
“I was concerned for the player, not because of who it was” McLellan said. “He plays hard, finishes his checks. It’s hockey” Matthews said following the game. Toronto’s 1st round draft choice and the first pick overall last June netted a goal for North America, his first. “Good to get one, certainly helps with the nerves” he said, adding “I like where our team is at, getting better, building chemistry”.
Team NA is playing out of Group B along with Russia, Sweden and Finland whom they’ll open up against on Sunday night (8pm ESPN2, SN, TVAS). “We know we don’t have a lot of time so we have to pick the best parts of our game and work on that” coach McLellan said. “I felt better about our team after leaving Montreal. I’m not ready to name a starter, not fair to my assistants to do that now. We have to evaluate.”
Matthew Murray the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup winning goalie started versus the Czechs and was credited with 16 saves through two periods. He allowed a fluke goal in the 1st to Ondrej Palat (TBL) while on the power play.
The teams played a scoreless 2nd period and when NA took the ice for the 3rd, Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) took over the goaltending duties. The Czech team continued playing a physical brand of hockey and were rewarded at 7:16 of the 3rd. Radek Faska (DAL) was camped out in front of the NA goal and buried a quick shot past Hellebuyck to give his team a 2 goal lead. The goal was a product of an aggressive fore-check that caught the opposition napping.
That seemed to spark Team NA who just over a minute later finally put one on the scoreboard. Shane Gostisbehere (PHI) fired a rocket past Petr Mrazek (DET). Mark Scheifele (WPG) and Dylan Larkin (DET) drew the assists and helped give life to the NA bench.
North America would catch another break soon after. The Czech team was caught with too many men on the ice and were given a bench minor. At the time NA were 0-6 with the man advantage. That goose egg hatched just 50 seconds later on Matthews equalizer. Gostisbehere and Johnny Gaudreau (CAL) set the Toronto forward up.
Plekanec’s goal proved to be the difference. The North American team built had the momentum going late and improved as the game went on. At 16:19 Nathan MacKinnon (COL) took an untimely roughing penalty that killed some of that energy.
NA had a PP chance in the final minute of play but were unable to convert, finishing 1 for 8.
Michal Neuvirth (PHI) started in net for the Czechs and made 25 saves. Head coach Josef Jandac said after the game “We wanted to be physical with them, slow them down.” The plan worked.
Team Czech will face Canada on Saturday at 8pm (ESPNews, SN, TVAS).