By Dan Burns
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Petr Koukal and Jan Kovar scored in the shootout to give the Czech Republic a 3-2 win on Saturday and hand two-time defending gold medal winner Canada their first Olympic men’s ice hockey loss since the Vancouver Games in 2010.
The Czechs, who now sit in the pole position to win their group in the tournament’s preliminary round, battled back from a pair of one-goal deficits in the first two periods and then persevered under pressure from the Canadians through the third period and overtime to force the shootout.
Canada’s Wojtek Wolski scored first in the shootout, but was matched immediately by Koukal. Derek Roy then missed and Kovar slipped one between Canadian goaltender Ben Scrivens’ legs to give the Czechs the 2-1 advantage.
After both of the next shooters missed, Canada had a chance to tie but after beating Czech goalie Pavel Francouz with a nice move, Maxim Noreau’s soft shot bounced off the post, giving the Czechs the win.
“I’ve done that before, I thought it was going in,” Noreau said. “I must have pushed it wide or there was snow, but don’t have to dwell on that, we can move on to the next game now.”
“A penalty shot is 50-50,” said Roman Cervenka, who took one of the Czech’s penalties and was stopped by Scrivens. “We were more lucky today.”
Canada last lost in Olympic to the U.S. in the preliminary round of the Vancouver Games. They went on to win gold over the Americans there and then went undefeated four years later in Sochi to reclaim the Olympic hockey title.
Those two teams were stuffed with top NHL talent, but this year’s team is largely a mix of former NHL players and pros from other leagues because the NHL is not sending players to the Games for the first time since 1994.
The win puts the Czechs atop Group A with five points, and Canada moves into second with four, having picked up a point for the shootout loss. Group play ends Sunday with the Czechs facing Switzerland and the Canadians up against the South Koreans.
Canada drew first blood on the powerplay early in the first period. With the Czechs’ Dominik Kubalik off for slashing, Linden Vey drifted in from the point and snapped the puck toward Mason Raymond, who redirected it inside the far post and past Francouz.
Kubalik redeemed himself a few minutes later, capitalising on a broken clear attempt by the Canadians. Defenseman Chris Lee fanned on a bouncing puck to the right of the Canadian net, and Kubalik grabbed it and squeezed it between Scrivens and the post, knotting the game at 1-1.
The Canadians went back on top later in the period, again on the powerplay. Rene Bourque, who played 12 seasons in the NHL, tapped in a rebound on a shot from the point by Noreau with one second remaining on a holding penalty to Jakub Nakladal.
The Czechs fought back again, levelling inside the first minute of the second period. Scrivens stopped a pair of shots from Roman Horak and Michal Birner, but couldn’t contain the rebounds, and former Carolina Hurricane Michal Jordan snatched the loose puck and went top shelf.
Canada continued to outshoot the Czechs but could not finish, squandering a two-man advantage late in the second period. After a scoreless third period it went to a five-minute, three-on-three overtime.
Both teams had opportunities in the overtime, but none more promising than when Mat Robinson came in on a breakaway but could not finish.
“Unfortunately the puck jumped over my stick,” Robinson said. “It just rolled off my stick as I was trying to pull it to the forehand to shoot.”
“It was one of those bounces that didn’t go our way tonight, and hopefully we can get those bounces later in the tournament.”
(Reporting By Dan Burns; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)