EDMONTON — Canadian goalie Dylan Garand has long been awaiting this golden opportunity.
More than 18 months after losing to the U.S. in the finals at the 2021 world junior hockey championship, he once again has a chance to help Canada capture the tournament's top prize.
“It’s exciting to be at this moment now. But the hardest work is ahead," Garand said Friday after backstopping his team to a 5-2 semifinal win over Czechia, the country commonly known as the Czech Republic.
"We’ve got to do the right things here, get the right rest, recovery and be ready to go.”
Canada (6-0-0) will face Finland (5-1-0) in Saturday's gold-medal matchup after Finland blanked Sweden 1-0 in semifinal action.
Garand stopped 31-of-33 shots on Friday, and one longtime teammate believes he has more to give heading into the tournament's ultimate bout.
“He’s been steady and solid all the way through. … He’s just so focused and ready to go every game," said Logan Stankoven, who's played three seasons with Garand for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League.
“There’s momentum changes throughout the game and we’re going to need him to make some big stops tomorrow, no matter who we play.”
Stankoven had a goal and an assist in the semifinal, and was one of seven players to hit the scoresheet for Canada.
Kent Johnson had a goal and two assists while Connor Bedard, Mason McTavish and Joshua Roy also scored and Olen Zellweger added three helpers.
Czech captain Jan Mysak got his side on the board midway through the third period and added an assist on David Jiricek's power-play tally later in the frame. Jiri Kulich helped on both goals.
Goalie Tomas Suchanek made 22 saves for Czechia (2-3-1) before being replaced by Pavel Cajan to start the third period. Cajan stopped eight shots in relief.
Czechia was coming off a massive 4-2 upset victory over the reigning champion Americans in Wednesday's quarterfinals. Canada earned its spot in the semis with a 6-3 win over Switzerland the same day.
The undefeated Canadians jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second period on Friday before the Czechs roared back in the third.
The Canadians restored their three-goal advantage with 5:34 left on the clock when Roy swept a low shot in through Cajan's pads.
Czechia had whittled the deficit to 4-2 with a power-play tally 12:44 into the third.
Jiricek unleashed a long bomb from inside the blue line, sailing the puck through traffic and beating Garand glove side.
The Czechs got on the board midway through the third when Mysak sent a shot through the Canadian netminder for his fifth goal of the tournament.
“They’re a good team and they didn’t really get away from their game at all," Stankoven said of the Czechs.
Looking to make up some ground in the final period, Czechia swapped netminders replacing Suchanek with Cajan coming out of the second intermission.
Canada wasn't happy with its second period, either, Garand said.
“We didn’t play our best for the first 15 minutes there and then had a good five minutes," he said. "We knew it wasn’t our best and we wanted to really clean it up and have a good third period.”
Canada's second power-play goal of the day came 16:21 into the second after Czechia's Stepan Nemec was called for slashing.
McTavish capitalized, uncorking a one-timer from the faceoff circle that went in off the crossbar, boosting Canada's lead to 4-0.
McTavish leads the tournament in scoring with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists).
A penalty for too many men also cost the Czechs in the second.
With Czech forward Tomas Urban in the penalty box, Johnson picked up a loose puck along the boards and sliced it up the ice to Stankoven for a breakaway.
The Canadian Hockey League player of the year took a few strides then blasted a shot past Suchanek from the hash marks to give Canada a 3-0 at the 11:28 mark.
Canada was 2-for-3 on the power play Friday while Czechia went 1-for-2.
The Czechs came into the second with renewed fire and outshot the Canadians 8-0 over the first five minutes of the period.
Garand was forced to make a solid pad save 3:55 into the frame after a defensive breakdown gave Czechia's Jakub Kos a prime opportunity in tight.
Canada took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission after Bedard put away the country's second goal of the day late in the opening period.
Nathan Gaucher sliced the puck through the neutral zone, springing the 17-year-old phenom for a breakaway. Bedard capped the play with a blistering shot past Suchanek glove side, giving the host nation a 2-0 cushion 15:20 into the game.
The goal was Bedard's fourth of the tournament.
Suchanek made a brilliant diving stop on Tyson Foerster's backhand shot midway through the first to keep the game scoreless.
The Czech netminder couldn't get a hand on to the puck, though, and Johnson wasted no time firing it in from the top of the crease to open the scoring 10:04 into the opening frame.
Johnson has two goals in the tournament — both against the Czechs.
Sweden (4-2-0) and Finland battled through a scoreless first period on Friday before Finnish defenceman Kasper Puutio broke the deadlock with a power-play goal 5:18 into the second.
The Swedes had a prime opportunity to equalize late in the frame when back-to-back penalties left the Finns down two men for more than 90 seconds but couldn't get a puck past goalie Juha Jatkola.
Jatkola stopped all 23 shots he faced across the game and Jesper Wallstedt had 27 saves for Sweden.
Finland's captain Roni Hirvonen said he, too, has long been imagining playing for world juniors gold.
"It's huge," he said after Friday's win. "It's been a dream since I was a little kid. And now it's real.
"Now we've got to do it just one more time."
Sweden will face Czechia in the bronze-medal game on Saturday.
NOTES: Canada was playing without forward Ridly Greig, who suffered an apparent shoulder injury early in the quarterfinal win over Switzerland. Riley Kidney slotted back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for four straight games. … Canada beat Czechia 5-1 in the preliminary round. … Czechia has not won a medal at the world juniors since 2005 when they took home bronze.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press