It’s become a bit of a broken record at this point, but Canada and the United States will once again play for a World Para Hockey Championship gold medal.
How much of a broken record?
Every single World and Paralympic final since 2015 has involved the two arch-rivals, with the U.S. having won the title in five of those six match-ups.
Canada booked their spot in the title game on Saturday night, scoring four goals in the first period and going on to a 5-0 victory at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.
It was a relatively comfortable win for the tournament hosts, as one might expect given their flying start -- Dominic Cozzolino opened scoring only 26 seconds into the game, and Canada was immediately off to the races.
“That was big, the first line started the game hot and had a lot of momentum, but we definitely had to battle through and get to our defensive structure to pull this one off,” said Canada forward Zach Levin, who scored his team’s fourth goal of the period. “We still stayed defensively strong the whole game and there were some moments where we lost our touch there, but we have a young group, we’re on a good path and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
James Dunn had goals 18 seconds apart beginning at the six-minute mark to round out Team Canada’s first-period scoring.
The fact Canada was able to take control of the game quickly was important in coach Russ Herrington’s view, especially in light of how close things were in their 2-1 round robin win over Czechia.
“You take a page from teams that are successful, and you look at our opponent in the gold medal final and what they did to China today,” he said, referring to the United States' 10-2 win in the other semifinal. “Sometimes it’s a matter of planting the seed of doubt, where they were able to do that to us in the first game by keeping it tight throughout, we were able to do it today with that start. But I thought Czechia battled hard tonight and had a really good game and I hope they win the bronze medal.”
As well as things went early for Canada, they were equally as close the rest of the way through. Canada added only one more goal to their ledger, that from Cozzolino in the third period.
Dominic Larocque turned aside 11 shots to earn the win, while Martin Kudela had 19 saves for Czechia.
As one might expect, Czechia was left wondering what might have been if things had turned out better in the first 10 minutes.
“It’s bad luck for us,” said Czechia veteran Pavel Kubes. “We had some mistakes on the first shift and there as a lucky bounce and it went in. Then the same the second shift and third shift and then it’s hard to catch up on the momentum… It seems to happen every tournament to us. There’s some game where we’re out of luck and the other team gets lucky bounces. That’s what happened during the first five minutes and that’s hockey, it’s what it is.”
Czechia coach Jakub Novotny was happy to see a response from his troops and hopes that builds into the bronze medal game against China on Sunday afternoon.
“We’re going all in tomorrow,” he said matter-of-factly. “There’s nothing left for us and everyone wants to win and if you finish a tournament with a win, it’s always a nice feeling. That’s how we want to end this performance here, with a bronze medal, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Canada, meanwhile, turns their attention to another gold medal game, and Herrington had no issues with laying out what it will take to find a win against an absolute powerhouse like the U.S.
“If we don’t control (Declan) Farmer, (Brody) Roybal, (Jack) Wallace and (Josh) Pauls, it’s going to be a long night for us,” he said. “If we can control those guys like we did the other night, we can hang in long enough that the crowd might get us something or we earn ourselves a bounce and do something we haven’t done in our long time.
“But it’s going to require our best version, and the difference is tomorrow’s best version has to be better than today’s best version which had to be better than Wednesday’s best version,” Herrington added. “Facts prove it, they’re the best time in the world and to be the best you have to beat the best and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
Sunday’s final day of the World Para Hockey Championship begins with the fifth-sixth place game between Italy and Korea at 11 a.m., followed by the bronze medal game between Czechia and China at 3 p.m. and the gold medal game between Canada and the United States at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available on www.sasktix.ca and at the Moose Jaw Events Centre box office.