Canada downs pesky Czech Republic, to play Sweden in semifinal

Mitchell Stephens returned from injury to score a goal and set up two more as Canada downed the Czech Republic 5-3 in a quarter-final on Monday at the world junior hockey championship.

Julien Gauthier, with two, Blake Speers and Thomas Chabot also scored for Canada, which advanced to a semifinal on Wednesday against Sweden. The Swedes downed Slovakia 8-3 in their quarter-final.

David Kase gave the Czechs the first-period lead. Kelowna Rockets forward Tomas Soustal got one in the second frame and Simon Stransky of the Prince Albert Raiders scored in the third as the Czechs, who were eliminated.

Stephens missed Canada’s last two games with an undisclosed injury, but the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect showed no ill effects in a game Canada dominated 41-19 in shots. Stephens, Chabot and Gauthier were on the Canadian team that lost in the quarter-finals of last year’s world juniors in Helsinki.

Canada had a 11-4 shot advantage in the first period, but the underdog Czechs caught a break for the only goal at 16:49 when a puck deflected in front of Connor Ingram and looked to going well wide when it struck Slovak referee Jozef Kubus and bounced straight to Kase alone in front of the net. His quick shot went under Ingram’s arm to give the Czechs the lead.

Speers, celebrating his 20th birthday, went to the net to redirect Stephens pass behind Jakub Skarek 3:45 into the second frame.

Anthony Cirelli won a draw from Michael Spacek directly to Stephens for a quick shot inside the near post at 7:27.

Fans in the less than half full Bell Centre groaned as Soustal used a toe drag on a rush to get around Noah Juulsen and score on only the Czechs’ sixth shot at 8:53, but Chabot restored Canada’s one-goal lead when he stickhandled through the defence and scored from the slot at 13:32.

Gauthier scored on a feed from behind the net from Nicolas Roy 3:18 into the third, but Stransky got it back at 5:54 as he swiped Ingram’s big rebound into a open side on the backhand.

Gauthier got another at 6:67 as he banged in Matt Barzal’s rebound.

Canada routed the Czechs twice before the tournament — by 8-0 during their selection camp in Boisbriand, Que., three weeks ago and 5-0 in an exhibition game in Ottawa on Dec. 21.

Defenceman Philippe Myers, who suffered a concussion in the final preliminary round game against the U.S., did not play. His spot on a pair with Thomas Chabot was taken by Kale Clague.

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