Undrafted, undersized, and underrated: Troy Stecher has had to work for every inch of respect he’s been granted on the ice. Now, with Team Canada at the 2019 World Hockey Championship, Stecher should be getting more respect than ever.
Stecher was a force in Canada’s win over host nation Slovakia, playing over 21 minutes, scoring a goal, and effectively defending against a surprisingly strong Slovakian team that had already upset Team USA. It was a wildly entertaining game, complete with comebacks and controversy.
The Slovakian crowd was boisterous in support of the home team and for good reason. The Slovaks have been surprisingly strong early in the tournament, led by their NHL defence: Andrej Sekera, Martin Marincin, Erik Cernak, and Christian Jaros. Combine that with some decent skill up front from the likes of Tomas Tatar, Richard Panik, and the ageless Ladislav Nagy, and the psychological boost of playing in Slovakia, and you have a dangerous team that has already proven they can surprise one of the favourites with their opening win over Team USA.
Slovakia definitely seemed to catch Canada off-guard early in their Monday matchup, opening the scoring on a wild scramble in front of the Canadian net. Matt Murray made the initial save on a tip, then sprawled to keep out the rebound, but Marian Studenic found the loose puck. When his attempt on goal was blocked by Jared McCann, Matus Sukel cleaned up the garbage into the open net.
A minute later, Slovakia stunned the Canadians and ignited the crowd even more by converting on a 4-on-2 rush. Murray made an incredible stop on Adam Liska, but a flyby from Canadian defenceman Brandon Montour gave Liska a chance to pot the rebound.
Canada battled back from the two-goal deficit with goals from Anthony Mantha and Shea Theodore, but then got into penalty trouble late in the first period. An Anthony Cirelli holding penalty was followed up by a boarding penalty for Damon Severson, which came with a ten-minute misconduct because it’s international hockey.
The misconduct for Severson, along with a first-period injury to Dante Fabbro and a third-period injury to Montour, meant more ice time for Stecher, as well as Thomas Chabot and Darnell Nurse, who were the only members of Team Canada to play more than Stecher.
More than that, Severson’s penalty meant Canada started the second period two men down. Stecher was one of the defencemen called upon to start the period on the penalty kill and was very effective. At least, until he was hit by a stroke of bad luck.
The power play was almost expired when Stecher, while marking his man in front, got hit by Ladislav Nagy’s one-timer. The puck deflected past Murray to make it 3-2.
That was the only Slovak goal scored with Stecher on the ice, a reflection of how effective he was defensively all game. Since that was a power play goal, it didn’t count against his plus/minus, giving a team-high plus-2, for what that’s worth.
It didn’t keep Slovakia from taking another two-goal lead, with Liska scoring his second goal of the game on a 3-on-2. The odd-man rush came after Jonathan Marchessault stepped up for a big hit instead of backing up defensively. It was a great hit, though.
Stecher held Canada come back, drawing a crosschecking call on Tatar. On the subsequent power play, Marchessault made up for his earlier gamble with a fantastic shot through the legs of both Marincin and goaltender Patrik Rybar to make the score 4-3. Then Canada tied the game a couple minutes later when Cirelli shoved in a rebound off a slick passing play.
That made it 4-4 and it wasn’t even halfway through the game. Seriously, this game was bonkers.
That’s when Stecher gave Canada their first lead of the game with his first ever goal for Team Canada. It wasn’t pretty, but the puck went in the net, which is literally all that counts.
Stecher took the puck down low on the right side. With Cirelli in front, goaltender Rybar expected a pass, so Stecher’s bad angle shot caught him off guard and beat him five-hole.
“I saw a little lane to the net, I was just trying to get there, create a second opportunity,” said a breathless Stecher during the intermission.
He also noted the impact of the Slovakian crowd. “At times it feels like we’re playing two teams,” he said. “There’s going to be nights like that and we just gotta stay composed, focus on our game and understand what's going to make us successful.”
Stecher’s goal chased Rybar from the net and gave Canada a one-goal lead heading into the third, but Sukel erased it on another wild scramble in front of the Canadian goal. Canada’s defensive structure will need some serious work as the tournament progresses, but, at the very least, Stecher is not part of the problem.
A game like this needed a wild finish to go with it and the game delivered. After Canada killed off a Mantha penalty, they got a power play of their own for the final minutes of regulation. That didn’t make the hometown crowd happy and they were even less happy when Turris took down his man in the Canadian zone. The crowd wanted a penalty but didn’t get it.
As the whistles and boos rained down, Mark Stone took the puck in the right faceoff circle and, with just 1.8 seconds left on the clock, ripped the puck top corner on Marek Ciliak, who came in to replace Rybar. It was a ridiculous shot.
That was it for the game. The final 1.8 seconds never got played as the crowd threw debris on the ice in protest of the call. The whistles and boos continued throughout the Canadian anthem.
It was a fantastic game for Stecher. He had never played for Team Canada at any level heading into the tournament, though he did play for Canada West at two World Junior-A Championships. For Stecher, getting the call to represent Canada was a huge honour and not one he takes lightly. Surprisingly, despite his lack of international experience, the 25-year-old Stecher is the elder statesman on the Canadian blue line.
Stecher is the oldest defenceman on the roster for Team Canada, which illustrates just how young this year’s team truly is. While Canada doesn’t have any teenagers on the roster this year like some other countries, they do have a few 20 year olds, including defenceman Dante Fabbro.
That slight edge in experience might mean the Canadian coaching staff will lean a little more heavily on Stecher as the tournament progresses.
Other Canucks at the World Championships
USA vs Finland
Finland has been a surprise this tournament. Despite their lack of NHL talent, they look like a team destined for the medal round. Their hard-fought game against Team USA ended in overtime when Quinn Hughes patiently held the puck and fed Dylan Larkin before he stepped in and ripped a shot blocker side.
That’s Hughes’s second point and he’s now a team-leading plus-5 in the tournament.
Sweden vs Norway
Much like their game against Italy on the weekend, Sweden had no problems with Norway, marching to a dominant 9-1 victory. William Nylander led the way with a 5-point game.
Elias Pettersson was moved to the wing on the second line with Elias Lindholm and Oskar Lindblom, though he still played on the first power play unit. That’s where he got his lone point of the game, finding Lindholm across the ice with a great pass, before he sent the puck to Loui Eriksson at the backdoor for the tap-in.
Jacob Markstrom returned from injury to make the start, though he wasn't challenged much. He made 16 saves on 17 shots.