It has been a wild and wooly World Championship tournament for Team Canada.
Canada suffered a surprise upset to a Finnish team devoid of NHL players that looks less like an upset now that Finland has made the gold medal game. They pulled out a win with a last-second goal in a wildly entertaining 6-5 game against Slovakia. Then it took another last-second goal in to push their quarterfinal against Switzerland to overtime where they won to make the semifinal.
Now Canada is heading to the gold medal game against Finland after a big win over Czechia. Along for the ride is the Canucks’ Troy Stecher, but he’s definitely not just a passenger.
Stecher has had an up-and-down tournament, though he’s played at a high level throughout. The up-and-down element is in how he’s been used. He started on the third pairing, but got a lot more ice time as the preliminary round progressed, thanks to injuries to Brandon Montour and Dante Fabbro. He scored a big goal in the win over Slovakia, while playing over 21 minutes.
As Fabbro returned from injury and Canada added Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Philippe Myers, however, Stecher saw his ice time drop once again: he played under 10 minutes against Team USA to end the preliminary round and against Switzerland in the quarterfinal.
Stecher still had a key role to play in the semifinal win over Czechia. Five minutes into the first period, Stecher jumped up in the rush, carried the puck down the right wing, and centred for Mark Stone in front. Czech goaltender Patrik Bartosak, expecting the pass to go all the way across to Jonathan Marchessault, was caught off his post when Stone deflected it instead, scoring his tournament-leading eighth goal.
Stecher played just 10:44, rotating on pairings with Thomas Chabot and Dante Fabbro, where he played on his off-side on the left. Despite his limited ice time, he was very effective, battling down low against Czech forwards and moving the puck quickly up ice with his passing and skating.
Meanwhile, Matt Murray was magnificent in net, making multiple incredible saves on great Czech chances. He had a shutout until the 54th minute and finished the game with 40 saves on 41 shots.
Stecher was on the ice for three of Canada’s five goals, showing how much of a positive impact he had despite limited ice time. The puck spent a lot of time in the offensive zone when he was on the ice. He now has three points in nine games and is plus-nine for the tournament.
Now, Stecher and Team Canada will move on to a rematch with Finland for the gold medal. Canada hasn’t lost since dropping their opener 3-1, but Finland has made a habit all tournament of catching favourites off guard. With great goaltending from Kevin Lankanen — who made 32 saves to shut out the powerhouse Russians in their semifinal — sound defensive structure, and a star turn from Kaapo Kakko, Finland can’t be taken lightly.
That means the 2019 World Hockey Championship will begin and end with games between Canada and Finland. Canada is guaranteed a medal after being held out of the medals last season, while Finland will be looking for their first gold medal since 2011.