As their fatigue wore off, Team Canada's forwards flew through a 10-minute stretch to take control of last night's exhibition game against the surprisingly competitive Czech Republic.
Taylor Hall, Gabriel Bourque and Jordan Eberle registered a trifecta - scoring at even-strength, short-handed and on a power play, respectively - during the final half of the second period to help the home team win 3-2.
"After our big road trip, we were a little tired because our plane got back at four in the morning," Bourque said. "After our first goal, we stepped up and started to play better."
Czech goalie Pavel Francouz had shown a quick glove hand to stone the Canadians during the first half of the contest; his most impressive save came against Nazem Kadri in the opening minutes.
Played before 6,246 fans at the Brandt Centre, it was the final warm-up before Canada begins round-robin action in the world junior championship tournament Saturday against Latvia in Saskatoon.
Canada had played one night earlier, winning 3-0 against Finland a plane ride away in Calgary, while the Czechs were 70 kilometres east on the Trans-Canada Highway in Moose Jaw, where they beat the United States 3-2 in overtime.
Several of the Canadian players admitted to being fatigued, but the team's ability to play two-way hockey helped it overcome an early deficit in the feisty contest.
"The Czechs are a good team," Eberle said. "Look at the other night - they beat the U.S. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought match. They played physical and were getting in our face. That's something we're not used to with them. It was a little surprising, but I think we responded well.
"People see how well we've done in this tournament so they're trying to match how we play. That's our thing. We have to be prepared for that and try to counter it."
All of Canada's games, plus the playoff contests, will be played in Saskatoon, so the home team won't have to travel farther than from its hotel to the Credit Union Centre. The Czech Republic will play in a five-team pool whose games are in Regina.
The Canadians are the tournament favourites as they vie for a sixth consecutive gold medal.
"With a short turnover we were really tired," said Hall, who has scored in each of Canada's three exhibition victories. "I have scored in the three straight victories, but I'm proud that I haven't been on the ice for any goals against. If you play well in both ends of the ice you can play for [Canadian head coach Willie Desjardins]"
The Czech Republic finished sixth last year, and has played in the fifth-place game each of the past four years.
The Czechs have been short-staffed since opening training camp without injured forwards Zdenek Okal, Jaroslav Hafenrichter, Jan Buchtel and Dominik Pacovsky. Okal, who plays for Desjardins with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers, was expected to be a first-line scorer.
"We also didn't dress our second forward line," Czech forward Tomas Vincour said. "We would be better off with them, but we did pretty good."
Vincour opened the scoring by tipping a slap shot past Canada goalie Jake Allen. Hall responded 40 seconds later with a breakaway goal, followed by Bourque's net-finding wrist shot and Eberle's power-play rebound.
Jan Kana pulled the Czech Republic within one midway through the third period.
Trying for an insurance marker in the dying seconds, Eberle's shot from the Czech blueline hit a side of the empty net.
Canada outshot the Czech Republic 33-22.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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