Brent Sutter had never lost a game as a coach at the world junior championship.
It seems there is a first time for everything.
Canada battled back four times from one-goal deficits only to lose 5-4 in a shootout to the Czechs on Saturday in their second group stage game.
“It’s irrelevant,” said the 51-year-old coach, whose record at three world junior tournaments, including gold medals in 2005 and 2006, is now 13-0-1. “That has nothing to do with why I’m coaching here.
“It’s about giving these kids an opportunity to succeed.”
It was a game that saw 16-year-old phenom Connor McDavid benched in the third period after taking two minor penalties that led to Czech goals, then waste a chance to redeem himself by losing the puck on Canada’s final shootout attempt.
And it prompted Sutter to hint strongly that Zachary Fucale will get his first start in goal against Slovakia on Monday after Jake Paterson allowed four goals on 29 shots, and two more in the shootout.
“I’m not saying he had his best game,” said Sutter. “But there are others that didn’t play to their level for 60 minutes either. He’s a good goalie. I’m sure he’d like to have a couple of those goals back.”
However, the main message from Sutter was that it was a learning experience for a young Canadian squad.
“Whenever you put the Canadian jersey on you’re expected to win, but the reality is you’re not going to,” he said. “It’s how you deal with it. It’ll make us a better team.”
The Czechs, now 1-12-2 against Canada in world junior play, were heavy underdogs after losing their tournament opener 5-1 to the Americans, but they signalled they were ready by using some hustle to score the first goal through David Kampf only 7:10 in to the game.
The Czechs, however, had trouble holding on to their lead. Sam Reinhart tied it later in the first. Michal Plutnar put the Czechs ahead, but Jonathan Drouin equalized. Vojtech Tomecek scored and then Aaron Ekblad scored short handed. Jakub Vrana scored, but Charles Hudon tied it at 13:01 of the third to force a five-minute overtime and the shootout.
Drouin scored on the first shot, but David Pastrnak scored and Dominik Simon won it by beating Paterson with the Peter Forsberg move — a cut to the left and a reach back to tuck the puck in.
“He did a pretty solid move there and unfortunately, I couldn’t stretch out quite enough,” said Paterson. “I wasn’t too sure what these guys’ moves were, but I don’t think you can blame the loss on that. In a shootout, you do the best you can. But the focus now turns to our next game.”
McDavid’s game started well. He initiated a tic-tac-toe play on a power play for Canada’s first goal with linemates Bo Horvat and Reinhart, but things went downhill when he was called for hooking in the second frame and saw Plutnar score his second of the tournament one second after the penalty expired.
The Erie Otters star nullified a power play when he was sent off again for hooking 4:05 into the third and Tomecek scored two seconds later. Then he sat for a while.
“I thought at times, with Connor, his youth showed,” said Sutter. “He’s an exceptional player, but this is the world junior level and at times that’s going to happen with young players. He wasn’t the only one.”
Still, when the shootout came, he didn’t hesitate to pick McDavid, who had been scoring on them in practice.
“He’s a big part of our team and he’s going to continue to be a big part of the team, so there’s no reason not to use a player of his calibre in a shootout,” he said. “Unfortunately he wasn’t able to make the move he wanted, but he’ll learn from it and he’ll be better for it.”
Sutter was more concerned about loose play, particularly on two Czech goals scored off faceoffs in Canada’s end, and a second period in which the gap between the defence and the forwards at times grew well past Sutter’s limits.
That came after a strong first that saw Canada have a 13-5 shot advantage and force Marek Langhammer to make a handful of strong saves.
Afterward, the players were told to put it behind them to concentrate on Slovakia, who looked dangerous despite a 6-3 loss to the U.S. earlier Thursday.
“There’s a bunch of things we need to fix,” said Ekblad. “We need to be more passionate about doing the little things to win. But it’s a learning experience and we’re going to come out of it.”
“Obviously it’s disappointing, but it’s one game,” added Reinhart. “Our focus is quickly onto the next one. We’ve all been part of international tournaments in the past and it’s all good competition. You go through a lot of adversity.”
The back and forth battle had the mostly Canadian crowd of 3,011 at the Isstadion on the edge of their seats.
It also thrilled the Czechs, who had been beaten 8-1, 7-2 and 5-0 the last times they faced Canada at the world juniors.
“We are so happy,” said the shootout hero Simon. “It’s my first win against Canada, so I’m really happy.”
The result left Canada second in its group with four points, two behind the Americans and one ahead of the Czechs, with their two toughest games still to play against the Slovaks and Americans.
“Czech played a heck of a game,” said Sutter. “Whoever plays Canada, it’s the biggest game of the tournament. It was a reality check for us. Every period is important because you know the opposition’s always going to have their game at a high level.”
And he wasn’t going to get bummed out by it, even if he had never lost a game before.
“We lost in a shootout, its not like we got blown out,” he said.