USA vs. Czechia takeaways: Czechs play perfect defensive game to secure World Juniors quarterfinal upset

On Monday, the Czech Republic were stunned by Latvia as they finished their group stage match at the World Junior Championships. It was the first team to lose to Latvia in the preliminary round. Two days later, the Czech Republic defeated the USA 4-2 in the quarter-finals and reached the semi-finals against Canada.

“I think we learned a lesson against Latvia,” said Czech captain Jan Mysak after the win. “They wanted it more than we did. Today we tried to do the same.”

The Czechs played an almost flawless defensive game, limiting the Americans in the offensive zone and frustrating them with their physical play. The second period was the game changer; The Czech Republic kept the USA on target with just four shots and extended a 3-1 lead.

Tomas Suchanek was strong on the net for the Czech Republic. He had to make a few big saves but for the most part the Czech defense made life easy for him. He could track and see shots clearly and his rebound control was solid. He didn’t give the Americans second chances.

As the Czech Republic take on Canada on Friday, the USA not only leave Edmonton without a second consecutive gold medal, but also without a medal.

MORE: Schedule, Scores, Results for all World Juniors 2022 games

The Sporting News has three key takeaways from America’s sad defeat by the Czech Republic:

Three takeaways from the United States’ World Juniors quarterfinal loss to the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has stopped the pre-check of the USA

The USA’s strength in this tournament was their pre-control. The Americans used their speed to get the puck deep into the opponent’s zone, disengaging their defenders from the puck and gaining control.

The Czech Republic didn’t allow that and started in the neutral zone. While previous teams fell behind, allowing the US to fly through the middle of the ice and gain speed into the offensive zone, the Czechs frustrated the game, strengthened and missed body from US skaters. This not only made it difficult to get that high speed into the precheck, but also getting the puck into the Czech zone.

MORE: Team USA 2022 World Juniors roster, results

Even when the USA got the puck under the Czech goal line, the team didn’t win the 1v1 fights like in previous games. The Czech Republic is a great team that plays the physical game as well as anyone else. The US got a taste for it and couldn’t adapt.

Czech Republic took care of the puck

Want to know step 1 to beat a team like USA? Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with sales and freebies.

The Czech Republic was responsible for the whole game with the puck. It made smart plays in all three zones and never forced a pass or shot unless it was necessary. There were no risky course passes, no extra dekes at the blue line, no blind-drop passes. The team was efficient at moving the puck and getting it out of the zone.

The USA’s first goal was a stroke of luck. Goalie Tomas Suchanek’s pass from behind the net hit a support and went straight to Matt Coronato, who shot it to the net. Logan Cooley ended the game by potting the rebound. The second goal came on the power play.

The preliminary rounds showed that teams who flipped the puck and gave the Americans extra chances made those opponents pay by putting the puck in the back of the net. The Czech Republic didn’t make it and thus entered the semi-finals.

Luke Hughes was limited by a lower body injury

What makes Hughes great is his ability to skate. He can fly the puck at full throttle, and his skating helps with transition play.

So in the second and third period against the Czech Republic it was pretty easy to see that something was wrong with him. Hughes appeared to have injured his knee on a fluke, slamming it into a Czech player’s leg late in the first half. He left towards the end of the period but came back for the second and played the rest of the game.

But it was clear that he was struggling and not playing 100 percent. Hughes didn’t jump into the game that often. He didn’t open his hips and faced the defenders as they attacked him from the outside.

MORE: Why is the World Juniors being played in August?

Even in the third period, when he was more comfortable, he still wasn’t his dynamic self. USA had a five-minute power play in the third period, but it was clear that Hughes didn’t risk running across the blue line and turning away from opponents as usual. He just wasn’t the seminal Luke Hughes who helped make America a dangerous team.

If there’s one positive aspect to USA’s elimination, it’s that Hughes won’t be playing again on that injured leg. We’ll see how bad the injury is in the coming days but the hope is it’s nothing serious for the Devils perspective.

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