Ostrava 2021: Action-packed opening day see Canada top USA

World Championships kick off with Norway fending off Italy in thrilling overtime shootout, South Korea edge hosts Czech Republic and RPC beating Slovakia 19 Jun 2021
A group of Canadian Para ice hockey players celebrating
Canadian players celebrate the victory over USA in their opening game at the Ostrava 2021 World Championships in Czech Republic
By Stuart Lieberman and Filip Ozbolt | For World Para Ice Hockey

The 2021 World Para Ice Hockey Championships opened on Saturday (19 June) with the world’s top two teams facing off, as reigning Paralympic and world silver medallists Canada upended defending Paralympic and world champions USA, 2-1, in their first taste of international competition in nearly a year and a half. 

The result marked the first time Canada beat their archrivals on the Paralympic or World Championships stage since 2017.

“Whenever you take the lead against the US you expect a pushback of some sorts, so we expected that in the third,” said Canadian captain and the game’s winning goal-scorer Tyler McGregor. “But the end result is a testament to how well prepared our team was to lock down the win for our first game in 16 months.”

Twenty-year-old James Dunn, who was introduced to the sport by McGregor in 2013, put Canada on the scoreboard first with 10 seconds left on a power play in the opening minutes of the second period. Later in the frame, McGregor doubled Canada’s lead on another power play when he pummelled through a group of US defenders in the crease to smash the puck into the top corner of the net.

Two-time Paralympic champion Brody Roybal scored off a pass from captain Josh Pauls in the first minute of the third period to put the US within one. But Canada’s Dominic Larocque, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, blocked all the other shots that came his way to seal the victory for the Paralympic and world silver medallists and finish the day with 15 saves. Roybal led all players in the game with four shots on goal.

Norway 4, Italy 3

Later in the day, Norway fended off Italy, 4-3, in a thrilling overtime shootout in a rematch of the fifth-place game from the last World Championships — a match that had also ended in a Norwegian victory.

The result was reversed this time around thanks to three-time Paralympian Audun Bakke, who converted on more than 50 percent of his shots to score all of Norway’s four goals in the game, including the game-winner in the penalty shootout.

“I’m tired,” were Bakke’s first words after the game, breaking into a smile. “It felt really good, though. We played really well and stuck to our plan.”

Bakke scored his first two goals within 39 seconds of each other in the first period — including one on a breakaway on an open sheet of ice — to give the Norwegians the early advantage. 

In the first five minutes of the third, Gian Luca Cavaliere and Christoph Depaoli scored for Italy to even it up. Then with two minutes remaining in the period, Depaoli found the net again off a pass from mainstay Florian Planker before Bakke struck for the third time 14 seconds later to force overtime.

Johan Groenlie, who took up the sport just five years ago, was the winning goaltender, stopping the puck 12 times for Norway.

South Korea 2, Czech Republic 0

Making his international debut as head coach, former player and Paralympic bronze medallist Min-Su Han’s led his South Korean team to a 2-0 opening victory over the host nation in Ostrava.

Newcomer Jee-Hyun Ryu, who previously competed in athletics, scored the first goal of the tournament unassisted with 1:45 remaining in the opening period to give South Korea the lead heading into the first intermission. 

Then 1:14 into the second stanza, veteran forward Seung-Hwan Jung skated past three Czech defenders to double South Korea’s lead off a pass from Dong-Shing Jang, the same player who had scored the bronze-medal winning goal at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics.

South Korea would go on to hold its two-goal advantage, as goaltender Jae-Woong Lee racked up 18 saves on the day. The Czech Republic’s Michal Vapenka stopped eight shots in the game, with the host nation’s effort being led by seven shots on goal from captain Pavel Kubes

“The Czech Republic is a really good team, but we were able to win it and I think we can do even better in our next game against Canada,” Jung said.

RPC 7, Slovakia 0

RPC outperformed Slovakia in their debut at the World Championships A-Pool. They opened the first and second period with power-play goals which made the job much easier.

RPC scored six of their seven goals in the first 30 minutes of play and pulled up a little bit in the third period.

Evgenii Petrov was their best player scoring two goals. This is RPC’s first appearance at the World Championships A-Pool since 2015.

“We started the game pretty well. We know Slovakia good because we played against them in the B-Pool. They are strong guys, but maybe they had a bad start to the game today”, said Dmitrii Lisov, RPC’s best player in the last couple of years.

Next up on 20 June, Canada will face South Korea (11:30 CEST), followed by Czech Republic-USA (14:30 CEST), Italy-RPC (17:30 CEST) and Slovakia-Norway (20:30 CEST).

The World Para Ice Hockey Championships run from 19-26 June, with the top eight-ranked teams competing for a world title and five Paralympic qualification spots for the Beijing 2022 Games. 

All games are being streamed live on World Para Ice Hockey’s website and Facebook page  with geo-block restrictions in Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia and USA. 

The tournament will consist of three days of preliminary pool play followed by two days of playoff matchups and then the medal round.