Zach Sawchenko is unbeaten at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, but he and his teammates know they need to keep getting better.
Prince Albert Raiders forward Jayden Hart tries to get a shot off against Moose Jaw Warriors goaltender Zachary Sawchenko. Prince Albert Daily Herald photo by Perry Bergson
“There’s been a couple of bumps in the road, but we’re climbing a mountain right now. We’re going to keep climbing (Thursday) and hopefully things go well,” said the 16-year-old Moose Jaw Warriors goalie.
“I’m happy with what we’ve done so far, but we have to keep pushing.”
Sawchenko and his Team Pacific teammates kept their semifinal hopes alive with a 4-1 win over the Czech Republic Wednesday in North Sydney, N.S. The are 2-1 and can finish first in Pool A with a regulation win over Sweden today. A loss would almost certainly knock them out of medal contention.
“It’s a huge win for the boys,” said Sawchenko after their win Wednesday in a game they absolutely needed to win.
“That’s what hockey players strive for — performance under pressure and performance on demand.”
In other action at the Under-17s Team West split a pair of games beating Sweden 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday and losing 5-2 to the Czechs Tuesday.
Pacific is made up of the best players from Alberta and B.C. and after two provinces battled last year at the Western Canadian Under-16 Challenge Cup, expectations were high. The team features the top nine picks from the 2012 WHL bantam draft and underage phenom Tyler Benson — the top pick in the 2013 draft.
“Team Pacific is always supposed to do well at this and I truly do believe we’re one of the favourites,” said Sawchenko who also played half of their pre-tournament win over the Russians and is enjoying the experience.
“It’s very fast and everyone is very skilled. It’s a different level and it’s a good level to be playing at,” said Sawchenko.
Prince Albert Raiders goalie Nick McBride got the start in the opening game as Pacific lost 4-3 to Quebec. Since then Sawchenko has backstopped them to the win over the Czechs and a 6-3 win over Team West.
“I think that first loss actually brought us closer together. It obviously wasn’t what we wanted, but we pushed ever harder the next game and got the win which is huge,” said Sawchenko.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s me or McBride in net, as long as we’re winning I’ll be happy,” added the Calgary product who is 5-5 with a .878 save percentage and a 3.45 goals-against-average in his rookie season with the Warriors.
Pacific 4 Czech Republic 1
Ty Ronning, Giorgio Estephan, Glenn Gawdin and Tyler Soy all scored for Pacific. Simon Stransky scored for the Czechs to tie the game in the second period, but Estephan replied 11 seconds later.
Sawchenko made 29 saves in the win.
West 3 Sweden 2 (SO)
Defenceman Connor Hobbs had a goal and an assist for Team West and Jackson Keane and Troy Murray scored in the shootout to beat Sweden.
Regina Pat Canadians goalie Logan Flodell made 38 saves in the game and stopped both shootout attempts as West won.
Czech Republic 5 West 2
Moose Jaw Warriors prospect Jayden Halbgewachs scored a first period power play goal for Team West, but it hasn't enough at the Czechs grabbed a 3-1 first period lead to skate away with the win.
Team West out-shot the Czechs 26-9 in the final two periods, but were unable to get back in the game as Daniel Vladar stood tall in the Czech goal. Vladar finished with 32 saves.
Keegan Kolesar from the Seattle Thunderbirds added a late goal for Team West who also features Warriors prospect Ryan Gardiner on defence.
It's a logjam in the Group A standings. Pacific, Sweden and the Czechs are all tied with six points. Quebec has four points, while West has two points and those two teams will meet in their final pool game.
The winner of the Pacific-Sweden game will win the group, while Quebec could vault into second place with a regulation win.