Warriors goalie backstops Canada to seventh straight title
The last time he played in a gold medal game, Zach Sawchenko was peppered.
© photo courtesy of Hockey Canada
The Canadian under-18 men's hockey team celebrates winning the Hlinka Memorial Cup Saturday.
Saturday night was considerably easier for the Moose Jaw Warriors goalie.
Canada scored four times in the first period and went on to beat the Czech Republic 6-2 to claim their seventh straight under-18 Hlinka Memorial Cup tournament title.
"It's pretty amazing out here right now," said Sawchenko from the Alcaplast Arena ice in Breclav, Czech Republic. "It was unbelievable. It was a lot of hard work that went into it, but it was an amazing feeling to lift that trophy over my head.
"This is a dream come true. Kids dream about playing for Canada one day. Playing for Canada is pretty special, but winning with Canada is a feeling that is out of this world."
Sawchenko finished with 17 saves in the final. That was in stark contrast to this past January when he made 48 saves with Team Pacific in a 4-0 loss to the Americans in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge final.
Canada beat the U.S. 11-5 in Friday's semifinal.
"It was something pretty special when we beat the Americans in the semis and then won gold," said Sawchenko. "It was a bitter-sweet feeling last year with a team from two provinces going all the way and then losing in the final. Now it's just something out of this world."
Sawchenko finished the tournament with a 4-0 record. He had a 2.25 goals-against-average and a .907 save percentage.
"Every day I tried to get better. There were some ups and downs and things like that, but in the end we got what we came here for and that's gold," said Sawchenko.
Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, Mitchell Marner and Travis Konecny staked the Canadians to a 4-0 lead after the first period. Czech starter Daniel Vladar was pulled after the fourth goal.
“We knew we had to have a really good start against (the Czechs) because they were playing really well,” Canadian head coach Jody Hull told The Canadian Press. “We tried to keep things simple yet hard enough for other teams to play against us.
“Our guys just bought into the process. It's an amazing group."
Radek Koblizek got the Czechs on the board with a power play goal in the second period, but Nicolas Roy replied for Canada. Crouse scored his second of the night in the third period. Marner finished with three points.
Lukas Jasek had the other Czech goal.
Canada won all five of their tournament games and out-scored their opponents 32-10. They also beat the Czechs 7-5 in a pre-tournament game.
In addition to their seven-year run, Canada has won the tournament on 19 of 24 occasions since it began in 1991.
"It's a great win," said Sawchenko. "Everyone bought into the system. We wanted gold. Everyone was so hungry to keep the streak going."
— with files from The Canadian Press