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Slovaks fight back to top U.S.

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Slovakia came out storming and took a quick 1-0 lead at 2:14. Libor Nemec cut around defenceman Ryan Chesley at the blue line, busted in off the left side, and banged his own rebound through Mbereko. The Slovak assistant captain is no relation to blueliner Simon Nemec, the #2 overall pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2022.

The U.S. struck right back with a power play goal at 4:42. Gauthier centered the puck to Rutger McGroarty, who directed it on net, and Boucher partially fell on Gajan while swiping the rebound in from his knees.

Slovak coach Ivan Fenes challenged the goal on the grounds of goalie interference, but after a video review, it was allowed to stand. Slovakia got a delay of game minor as a consequence.

The U.S. grabbed a 2-1 lead just after the Slovak penalty expired. Brindley deftly tipped Lane Hutson’s shot from the left side over a surprised Gajan’s right shoulder.

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In the second period, things temporarily settled into a defensive groove. Mbereko made a fine save around the eight-minute mark when Slovak assistant captain Filip Mesar, a 2022 Montreal first-rounder (26th overall), set up Servac Petrovsky in front off the rush.

Then the tide turned in Slovakia’s favour, suddenly and without warning.

At the midway mark, Dvorsky made it 2-2 with the man advantage. The 17-year-old AIK attacker, a top prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft, stepped in from the centre point and sent a magnificent wrister sailing past Mbereko’s blocker side. The Slovaks had new life.

“Me and Maxim Strbak, we switched there a little,” Dvorsky. “He passed to me and I faked a shot and then I shot and scored. That’s obviously great, but I’m extremely happy that we won.”

Next up, Baco streaked down right wing around U.S. blueliner Jack Peart and zapped a shot from the right faceoff circle home at 11:48. The heaviest player on Slovakia’s roster at 100 kg, Baco slid hard into the end boards, but was soon up celebrating with his teammates at the bench.

The Slovaks kept on coming and the U.S. defence continued to struggle.

With a delayed penalty to the Americans and an extra Slovak attacker on the ice, Mesar made it 4-2 at 13:20 when his shot tipped off the outstretched stick of Charlie Stramel. The Avenir Centre crowd cheered lustily for the underdogs, who were having their way with Canada’s cross-border rivals.

With under four minutes left in the middle frame, Logan Cooley embarked on a spectacular solo dash, but his attempt at a Peter Forsberg-style one-handed goal slid wide.

Poor discipline hurt the U.S.’s hopes of coming back. At 17:34, Kenny Connors threw a late hit on Slovakia’s David Natny in front of the U.S. bench and was ejected with a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding.

After the five-minute penalty expired in the third period, it was Gajan’s time to dazzle with his green gloves and pads from the NAHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. He robbed McGroarty and Chaz Lucius on excellent opportunities. At the other end, Mbereko stoned Alex Sotek on back-to-back chances and Adam Zlnka in all alone.

“We could expect that I will have more shots in the last period,” Gajan said. “So I was a little bit tired. But the guys helped me, so they made it easy for me.”

At 10:46, Repcik potted his team-leading third goal of the tournament on a partial breakaway. He fought off Luke Hughes’ backcheck to dangle his way in, and the puck ended up going in off Hughes.

At 15:08, Boucher got his second of the night with a power-play rebound to cut the deficit to 5-3. But the Americans would get no closer despite pulling Mbereko for the extra attacker. Ciernik put the icing on the cake with an empty-netter at 18:53.

Frustrations boiled over just before the buzzer with a scrum in the Slovak end. After a lengthy review, during which Fenes’ team stood with arms linked on their bench, Baco was assessed a five-minute major for cross-checking. The Slovaks celebrated wildly at game’s end.

“After this game, you can’t be tired!” said Simon Nemec, who played a game-high 25:31. “A lot of good things in this game.”

With just two bronze medals (1999, 2015) to its credit all-time, Slovakia is hungry to keep its momentum going. This victory isn’t quite on par with upsetting the Americans 5-3 in the 2009 quarter-finals in Ottawa on goalie Jaroslav Janus’s 44 saves, but it’s still an important building block.

This was just the fifth time Slovakia has beaten the U.S. in 21 World Junior meetings. The Americans have 15 wins and one tie versus Slovakia.

The U.S. takes on Switzerland on Thursday, while Slovakia battles Latvia on Friday.

“I think we’re gonna have a bounceback here, and we’re hungry,” said Boucher.

Sotek made his World Junior debut for Slovakia with one assist after being added to the roster on Wednesday. The 18-year-old winger from Poprad has a goal and two assists in 21 games for HC Slovan Bratislava this season.

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Bedard earns attention, rave reviews at CHL – NHL.com

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LANGLEY, British Columbia — Connor Bedard was the center of attention during the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Langley Events Centre on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old forward with Regina of the Western Hockey League, and projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft, had a bit of a home-ice advantage. He grew up about 30 minutes away in North Vancouver.

“I’ll have a good amount of people there,” Bedard said before the game. “I think some relatives. Obviously, my sister, my parents and some buddies for sure. I should have a decent crowd.”

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Tom Bedard, Connor’s father, was relishing the rare chance to see his son in person; Regina is a 20-hour drive.

“My wife (Melanie) actually is in Regina with Connor, so she gets to go to a few more games,” Tom said. “I get out five or six times a year but it’s difficult. It’s nice to have things close to home.”

It was a good show for family and friends. Bedard had a game-high six shots on goal for Team Red in a 4-2 loss to Team White.

The only people watching Bedard as closely as his family was the opposition.

“Keeping him off the scoreboard, that was kind of a team goal,” Team White goalie Scott Ratzlaff said. “Just making sure he’s always covered, making sure we’ve got eyes on him. It was good.”

There was a fair amount of physical play aimed at Bedard, including Team White defenseman Lukas Dragicevic taking a cross-checking penalty against him 20 seconds into the first period. Bedard also had a game-long, trash-talking conversation with Team White defenseman Oliver Bonk.

The frustration led to Bedard taking a penalty for cross-checking Bonk at 16:30 of the third. Bonk said the back-and-forth wasn’t anything malicious, more about the respect for Bedard’s ability to take over a game.

“He’s the best [2005-born player] in the world right now,” Bonk said. “It was good to get him off the ice for two minutes for our guys.”

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is used to physical play and won’t shy away from it. He was a presence in front of Team White’s goal on most of his shifts and had no problem battling in all areas of the ice.

“It’s hockey,” Bedard said. “It’s competitive and you’re allowed to hit so you’ve always got to expect that. It’s a contact sport and you’re going to get hit and you’re going to give hits. That’s part of it and it was good.”

Despite the physical play, Bedard still displayed his game-breaking ability. With Team Red on the power play in the first period, he wheeled through the high slot and fired a shot on net that Ratzlaff saved. Midway through the second, Ratzlaff had to make a spectacular pad save to stop Bedard at the net on a give-and-go with Zach Benson.

“The goalies played well and obviously it would have been nice to see a few go in, but it didn’t happen,” Bedard said.

Ratzlaff also plays in the WHL, for Seattle. Though it was his first time facing Bedard in a game, he knows exactly what he’s capable of doing.

“He’s just so dynamic, and he’s just good from anywhere,” Ratzlaff said. “You think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to commit because he’s going to shoot,’ and then he makes a pass backdoor right on the guy’s tape. So, I think just being ready for anything because he’s just so good and just patient with the puck so he can really create, turn nothing into something.”

Bedard said his focus now returns to Regina, where he leads the WHL in goals (39), assists (42) and points (81). Since being held off the score sheet in the season opener, he has a point in 32 straight games. He’s No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American players presented by BioSteel and almost a certainty to hear his name called first at the 2023 draft at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on June 28.

“When you look, you can see his similarities with his quickness, offensive smarts, that go up to the Connor McDavid level, but then just the pure substance and overall makeup of his game is reminiscent of Sidney Crosby,” said Dan Marr, vice president of Central Scouting. “He’s right up there with those players that are going to be all stars and win a lot of hardware moving forward.”

Bedard has said the draft is something he’ll worry about down the road. Now that all the attention from the Top Prospects Game has passed, he’s focused on helping Regina reach the WHL playoffs.

“I want to win in Regina,” he said. “We’ve been playing well of late, [won] four of the last five, so we want to keep that going and I’m excited to get back and get to work.”

Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class

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Still affected by carjacking, Mitch Marner speaks out on mental health – Sportsnet.ca

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 113, Kings 95 – Raptors Republic

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S. Barnes38 MIN, 7 PTS, 6 REB, 10 AST, 2 STL, 3-8 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 22 +/-

Scottie was finding his teammates all night long, one of the stronger defensive performances from Scottie tonight as well, first game without double digit points in quite some time but he impacted the game in other ways.

O. Anunoby31 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 24 +/-

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Solid shooting night for OG who was able to really impact this game defensively by being a menace in the paint, did some great stuff against Sabonis.

P. Siakam35 MIN, 26 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL, 11-24 FG, 2-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 15 +/-

Great night for. Pascal, defense was very impactful as he mucked up a lot of Sacramento’s acts through Sabonis, he was hitting his teammates all night, cleaned up on the glass, and kept the pressure up late with his scoring.

G. Trent Jr.36 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 7-15 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 13 +/-

Gary’s shot wasn’t all the way there tonight but he still managed to get a couple down, had some good looks in transition.

F. VanVleet38 MIN, 17 PTS, 4 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL, 7-16 FG, 2-9 3FG, 1-1 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, 20 +/-

Fred didn’t shoot the ball well tonight but he still put up 17, had a game high 4 steals tonight which is a testament to his impact on that end tonight.

P. Achiuwa28 MIN, 19 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 9-12 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 3 +/-

Great night on both ends for Precious, really impactful defensively, had some great finishes as a roll man and see created.

C. Boucher22 MIN, 16 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 7-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-

Great spark off the bench and made his presence felt at the rim on both ends of the floor, great energy tonight.

J. Hernangomez12 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

Didn’t really standout tonight.

Nick Nurse

Great game plan for Sacramento, never let Sabonis get comfortable, great minutes for Precious and Boucher.

Things We Saw

  1. One of, if not the strongest defensive performances from Toronto this season holding this high powered offense to 50 at halftime and 95 for the full game, really encouraging.

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