Czechia stuns Finland with big comeback to win WJC bronze medal

Czechia's Jiri Kulich celebrates with teammates after scoring during the IIHF World Junior Championship ice hockey match, bronze medal game, between Czechia and Finland at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden, Friday Jan. 5, 2024. (Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT via AP)

Tomas Hamara’s country hadn’t won a medal at the world junior hockey championship in nearly two decades heading into the 2023 tournament.

Czechia now owns two in two years.

Hamara scored the winner with 1:41 left in regulation Friday as the Czechs battled back from a 5-2 deficit late in the second period to shock Finland 8-5 and win bronze. 

“We played as a team the whole tournament,” said the Ottawa Senators prospect, who also had two assists. “There weren’t really any individuals. It was a team. 

“I’m really happy to be part of that.” 

Czechia lost the gold-medal game 12 months ago to Canada after finishing fourth in 2022. Before that, the nation hadn’t secured any hardware at the under-20 event since grabbing silver in 2005.

Ondrej Becher added a hat trick and two assists for the Czechs, while Jiri Kulich scored a pair and set up two others. 

Jakub Stancl chipped in a goal and an assist. Dominik Rymon had one of two Czech empty netters. Matyas Melovsky helped out with three assists. 

“It’s really tough,” Hamara said of the comeback. “But we did believe after the second period that we can do it.

“We knew that not a lot of people believed in us, but we did.” 

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Michael Hrabal started in goal for Czechia, but was pulled before the eight-minute mark after giving up two goals on three shots. Jakub Vondras stopped 17 of 20 shots in relief. 

The United States defeated Sweden 6-2 in the gold-medal game later Friday, leaving the hosts still looking for their first-ever tournament win on home soil. 

Lenni Hameenaho scored twice for Finland. Jani Nyman added a goal and an assist. 

Rasmus Kumpulainen and Konsta Helenius provided the rest of the offence for the Finns, who were also held off the podium 12 months ago after taking silver in 2022. 

Aleksanteri Kaskimaki and Kasper Kulonummi both added two assists. Niklas Kokko made 23 stops. 

Czechia dropped the semifinal to Sweden after upsetting Canada in the quarters.

Down 5-4 late in regulation, Becher tied things with 1:56 left on the clock when he fired home a rebound. 

Hamara then blasted the winner on a point shot 15 seconds later before Rymon and Becher added empty netters. 

Finland, which was looking for its 18th world junior medal, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first. 

The Czechs tied it with goals on either side of the intermission, but Helenius made it 3-2 at 8:52 of the second before Hameenaho scored his first of the afternoon just 19 seconds later. He added his second of the game at 14:32 for a 5-2 lead. 

But Becher got one back for the Czechs with 55 seconds left in the period to cut the deficit to two through 40 minutes. Kulich scored his second at 4:41 of the third to make it 5-4 before that late surge pushed his country onto the podium for a fifth time. 

“We really wanted a medal again,” Hamara said at the conclusion of his third world juniors. “So happy it happened.” 

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