Brett Stapley of the Vernon Vipers. (Morning Star File)

Stapley pushes West to finals

Brett Stapley and Canada West are in Saturday’s gold medal game at the 2017 World Junior A Challenge.

By Jason La Rose/Hockey Canada

TRURO, N.S. — Angus Crookshank scored the first of four goals in the final nine minutes, helping Canada West to a 5-1 semifinal win over the Czech Republic on Thursday night and a spot in the gold medal game at the 2017 World Junior A Challenge.

The westerners will face off against the U.S. on Saturday (3 p.m. AT on TSN) in a showdown of the only two teams to ever win WJAC gold – the U.S. has claimed seven titles, while West owns the other four.

Brett Stapley of the Vernon Vipers scored a pair of goals for the Canadians, while Dylan Holloway and Brendan Budy added one each.

In all, 11 different skaters got their names on the scoresheet for West. The game was a battle of the goaltenders early, with Canadian netminder Zach Rose and Czech counterpart Milan Kloucek combining for 21 saves in a scoreless first period. Canada West had the run of play in the second, outshooting the Czechs 12-4, and finally broke through thanks to Stapley; he went end-to-end before cutting into the slot and catching Kloucek going the wrong way, putting the Canadians up a goal after 40 minutes.

Jan Kern tied the game with an impressive effort of his own midway through the third period, taking a blind, behind-the-back swat at a rebound and knocking it past Rose with 9:32 remaining.

But it was all West after that. Crookshank was first at 11:09, squeezing a shot past Kloucek from a sharp angle, and Holloway raced down the left wing before going short-side on the Czech goaltender to make it a 3-1 game at 14:02.

Stapley showed off his hands in close to net his second and make it a three-goal game at 16:45, and Budy streaked down the middle to finish the scoring at 18:53, delighting the pro-Canadian crowd at the RECC.

Canada West is only the second team to lose both of its preliminary-round games in regulation time and still reach the final; West turned the trick itself in 2011, when it won gold in Langley. The loss sends the Czech Republic to the bronze medal game; it will face Russia on Friday night (7:30 p.m. AT) in a rematch of last year’s third-place game, which was a 7-4 win for the Russians.

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