MONTREAL — Denis Godla went from sacrificial lamb in Canadian eyes to story of Day 2 of the world junior.
A simple and inexorable law of the world junior championship is that any team is a hot — or cold — goalie away from having the course the experts have projected altered. Godla was absolutely dialed in just hours after being mercy-pulled against Canada, stopping 37-of-38 shots during a 2-1 Group A win over Finland. The 19-year-old goalie robbed Finland's 16-year-old phenom Jesse Puljujarvi with a pad save in the first period and just got stronger and stronger. Some good fortune — a pinged post in the final minutes — also helped.
"When Canada plays at home, they are three times stronger than when they play in Europe," Godla said through an interpreter. "We slept overnight [after Friday's 8-0 loss] and got all our worries away. It was a new beginning today and we worked very strongly. We told ourselves we had to play easy [relaxed]. We played a lot faster in the defensive zone so we didn't make any stupid mistakes.
"I had big help from my players," Godla added. "They blocked a lot of shots and the rebounds were being cleared ... This is the highlight of my career."
Slovakia (1-0-0-1 with Team USA and Germany left to play in the round-robin) followed the international hockey blueprint to a T. It had only 12 shots on Juuse Saros, last season's world junior-winning goal, but got goals on point shots from Peter Cehlarik and Marcus Holenda off setups from Montreal Canadiens prospect Martin Réway.
The chemistry developed within the Orange 20 Bratislava squad also came to the fore. Eleven of the squad's defenceman and forwards, along with Godla and fellow goalie David Okolicany, play for that centralized under-20 program in the country's pro league. That seemed like a reason for the tight coverage in the danger zone around the net, where Finland seldom got a good look at a second shot.
"Having the U20 team is great for getting into the system we play, to get used to it and used to each other," said Cehlarik, who plays regularly for Lulea in Sweden. "The rest of us, we just jump in and try to fit in. It helps.
"We tried to throw away the game from yesterday and stay positive," Cehlarik added. "We had a huge game [vs. Finland] and hopefully it's going to push us to play better and better."
Réway: 'It was not a good game for me'
The result leaves Finland (0-0-1-1) with just a single point from two games with games left vs. Canada and Germany on days 4 and 6. That Finland-Germany nightcap on New Year's Eve suddenly has medal-round implications, since Finland might need to win to assure itself of a quarter-final berth.
Meantime, Slovakia is in a much better position even though Réway did not meet his expectations on Saturday. While he had the primary assists on both goals, the former Gatineau Olympiques star pointed out that he let Mikko Rantanen get open for the only Finland goal during the first period.
"I had some bad turnovers," said Réway, who turned pro with Sparta Prague after playing in his first senior world championship last spring.. "The first goal they scored was my guy. I have to keep going and playing better than this because it was not a good game for me."
Slovakia faces Team USA, which will be in the second of back-to-backs, on Monday afternoon. Its final Group A game is against Germany. Réway emphasized it's just a start, even if the result gave a lot of observers a start.
"This win is big for us," Réway said. "Against the U.S., it's going to be same as against Canada. It's a big challenge for us to prove we can be a better team than we were today. If we can play like we did today, anything's possible."
That starts with the goalie. Godla might have had a rough start on the tournament's main stage, but that went against form.
"I think he's shown since beginning with the U20 team that he could be the guy," Cehlarik said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.