The Czech Under-20 team coming off a slow start

By Robert Neuhauser
The 2000-2001 Under-20 teams schedule brought the five national teams to Omsk, Russia, first. The Czech republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden participated in the tournament, held in the first week of September. The home Russian fans had to be delighted as the very strong Russian squad captured the victory. The Russian team full of possible NHL stars prepares for the home WJC in December/January and their attitude to this tournament was quite serious. The win came after a strong showing, but the Scandinavian teams (Finland and Sweden) looked in a good shape, too. It’s not easy to say, but the Czechs lost their first three games and only in their last game they swept Slovakia, 5:0. As a result, there was a fourth place. There is only one tournament left before the WJC comes round, so it’s time to change something. The Czechs are the last U-20 world champion and they want to defend this title. But not with the play they showed in Omsk.

It’s already nine months since the Pitsburgh Penguins prospect Milan Kraft raised the World champion’s trophy upon his head. After the sweet days of the victory the coaches Jaroslav Holik (father of New Jersey Devil Bobby Holik) and Radim Rulik had to build a whole new squad. Last heroes like Milan Kraft, Josef Vasicek or Petr Svoboda are no more junior eligible and all are fighting for NHL jobs. So do 1981 born Michal Sivek (Washington) and Martin Havlat (Ottawa). If those two guys fail in making the NHL, so the core of the new team should be formed around them. Tomas Duba, Vaclav Nedorost and Jan Bohac are the rest of the winning team that is left. The others are no more junior eligible.

Only Ottawa Senators prospect Jan Bohac from those named above was present in Russia. He scored a goal in the first game against Sweden, which turned out to be an overtime loss, 6:5.

Against Finland in the second game the young Czechs played a solid game, but lost 1:3. The Finns were faster and created more scoring opportunities, plus the Czechs were all the game one or two goals short.
The worst showing came against Russia, a clear 0:4 loss. The Russians overskated the Czech team and were also better along the boards.

In the last game the Czechs beat the Slovaks at least. A shutout for goalie Tomas Duba, 2 goals for future superstar, 1984 born Jiri Hudler, but this couldn’t save the bad tournament. The other teams skated better, were more aggresive and their play was more mobile. The Czechs also had always to cut a shortcoming, they almost never scored first.

The bright spots in the Czech showing were grit, smarts and creativity.

The squads Top goalie trophy is going to Tomas Duba of HC Sparta Praha, he played almost all the minutes solidly, missed only the first half of the game against Sweden.
The Top defenseman is David Nosek of HC Ocelari Trinec, the Top forward then either his teammate David Appel or Vsetin’s miracle Jiri Hudler. A huge talent, maybe the world’s top 1984 born player by now.

No matter, the WJC team will need help of some players playing overseas. For example – defnsemen Vaclav Zavoral, Rostislav Klesla, Libor Ustrnul, Filip Novak or David Koci or forwards Zdenek Blatny, Tomas Kurka, Martin Erat, Michal Pinc or maybe Pavel Brendl would fit well. So 4 blueliners and 2 forwards would be optimal.

We’ll see how the Czech team’s play improves at the Four-nations tournament in Sweden, held November 10-13. Well, bye till then!