The 1985 born guys had 3 games against the Under-16 team of Switzerland on their schedule. The event took place in small Czech cities Trutnov, Nove Mesto and Lomnice and the games were attended mostly by the parents of the players. Although the senior national team of Switzerland isn’t sometimes taken seriously by the other teams, the junior teams have to be. So has the new Under-16 team. The young guys have beaten the Czechs with a 2-1 record, proving they are a top team. They won the first game 5:3, the second the 3:1 and just in the third game the Czechs recorded a victory, 4:3, on goals by Petr Vrana and Ivo Kratena, each scoring two. The whole Under-16 team is led by the star first forward line with Olomouc “twins” Vrana and Kratena and scoring wonder Vojtech Polak of HC Becherovka Karlovy Vary (registered 7 goals in the last Under-16 team game in the series against Slovakia!) Also in this series Kratena and Vrana combined for 7 of the 8 goals overall scored by the Czechs (Kratena 3, Vrana 4). The first line is absolutely dominating in the Under-16 team and all three forwards can be taken as serious 2003 NHL draft prospects. It’s likely that they’ll have some size at that time (Polak is 5’11”, 160 lbs. by now, Kratena stands at 5’9”, 165 lbs. and Vrana at 5’9”, 155 lbs.) and their skill is undoubtful. But the team will desperately need solid play from all of the lines, or it’ll be struggling. The Swiss guys were more aggressive, skated well and showed good overall skills. On the other hand the young Czechs showed smarts and great hockey sense, as usual by the Czech players. It’s a pity that the Under-16 team missed star prospects Lukas Pulpan (defenseman) and Rostislav Olesz (forward), both contributed for the Under-17 team. Olesz isn’t eligible until the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and could be the next superstar, he has loads of talent. He is already at 6’0” and 165 lbs. That’s something for the NHL scouts! Pulpan is just 5’8” by now, but an exceptionally smart defenseman with great passing skills. These are the two players the Under-16 team needs to be very dangerous. The coaches tried 15 new players compared to the first event, a three-game series against Slovakia’s Under-16, so this also could be a reason why the team didn’t perform so well. But the Swiss guys were great, we have to make the best of it and learn from this series.
The tournament of the Under-17 teams took place in other three Czech cities, in Slany, Kralupy and Rakovnik. This time it was a series of three games against the Under-17 team of Finland. Not an easy opponent, but the Czechs swept the young Finns, finishing with a perfect 3-0 record. The Finnish hockey style is known for his great skating skills and hard conditioning, but the Czechs were able to skate with them and played aggressively and both offensively and defensively responsible with solid goaltending, allowing 2,3 and 4 goals in the three games. A pleasant surprise was the play of Czech forwards, who scored 17 goals, averaging more than 5 goals pro game. The first game, a 6:2 win, showed that the Czechs are more than capable of skating with the Finns and they showed some nice plays which delighted the eyes of the fans (and NHL scouts). Current ELHD A league scoring champion Roman Vondracek of HC Sparta Praha scored his only goal in this game and so did 2003 prospect Kamil Kreps, playing already for the juniors of Litvinov. Both displayed good instincts for the game and proved that they have the intangibles. The next game, a 4:3 win, was a hard fought battle. But the team succeeded, the Czechs were willing to win and they deserved to win. The last game saw the Czech players outscore the Finns, 7:4. 2002 top Euro prospect Petr Kanko of HC Sparta Praha (scored his first goal in his first game for the senior team of Sparta in the Extraleague) netted two goals and so did first line center Jakub Koreis of Plzen. And the best is, that the Czechs won three times in a row against one of the top Under-17 teams in the world even if they were off 1984 star prospects Lukas Mensator of HC Becherovka Karlovy Vary (goalie), Ondrej Nemec of HC Slovnaft Vsetin (defenseman) and forward Milan Michalek of HC Ceske Budejovice (plays already some games in the Extraleague), all of them playing for the Under-18 team in Salt Lake City. The whole first line performed well, with every member scoring at least one goal. It consisted of defensemen Lukas Pulpan (1985 born) and hard-hitting Marek Chvatal of Trinec juniors (scored twice), at right wing there was the high skilled 5’10”, 170 lbs. Petr Kanko, at center playmaker Jakub Koreis of Plzen and and left wing excellent two-way forward Jakub Langhammer of Kladno. Every of the forwards scored twice. The Under-17 team looks to be stocked with prospects and I have to mention besides those mentioned above at least 6’1” winger Robin Kovar of Vsetin Jr., rearguard Jiri Drtina of HC Slavia Praha and young just-15 kid Rostislav Olesz (born 10-10-1985). They all performed well and contributed to the win at lot. It’ll be great for the North American fans to see those players at the World Hockey Challenge in December/January! And at the end I wish to say good luck to all the Czech junior national teams!