Czech Republic Under-18 team at Four Nations Tournament

By Robert Neuhauser
Between February 9th and February 11th, 2001, there was in Munkfors, Sweden, a tournament of the
Under-18 teams held. The Under-18 WJC will take place in the Finnish cities Lahti and
Heinola in two months and this was the last chance to play against the top European teams.

The teams showed the rosters they will use at the WJC with all NHL prospects included, with
the exception of Russia, they left blue chip prospect Ilya Kovalchuk at home, he plays a lot
of games and they don’t want him to be tired coming the WJC. But the Czech team showed the
team that will play in Finland, with all stars. The roster included the likes of captain Jiri
Novotny, who now plays regularly for HC Ceske Budejovice of the Czech Elite league, sized
Martin Kasik of HC Sparta Praha along with his teammate, creative Daniel Volrab, also from
Sparta is 2002 top forward prospect Petr Kanko. Jiri Hudler, a possible 2002 top 10 pick, now
scoring almost a point pro game for HC Havirov Panthers of the Czech Elite league, played in
Sweden, too, along with 2003 forward prospect Milan Michalek. The elite of the Czech hockey
youth was in Sweden, testing and preparing for the WJC. NHL scouts could see the players
together, how they behave in practice or different game situations and the guys had absolutely
no problem with motivation when they play for their future.

But so do the young Finns, the team which the Czechs faced first. 2002 top goalie prospect
Kari Lehtonen was resting on the bench and the Finnish coaches have let their backup goalie
Myllyniemi play. The Finns took a 1-0 lead early in the first period, after a play created
by Tuomo Ruutu, 2001 top prospect which led to a goal scored by Kuusela. But the Czechs
took the second period by storm and scored three goals during those 20 minutes. It looks like 1984
was a good year for hockey players, 2002 prospects led the team in this game. Jiri Hudler
tied the game at 1 going into the second period and Petr Kanko scored the next two goals,
including the game winner. He showed his great acceleration and nifty moves along with
perfect stickhandling to lead the Czechs to victory. Definitely a serious 2002 prospect. Petr
created plays, wasn’t afraid to play in traffic and showed that he can outplay one year older
guys. Like Jiri Hudler, he isn’t too big, but very smart. Kuusela scored the second Finnish
goal in the third period after an assist by Jussi Jokinen, but that was it. Despite being
outshot 9-6 in the last period, the Czechs defended the victory and won 3-2. That was good for
the team’s confidence.

The second game was against Sweden. The Czechs repeated their great play from the second period
of the game against Finland and showed a perfect start of the game. They needed just 8 shots
to score 3 goals in the opening period. The “sized line” of Daniel Volrab, Petr Domin and Martin
Kasik, where no forward is smaller than 6’1” scored the opening goal, Daniel Volrab scored
after assists from Domin and Kasik. It was a nice play, simply passes and a final shot from Volrab
showed how nice can hockey be. Captain Jiri Novotny increased the lead very soon, after he
rebounded a shot from his teammate Milan Michalek. The last goal came by Ondrej Danicek, a
defenseman from HC Continental Zlin, who fired a shot from the point after a pass from Tomas
Micka, a 6’2” winger and a 2001 prospect in the mold of Vaclav Varada. In the following
two periods the Czechs just had to play responsibly and mostly defensively not to lose the win.

Only Kristoffer Jobs managed to bring the puck behind the back of Martin Laska in the net for
Czech Republic, but no other goals followed and the Czechs recorded second straight win.

And them came the battle for the championship against the Russians. It was clear that the winner
of this game will be the winner of the tournament. On the Russian side were all top prospects
with the exception of Kovalchuk, but players like Stanislav Chistov, Alexander Polushin, Igor
Knyazev or 2002 talent Denis Grebeshkov were ready to fight the Czechs. Their first line,
consisting of Fedor Tyutin with Igor Knyazev at defense and Alexander Golovin, Yuri Trubachev
and Alexander Polushin at forward really showed great skating and an aggressive play with lots
of scoring chances and Alexander Golovin opened scoring in the 13th minute with a powerplay
goal after an assist by Alexander Polushin. It was twice as bad because the penalty for the
Czech team was called for too many men on the ice…Defensemen Martin Toms and Viktor Uchevatov
delighted the eyes of the audience with a small fight at the end of the first period. Czech
2002 prospects were shining once again in the second period after Jiri Hudler tied the game
with a goal after a pass from Petr Kanko. It’s a pity that after this play the Russians ruled.

With really great movement and overall skills they overplayed the young Czechs and Alexander
Polushin was their player of the game because he also assisted on the two following goals
scored by Igor Knyazev and Yuri Trubachev. It was the Russia’s first line who ruled. In the
last period the Russians immediately increased their lead as Andrei Taratukhin scored his
marker at the beginning of the period. After that the Russians were in control of the game
and allowed almost nothing to the Czechs. An interesting moment was with two minutes left in the
game as the referee awarded the Russians with a penalty shot, but Martin Laska was successful
against top prospect Stanislav Chistov. The Russians fired twice as much shots as the Czechs did
and won the tourney after a deserving 1-4 win.

But the Czechs left a good impression, players who are locks of the WJC
team showed a fine performance, Extraleague games only help their development and the team
showed a good teamwork. Players like Jiri Novotny, a big skilled center,
Daniel Volrab, a playmaking forward, speedster Petr Kanko or supertalent Jiri Hudler
can really become excellent players and they proved it once again with a smart play.

It looks like the Czechs can be successful at the Under-18 WJC!