Under-18 WJC: Czech Republic preliminary round games

By Robert Neuhauser

On April, 12th, 2001, was the time to start the biggest event for the Under-18 teams in the
season. The Under-18 WJC began in the Finnish cities of Lahti and Heinola on that day. The
Czech team appeared in the Group B along with teams from Russia, Sweden, Norway and Germany.
Those were the opponents they had to beat if they wanted to win the group. All the players
were eager to jump into the action and show something to the NHL scouts, but the main task
remained the victory of the team.
There was one change on the roster during the last minute. Peterborough Petes Lukas Krajicek
suffered a shoulder injury recently, which prevented him from playing at the Under-18 WJC.
He was replaced by Ondrej Danicek, 2001 eligible defenseman who played this season for the
juniors of Zlin. Danicek is a steady defenseman with good positional play, good passing skills,
but only average shot. But he did fit into the team quite well, he played at most of the
tournaments of the Under-18 teams this season.

The first opponent were the Russians, a team stocked with NHL prospects. Ilya Kovalchuk shouldn’t
be picked lower than second at this year’s draft, Stanislav Chistov is a projected top 5 pick,
Alexander Perejougin could also slip into the first round just like the goalie Andrei Medvedev
and the defense boasts top prospects Fedor Tyutin or Viktor Uchevatov. Russia is the hottest
favorite at this WJC and a solid game with them would boast the Czech confidence a lot.
But it didn’t look like that. Igor Grigorenko scored a shorthanded marker in the last minute
of the first period, giving the Russians an one goal cushion for the break. Six minutes after
the second period started the game was almost over. Russia grabbed a 4:0 lead, leaving
Miroslav Kopriva in the net for the Czechs confused. The fourth goal of the Russians was the
first that Ilya Kovalchuk scored at the tournament. Two minutes after that Petr Kanko showed
his knack for scoring when he has beaten the Russian goalie after a pass from Petr Domin.
The tragedy was, that it was the only Czech goal till the score was 8:1. The Russian team
showed his usual play, they wanted to decide the game very early and they managed to do it.
After the second break the Czechs had to open the defense and Miroslav Kopriva and to face
dangerous scoring chances. But also the Czechs were able to create good chances, but it
seemed that the goalposts are their enemy. The Russians used long passes to create scoring
chances for the players waiting at the blue line (there is no red line at this tournament)
and the Russian forwards used their speed to get away from the Czech defensemen. The line
of Petr Kanko, Petr Domin and Zbynek Novak made some use of their chances and Petr Kanko
scored his second in this game with ten minutes to go. Captain Jiri Novotny, best Czech player
in the game, finally set the score at 8:3 with a powerplay goal when he returned the shot of Lukas Chmelir into
the Russian net with 10 seconds to go. But that was it. A frustrating 8:3 loss and a bad start
into the tournament.
The second game against Sweden could help the players boost their confidence or bring it to
total zero. But the Czechs were eager to make people forget the loss to Russia and this was
evident on the ice. Miroslav Kopriva, even if he gave up 8 goals in the first contest, was
again in the net for the Czech Republic and this time the young Czechs took the lead. Jiri
Novotny, who emerged as a real leader, grabbed the puck in a shorthanded situation and
went on a breakaway to beat the Swedish goalie – 1:0. Martin Toms, a potential 2002 prospect,
increased the lead with three minutes to go after a pass by Petr Domin. 2:0 was a nice score
to start the second period with. Of course the Swedes wanted to tie the game as soon as possible
and Fredrik Eriksson has beaten Miroslav Kopriva top-shelf to make it 2:1. The whole second
half of the game could wear the title “How the Swedes tried to tie the game”. But they failed
in this task. Even if they had a two-man advantage for 90 seconds in the third period, the
score remained the same. The Swedish pressure was hard, but it also gave the Czechs some
breakaway chances, however the Czechs failed to score. So even if the Swedes pulled the
goalie, they lost to the Czech team. The first victory of the Czech team helped the guys a lot.
They could concentrate only on the following game against Norway and not be disturbed by the
thoughts if they even make the quarterfinals.
The team of Norway has its biggest star in Patrick Thoresen, who is going to be a highly
touted prospect for the 2002 draft and this guy showed how dangerous he could be right on the
first shift. After a pass by Lorentzen Thoresen made a beautiful move to lift the puck over
Martin Laska, who gave up a goal in the first minute he was between the pipes at the tournament.
Fortunately Petr Puncochar scored a powerplay goal when he fired a slap shot after a pass
by Tomas Plihal, one of the best faceoff specialists at the tourney. The second period
belonged to the Czechs, who fired almost five times more shots than Norwegian players, but
only Frantisek Bakrlik was succesfull. Even if the Team Norway skated very good and played
aggresive, the Czechs had the tools to win. Tomas Plihal, Petr Kanko and Marian Havel scored
three goals within three minutes in the third period and the game was decided after that.
Milan Michalek and Frankie Bakrlik then created a goal for Jiri Novotny, who brought the
puck behind the goalie of Norway and the score was 6:1. One goal on each side has set the
score to the final 7:2 win for the Czech team and the only thing they had to worry about
was if they will meet the second placed or the third placed team of the Group A in the
quarterfinal contest.
The game against Germany should decide. The German team is full of gritty players, who
showed how succesfull they can be in the game against Sweden. The Germans now play
great junior hockey and are able to fight with every opponent. Dmitri Patzold is very solid
in the net and Marcel Goc, a projected second round pick at this year’s draft, is clearly
the biggest star on the team. But the Czech team was the favorite of this game. It looked like
that when Petr Kanko scored his fourth goal at the tournament after a pass by Petr Domin. Kanko
then fired a shot which ended behind Patzold’s back. Nevertheless the German grit payed
dividends in the second period. The Czech team stopped to skate fast and the Germans created
a turnover. Marcel Goc assisted on both goals, scored by Kleinheinz and Schauer. That meant
emergency in the Czech team during the third period. But they were like the Swedes in the game
against Sweden. Even if they tried hard, Patzold was a rock. Jiri Novotny, moved to the wing
of the first line, got his three-game scoring streak snapped and the Czechs gave up one
more goal when they pulled Miroslav Kopriva and Menge scored into the empty net. 1:3, a bitter
loss. That’s the thing that shouldn’t happen. The Czechs have to face to USA squad in the
quarterfinals instead of meeting the Swiss team. And a loss to a team they were supposed to
beat isn’t also good before such an important game.
Even if the team’s overall performance is only mediocre, they have problems with scoring goals,
they create the chances but the goalsposts stand too often in the way, some players gained
attention. Jiri Novotny behaves like a real captain, leads by example, takes the important
draws and is there on the ice whenever it is needed. He fights for the puck and is smart
with it. He isn’t selfish but also can fire the puck when it is possible.
Petr Kanko really showed his scoring touch while playing against players one year older than
him. Right now he shares the second place among goal scorers with Igor Grigorenko from Team
Russia. Sized center Petr Domin shows excellent passing skills on the other hand. He is the
one who creates plays for Kanko, who is then able to finish them. Big Zbynek Novak plays
the defensive forward on their line. Young Milan Michalek and Jiri Novotny also combine
well on their line with Marian Havel or Frankie Bakrlik. Miroslav Kopriva looks like he has
won the starting job and he handles the pressure quite well. But an overall effort of the
team is needed when talking about the game against the US guys. This will be a game which
will decide if this tournament will be a succesfull, or, like in the past, an unsuccesfull
Individual player scoring
Jiri Novotny  4       3        2      5
Petr Domin  4       0        5      5
Petr Kanko  4       4        0      4
Petr Puncochar  4       1        1      2
Tomas Plihal  4       1        1      2
Frantisek Bakrlik  4       1        1      2
Zbynek Novak  4       0        2      2
Martin Toms  4       1        0      1
Daniel Volrab  4       1        0      1
Marian Havel  4       1        0      1
Lukas Chmelir  4       0        1      1
Tomas Micka  4       0        1      1
David Turon  4       0        1      1
Milan Michalek  4       0        1      1
Jan Rehor  4       0        1      1
Ondrej Danicek  4       0        0      0
Lukas Dobry  4       0        0      0
Martin Soucek  4       0        0      0
Jan Holub  4       0        0      0
Jan Platil  4       0        0      0
Martin Laska  4       0        0      0
Miroslav Kopriva  4       0        0      0