Czech Republic Under-20 team at Five Nations Tournament
By Robert Neuhauser and Ivana Paulova
The 2001-2002 season is under way and the first meeting of the Under-20 teams was scheduled to take place in the Czech cities Prostejov and Olomouc. Besides the home Czechs, the squads of Russia, Sweden, Slovakia and Finland also participated in this tourney. A look at the rosters, stocked with NHL draftees and possible future NHLers, promised that this will be a tournament to watch. The Czechs showed some new faces on the team, but basically it was the same team that was built after the successful 2001 WJC. Among the 1982 born players the only guy that left for North America was Jaroslav Sklenar, originally from HC Ytong Brno, who was assigned to the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL after the Leafs rookie camp in Kitchener. 1983 born players with chances on a roster spot in the Under-20 team who left for the CHL in the summer are former Sparta Praha winger Daniel Volrab, who is a Saskatoon Blade now and Martin Toms, a defenseman from Karlovy Vary who plays for the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
The Czechs were set in goal with Martin Barek, who was a regular on the junior national teams consisting of 1982 born players, and Michal Fikrt, a rapid rising goalie from the Litvinov juniors. So there shouldn’t be a huge problem between the pipes.
The defense had their brightest stars in Detroit Red Wings draftee Miroslav Blatak, a solid but little undersized two-way defenseman, undrafted Lukas Chmelir of the Vitkovice juniors with nearly the same characteristics and Jan Hanzlik of HC Sparta Praha. The defensemen seem to be a problem of the Under-20 team, they provide a solid, but unspectacular play with lack of offensive support. Some CHL players would come in handy and be sure that head coach Jaroslav Holik will invite some of them to boost the back lines.
The forwards on the other side were to show a more stellar play. Not everyone of them has enough Extraleague experience, lots of them plays still in the juniors or were demoted to the Div I league, but there are bright gems at forward who have their roster spots for the WJC. New captain Tomas Plekanec had a very good showing, which must have delighted the Habs scouts. Sabres first rounder Jiri Novotny, known for his playmaking abilities and a willingness to play defensive, also didn’t hurt his stock and young Jiri Hudler, a blue-chipper for the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, established himself on the roster quite well.
Czech Republic-Russia 4:6
So those guys took on the first opponent, the Russian squad. The Russians had lots of talent on the roster and their roster was very near the roster for the upcoming WJC. The same can’t be said about the Czechs and it was evident after the first faceoff. Smallish speedster Igor Grigorenko, a Detroit Red Wings second round pick this year, has beaten Martin Barek with just nearly three minutes played. In the same minute Tomas Plekanec created a chance for Jan Svik and the Plzen forward chipped it in to tie the game. But that was it from the Czech side for the first period. The Russians showed better movement, skating and aggresivity which also influenced the scoresheet. Alexei Zotkin, Ruslan Zainulin and Alexander Perezhogin scored three goals in eight minutes to force the Czechs to replace Martin Barek with Michal Fikrt. This helped to slow down the Russians a bit and Tomas Netik of Sparta Praha has cut the margin to two goals with his unassisted marker in the 24th minute. But Calgary Flames draft choice Andrei Medvedev in the net for Russia didn’t allow any dangerous scoring opportunities to the Czechs. Artem Kryukov, a Sabres first rounder from the previous year seemed to be free all the influences of his bad concussion and he scored the fourth Russian goal with four minutes played in the last period. The Czechs didn’t want to give up and Jiri Hudler fed Petr Jaros, who was able to bring the puck behind Medvedev with three minutes left to play. Just two minutes late Jiri Novotny has found Martin Beck with his pass and now the Czechs were trailing just by one. They pulled Fikrt but unfortunately Alexander Suglobov, a New Jersey Devils prospect has scored the empty netter to set the score at 4:6. From the Russian side only NHL draftees scored the goals and the Russians were the deserving winners as they completely outskated the Czechs.
Jaroslav Holik’s (Czech team head coach) comment:
“The first period was really poor, the second period was better and the last 10 minutes were pretty good from our perspective. It has shown that new players aren’t used to the high standard of the international hockey. All the problems had their origins in bad defense. But we have practically a new team here. Today the Russians have overplayed us mainly by their individual skills, better skating and better stickhandling. But if we didn’t allow them to take such a lead for sure their performance would drop by 50%. It’s the same with the Russian A team. Definitely the turning point was the beginning of the game where we have received cheap goals.”
Czech Republic-Slovakia 6:0
The game against Slovakia was a completely different outing. The weakest opponent from the four and the Czechs ruled on the ice. They seemed to find a weapon against the Slovaks with their good passing and aggressive play along the boards. Goalie Petrik in the Slovakian net had some hot whiles with the chances of Miloslav Horava and Jan Hanzlik in the first minutes, but Radek Dlouhy of HC Slavia Praha was able to bring the puck behind his back after a wild tumult in front of the Slovakian net. 13 minutes later Petrik had to bring the puck out of his net again after Tomas Netik smartly deflected Stanek’s shot to give the Czechs a two-goal cushion. When then Miloslav Topol fed defenseman Lukas Pozivil with a pass which Pozivil turned into a goal with his accurate shot, the Slovaks disappeared from the ice. In the 28th minute the score was already 6:0 when Miloslav Topol, Martin Frolik and Radek Dlouhy scored their goals. Especially the line of Tomas Netik-Radek Dlouhy-Martin Frolik was very effective and their leader Radek Dlouhy was voted as the best Czech player of the game after the 6:0 win. The Third period was played in a calm pace and both teams were preparing already for the next contest.
Jaroslav Holik’s comment:
“I’m glad about today’s victory because this team has beaten us in the U-18 category. But we can’t compare the Russian and the Slovak squad on this tournament. I’m happy that the score is with zero, I have emphasized that to players. They did everything that we decided upon but only in the first period. Our following performance was influenced by the fact that we were strongly leading and the boys didn’t feel the need to work as hard. In this tournament we concentrated on players playmaking abilities rather than the score. Therefore there is still a lot to improve.”
Czech Republic-Sweden 7:3
The Czechs were off injured defensemen Tuma and Blatak in the game against Sweden. The Swedes had a solid but not the strongest team and it could be a game in which little details can decide. It really was but the detail wasn’t little. Highly touted NY Rangers goaltending prospect Henrik Lundqvist had a very poor beginning of the game and he allowed three goals during the first eight minutes. Tomas Netik scored the first goal and after Tomas Plekanec netted his second goal this game, an unassisted marker, it was time for a goalie change in the Swedish net. Nicklas Danielsson took over, but he maintained a zero on his goals against stat for this game only for three minutes when Ales Pavlas scored after a play by Jan Svik and Tomas Plekanec. Immediately after the game began its second half, Radek Dlouhy and Tomas Netik really delighted the crowds. Dlouhy showed very good individual skills when he completely deked both Swedish defensemen, drove to the net, looked up and passed the puck through the crease to Tomas Netik, who had an empty net in front of him – 5:0. Sweden captain and a Dallas Stars prospect Joel Lundqvist was the first to beat Czech goalie Michal Fikrt. But that was it for the second period. Undisciplined play from the Swedes brought two consecutive two-man advantages for the Czech. Ales Pavlas grabbed the puck, passed it to Jiri Hudler, who has found a free Petr Jaros, who has beaten Danielsson. Two minutes later Tomas Plekanec had his hattrick completed when he scored after a play by Jan Svik. The Czechs then took some shifts off near the end of the game which forced them to make some fouls and the Swedes have cut the margin a bit. They scored two goals in the last three minutes, both were scored by Marcus Lilja. Lilja displayed his heavy slapshot from the blue line which both surprised Fikrt, who had his vision limited by a screen of the players in front of him. But still a deserving 7:3 win after a nice performance from the Czechs.
Jaroslav Holik’s comment:
“Yes I’m glad that we have won. Sweden’s poorest element was the position of goalie. Neither of the two did support the team at all and this brought insecurity to their lines but this is part of the game. The end of the game was only in the hands of the referee who penalized our team for fouls that didn’t happen. We had no special preparation for the Swedish team. We are still testing and choosing players that can easily adjust and devote themselves to the team. The performance of the individual players in this tournament will lead to the final nomination for the WJC. We are still observing players and surely now we have clearer picture then before we arrived to Prostejov.”
Czech Republic-Finland 0:4
Finland was the last opponent. They had a very good young team in Czechia, with 2002 top prospects Joni Pitkanen and Sean Bergenheim. Tero Maata, the Sharks second round draft pick in 2000, was the best Finnish player and after the tournament he was voted the best defenseman. The Finnish defense was really tough to beat and the Czechs were trailing for almost the whole game. Martin Barek gave up the first goal in the fourth minute when Yli-Torkka fired a wrist shot, Barek made a save but Jarkko Immonen could grab the loose puck and rebound it into the net for a powerplay goal. After this play you could see the defenses work. The Czechs had their hands full with the Finnish raids. The Finns showed a better movement on the ice, skated better and their aggressive forechecking forced some turnovers. Martin Barek made some key saves to keep the Czechs in play and overall he did a good job. With one minute left to play in the second period Tero Maata increased the lead when he fired the flipping puck in front of Barek behind the net of the Czech goaltender. The Finns were clearly better in the first period, the Czechs could skate with them only since the beginning of the second period and in the third they had the last chance to turn the game over. They didn’t. Pekka Saarenheimo scored the goal which finally distinguished the Czech chances. After a turnover then Jarkko Immonen scored his second goal of the game and has set the score to 4:0, which turned out to be the final score. This meant the third place for the Czech team, behind the winning Finns and Russia.
Jaroslav Holik’s comment:
“I have to repeat again we are testing players and today’s performance was miserable. The Fins were better in all aspects- their skating was better, their defense was better, everything was better. After yesterday’s good performance players probably expected that everything would automatically work for us. Our players haven’t only disappointed me by their performance but mainly by their attitude… There is a last tournament before the final selection and then Pavel Hynek and myself will decide on the suitable types for the Championship. Half of the players here aren’t willing to fight, they aren’t willing to win they only want to play and that’s not enough for international hockey standards.
Here in the Czech Republic we still argue that we play good hockey but we don’t play well and we don’t practice enough. I was most disappointed that players were not physically well prepared. We don’t win a single tournament either in the senior or youth level and we think it’s ok. But it’s not. This will only change at the moment when we accept that then we can start moving forward again. According to my opinion the attitude of the coaches towards players is too gentle. I feel the lack of pressure on the players in every single league. But over all I rate this tournament positively, it’s the finding of the players for the WJC.”
Sweden-Slovakia 7:2, Sweden-Finland 1:0, Russia-Sweden 5:4, Russia-Finland 4:5, Slovakia-Finland 4:7, Russia-Slovakia 7:0
The Fins had undoubtedly the strongest team among all of the 5 teams. Their team work was well worked out. It’s necessary to mention that the Fins won’t make many changes to their final roster. Most of the other teams will make (more or less) severe intervention. The Czech team needs more precise defense together with greater determination no matter if they are playing a pre-season game or a final game on the WJC. Players need to understand that and get used to it.
Bringing players from oversees should strengthen the team and give it positive energy. The Slovak team is also expecting support from players playing in the CHL. Sweden needs to stabilize the position of goalies and better on-ice movement together with more combination. The Russian team was strong with good players but they didn’t eliminate all errors that were produced by their defense.
This tournament had uncovered weak points in each team and it should be beneficial for the future finding of the players for the WJC. Players here knew they were fighting for their spots and all the coaches were carefully observing their players as well as opponents’ styles. Some players did better than others. Players still have one more opportunity to show their abilities and real skills together with the willingness to win because in November there will be the last tournament before the WJC. Surely fans and hockey scouts must have been delighted by the quality of hockey they have seen on this tournament. In general teams performed well and none of them should be disappointed. We will see the final product in December and January on the WJC taking place in the Czech towns of Pardubice and Hradec Kralove.
GP W T L G/GA P
1. Finland 4 3 0 1 16:9 6
2. Russia 4 3 0 1 22:13 6
3. Czech Republic 4 2 0 2 17:13 4
4. Sweden 4 2 0 2 15:14 4
5. Slovakia 4 0 0 4 6:27 0
Goaltender: Michal Fikrt (Czech Republic) – undrafted
Defenseman: Tero Maata (Finland) – San Jose, 2000
Forward: Alexander Perezhogin (Russia) – Montreal, 2001
Individual player scoring
GP G A P
Tomas Netik 4 4 1 5
Tomas Plekanec 4 3 2 5
Martin Frolik 4 1 3 4
Petr Jaros 4 2 1 3
Radek Dlouhy 4 2 1 3
Ales Pavlas 4 1 2 3
Jan Svik 4 1 2 3
Martin Beck 4 1 1 2
Miloslav Topol 4 1 1 2
Jiri Hudler 4 0 2 2
Pavel Stanek 4 0 2 2
Lukas Pozivil 4 1 0 1
Jiri Novotny 3 0 1 1
Ales Kreuzer 4 0 1 1
Miloslav Horava 4 0 0 0
Jiri Matejicek 4 0 0 0
Lukas Chmelir 4 0 0 0
Jan Hanzlik 4 0 0 0
Zbynek Tuma 3 0 0 0
Miroslav Blatak 2 0 0 0
Martin Barek 4 0 0 0
Michal Fikrt 4 0 0 0