By Robert Neuhauser and Ivana Paulova
Czech and Swiss Under-16 teams met for the first time in a series of three games that are going to be played this weekend. Check out the recap of this game including the coache’s and player’s comments!
On November, 9th, 2001 there was the first playing day of a three-game series in which the Under-16 teams of the Czech Republic and Switzerland test their skills against each other. The first contest took place in Kralupy nad Vltavou a town only 10 miles from Czech capital Prague. Like every year, the Czech roster boasts lots of NHL prospects. Those players, born 1986 are still far away from being concerned as players who will turn into sure-fire NHL stars but already at this time it is obvious that some of them will probably be called blue-chippers coming the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. On the Czech side goalie Marek Schwarz, a Sparta Praha midgets starter is most likely going to be another in a long series of quality Czech netminders, defensemen Adam Lukacovic, also from Sparta, captains the squad as Jakub Sindel is on a stint with the Under-17 team, and he along with Lubomir Stach of Vsetin are also very good prospects who can have a NHL future. At forward the brightest stars are Michal Birner, a Slavia Praha midgets sophomore, Karel Hromas and Jan Dusatko of Sparta and Vitkovice midgets winger Petr Pohl.
And those players took on the Swiss squad. The Czech team seemed to be in control of the game since the opening faceoff and Radek Smolenak had the first scoring chance on his stick as he received a pass as he crossed the blue line, went between the faceoff circles but his wrist shot was turned away by the Swiss goalie.
But Smolenak didn’t need to worry long. With just minutes played in the game he was the first to beat the Swiss netminder Stefan Grauwiler. Defenseman Petr Chaloupka has sent an outlet pass, Martin Bucek corraled it and went 2 on 1 along with Smolenak. He passed the puck to Radek Smolenak whose wrister went right under the crossbar into the net. That was with only 132 seconds played. From now on the Czechs could be more calm as they didn’t need to cut any margin, they had a lead of their own instead. But the Swiss team was far away from being defeated, no wonder after the few seconds. They tried to increase the pace of the game and achieve some successes at forecheck. Nice try, but another huge scoring chance came on the Czech side. Grauwiler allowed a rebound as he made a save with his right pad, Martin Bucek wanted to pop the puck into the net but it has hit only the right goalpost.
The Czechs were in real control of the game soon and they took advantage of sometimes bad Swiss passes. Havirov midgets forward Pavel Rusek could give the home team a two-goal cushion but his shot was turned away by Grauwiler’s blocker. The Swiss could tie the game with two huge scoring chances in the 12th minute but Marek Schwarz managed to save all the shots and rebounds from the slot.
The Swiss team was on powerplay as Petr Pohl grabbed the loose puck and raced with it straight to the Swiss zone. And fired a shot that was turned away by the Swiss goalie. The Swiss players made a counterattack. Marek Schwarz made a beautiful save with his glove as he stopped a wrist shot.
The Czechs increased their lead at 18:07, captain Adam Lukacovic won the puck near the blue line and passed it to Zdenek Bahensky who fed Lubomir Stach with a pass which went across the crease and Stach tipped the puck in. The score was 2:0 and the Czechs could enjoy the break while the Swiss coaches had to think hard about how to boost the team’s productivity. In general, the Czechs were quite dominating in the first period, their aggresive forechecking brought many pucks to them and they still could take advantage of their better skills and the Swiss team was many times forced to just fire the pucks away and lots of these pucks ended on the tapes of the Czechs sticks.
The Swiss team came roaring out the gate and they tried hard to cut the margin. Julien Sprunger had the biggest chance as he stood face to face to Marek Schwarz with the puck on his stick but Schwarz managed to turn the wrist shot away. The Swiss chances for a win in this contest drastically decreased at 5:13. Trinec midgets forward Radomir Cizek raced from the players bench, caught the puck with his glove, threw it on his stick and went with it into the Swiss zone. There he made a pass to Radek Smolenak who made the beautiest play of the match. He fooled the Swiss goalie with a forehand deke, then returned the puck on his backhand and lifted it over Grauwiler’s left pad.
The Swiss team had another chance in the 9th minute as two players went for a 2 on 1 breakaway but they failed to make an accurate pass and defenseman Lubomir Stach deflected the puck into the corner. Not accurate passes were problems on both sides and in this part of the game grit was overwhelming skill. Then came a 2 on 1 chance of the Czechs. Michal Birner drove to the Swiss net and as he reached the faceoff circles he fed Zdenek Bahensky. Bahensky was waiting for the right moment to unleash a shot but the Swiss goalie could turn it away and not allow a rebound.
Soon after that Stefan Grauwiler was replaced by backup goalie Igor Rossi to give both goalies an equal chance.
With nearly two minutes left to play in the second period the Swiss players had another great scoring chance. With Lubomir Stach in the penalty box they created a real mess in front of Schwarz. Schwarz made two great saves as he controlled two shots which were fired from a two feet distance and he couldn’t do anything against another rebound, but the puck has hit only the goalpost.
In the second part the Czechs skated better and it wasn’t very likely that the Swiss team has any chances on a turnover. There could be a possibilty if they have cut the margin on two goals at least because they increased their movement on the ice in the second period, but trailing by three goals going into the third period was a very difficult situation.
Also at the beginning of the third period the Swiss players had a strong first shift but Marek Schwarz was still holding the shutout. At 2:39 the Czechs had a two-man advantage but they weren’t able to threaten the Swiss net. After the play became a typical 5 on 4 powerplay Vaclav Meindl unleashed a hard slap shot which ended in Rossi’s glove.
The Swiss goalie had to deal with lots of Czech scoring opportunities. During the third period the Swiss defense almost broke down and Pavel Rusek had a huge opportunity as he received a pass while standing in front of the Swiss net, but the score didn’t change. Rusek played well in the last period and seconds later he had another chance as he sneaked in the Swiss zone but also at this time the Swiss goalie was more lucky. The Swiss team had a tough time defending the Czech raids off the wings.
At 13:23 the score finally changed. Zdenek Bahensky won the puck in the corner and made a pass which went across the Swiss zone. Michal Birner deflected the pass and the puck went over Igor Rossi’s blocker into the net.
The last scoring chances came in the 16th minute. Pavel Rusek deked the opposing defenseman and tried to pass the puck to Jan Dusatko who was under pressure from the Swiss defensemen in front of the net. Dusatko couldn’t corral the puck and he surely felt sorry because he had an empty net in front of him.
Soon after that Zdenek Bahensky and Michal Birner raced along the boards, they made two passes but this time it wasn’t a goal because Birner’s shot finished on Rossi’s pad.
The score was set, the Czech squad earned a deserving 4:0 win. Marek Schwarz got the shutout and he was probably the best Czech player.
Coach Vlastimil Koci’s comment: “We got the win because we showed more skill, we relied on combination and all our lines played really well. Our guys were in control of the game since the beginning and they showed a better movement, agrresivity and a willingness to fight for the puck. In my opinion our best player was goalie Marek Schwarz. For the upcoming game we don’t plan any changes. Only in goal beacuse we want to test all our goaltenders.”
Forward Radek Smolenak’s comment: “Today we performed really well. We created a lot of scoring opportunities, but what a shame we managed to score only 4 goals. Swiss nation isn’t a hockey one, we are much more skilled but they showed their good physical strength. We played smartly and quickly from tape to tape, and they increased the aggresivity but without success. I expect the next game to be very simillar to the one we played today.Again they will fire the pucks in the opposing zone and try to play the Canadian style of hockey.”