in the opening game of the WJC. This was an usual meeting of both opponents, those two
teams met in the regular group also in the previous two years. On the Czech side there
was a change in the net, starter Lukas Hronek was suddenly sidelined with a flu, so backup
Michal Fikrt stood between the pipes and Plzen juniors netminder Petr Sulan was called
back to the team to serve as the backup. Quite surprisingly was hulking Atlanta Thrashers
prospect Libor Ustrnul selected the Czech captain, Tomas Plekanec captained the Czech
squad on the previous tournaments, but finished with only an ‘A’ on his jersey.
The US team was as usual build mostly of college players, with some already drafted players
on the team along with bright prospects. The second cathegory consisted of the likes of
defenseman Ryan Whitney or winger Dustin Brown, a Guelph Storm standout.
So USA captain Richard Umberger and Czech Tomas Plekanec took the opening draw of the
WJC. After the first careful seconds of the game Petr Chvojka went to the penalty box
for interference after 65 seconds played but it was the Czech team who had the first chance.
Filip Novak coralled the puck, unleashed a blast of a shot which was turned away by Jason
Bacashihua in the net for USA, but Ales Hemsky got to the rebound. Bacashihua was lucky
that he couldn’t lift the puck over his left pad.
During the first minutes the Czechs could handle the physical play of the USA team quite well
and the only chances of the Americans came on their powerplay when Chvojka was in the penalty
Ales Hemsky was an annoying pest for the USA defensemen since the beginning of the game.
He slipped through the defense and fired a dangerous accurate slap shot at Dallas Stars’
prospect Jason Bacashihua. Seconds later Jiri Novotny repeated this play and also this time
Bacashihua made the save.
Michal Fikrt didn’t have many chances to make saves before he had to bring the puck out
of his net for the first time. At 7:26 hard forechecking of the USA squad has made its use.
Vancouver Canucks talent Richard Umberger won the puck at the half-boards and passed it to
Kris Vernarsky who went with it between the faceoff circles and fired a wrist shot which
ended behind Fikrt’s back.
Then there was of course the faceoff in the neutral zone, the USA player won it, Chris
Higgins got the puck, splitted the defense and his backhand deke surprised Fikrt – 2:0. Only
18 seconds after the first goal…
Three minutes later the Czech confidence could reach the point zero, if the goal the US players
scored wasn’t disallowed. Michal Fikrt had the puck sure in his glove when Rob Globke managed
with his stick to bring it into the net.
The last ten minutes was evident that the Czechs have trouble with outlet passing and the
US forechecking causes them making mistakes. Also in one-on-one situations the US defensemen
ruled. It was up to the second period to cut the margin at least.
The first seconds of the second stanza must have been a nightmare of Czech head coach Jaroslav
Holik. Filip Novak made a bad pass through his own zone which landed on the feet of Tomas
Plekanec, Kris Vernarsky grabbed the puck and fed Chad Larose with a pass. Larose fired
a wirst shot from the top right faceoff circle, beating Fikrt glove side. With only 19
seconds played in the second period!
Intriguing prospect Jiri Hudler had his first shift in the second period. He sat out the
first, but when Frantisek Lukes had to leave due to a leg injury, Hudler was in the game.
He displayed some flashes of his uncanny passing talent and didn’t look out of place, even
when two years younger than most of the players.
Hometown hero Petr Prucha had a stellar play of his own in the 11th minute. He raced along
the boards, fired at Bacashihua who turned the puck unfortunately on Prucha’s stick again.
Prucha wanted to fire again but it the last moment Bryce Lampman blocked his stick so
that Prucha’s shot was very easy for Bacashihua to stop.
With Brett Lebda in the penalty box the Czech powerplay unit created some mess in the
US zone. Filip Novak, who was trying to fire the puck everytime he had the chance to do so,
made another nice try. Ales Hemsky and then Tomas Plekanec had their chances from a more
close range, but Bacashihua was doing miracles. The USA goalie was the key factor in the
second period for the US success, along with unaccurate Czech passes.
As the game reached the halfway mark, the Czechs were more active and were a tough opponent
for the USA team. At 18:37 the Czechs finally scored. Ales Hemsky passed the puck to
Tomas Plekanec. The dimiutive Montreal Canadiens prospect went from behind the net and
surprised Bacashihua with a wrist shot which went over his glove into the net.
In the remaining seconds the Czechs seemed to fly but it was almost no time for a dangerous
Seconds after the opening faceoff New York Rangers prospect Ryan Hollweg showed his nasty
edge with a booming hit which left Miloslav Horava with a bloody face as Horava hit the
boards with his face. Minutes later Horava had five more stitches in his face. The time
when Horava was out of the game Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jaroslav Sklenar took his
spot on the second line, but it were only two shifts. The Czechs used three lines but
due to injuries only Jiri Jakes had to sit out the whole game. The USA team then used
all four lines.
In the third period the USA team controlled the pace of the game and kept the play simply
while the Czechs had to be creative to cut the margin. But they had a tough time with the
US defensemen and so Jason Bacashihua wasn’t very busy.
Petr Prucha tried if Bacashihua is still awake with his breakaway in the 12th minute, but
Bacashihua blocked Prucha’s shot with his pads.
His opposite, Michal Fikrt, was very lucky at 14:26. Chris Higgins stood in front of him
with the puck on the tape of his stick, aimed the wrist shot, but the puck hit only the
crossbar, leaving Fikrt breathe a sigh of relief.
Since the 16th minute the Czechs used only two lines and coach Holik was thinking of a
powerplay. With 2:06 left to play Bryce Lampman went to the penalty box for charging and
Fikrt was pulled. But thanks to the US forechecking the Czechs didn’t create any
singnificant chance and so the USA team could celebrate their first WJC victory, a 3:1 win
over the Czech Republic.
After the game Kris Vernarsky and Tomas Plekanec were voted the best players from their
Coach Jaroslav Holik’s comment:It was the opening game and we had trouble with dealing
with the physical play of the USA team and sometimes with skating. I don’t want to say
that we couldn’t skate with the US players, but it’s quite bad that in our leagues is
only a low physical contact. In games like that our players then have a drawback. I hope
we can do better in the following games.
7:26 USA Kris Vernarsky (Richard Umberger) 1:0
7:44 USA Chris Higgins 2:0
0:19 USA Chad Larose (Kris Vernarsky) 3:0
18:37 CZE Tomas Plekanec (Ales Hemsky) 3:1
Powerplays – USA 0/2 Czech Republic 0/5
Next game of the Czech Republic: Czech Republic-Slovakia, December, 27th