Czech Republic at World Hockey Challenge

By Robert Neuhauser
The World Hockey Challenge is without doubt the most important tournament for the Under-17
teams in the season. This year it took place in the cities of Stonewall and Selkirk in
Manitoba. The Czechs had a very good team this year, the 1985 birthyear isn’t so strong
as the 1984 birthyear, but there were some great individualities on the roster. The amazing
first line Vojtech Polak – Petr Vrana – Ivo Kratena is totally outstanding also among
international competition and all three forwards are blue-chippers for the 2003 NHL Entry
Draft. It can be seen also when looking at the scoresheets. Petr Vrana won the scoring
at the World Hockey Challenge with 15 points (6 goals + 9 assists), followed by Ivo Kratena,
also 15 points (5 goals + 10 assists) and Vojtech Polak finished fourth overall, when only
Russian gem Alexander Ovechkin was able to slip between the hegemony of the Czech elite line.
Polak notched 12 points for 6 goals and 6 assists. The back line of the Czech elite formation
is also very strong. HC Slavia Praha juniors standout Jiri Drtina has a rare knack for
supporting the offense and sometimes he plays like a fourth forward. Drtina is often
paired with his Slavia Jr. teammate Lukas Spelda, who takes care of the defensive duties,
while Drtina is the rusher. Drtina was the clear winner of the defenseman scoring,
registering 10 points for 4 goals and 6 assists. Also on the rest of the team there are
quality players, like Sparta Praha Jr. defenseman Lukas Bolf, a reliable player with solid
size or hardworking Litvinov forward Lukas Kaspar. Between the pipes Vladislav Koutsky
and Jakub Cech shared the duties and faced a lot of quality chances as the players were
concentrating on offense a lot. Jakub Cech is by far the youngest goalie who plays in the Czech
senior Extraleague this year, in the last games he is the starter for the Havirov team!
Two underagers also made the team, leaving a very good impression. Flashy Jakub Sindel,
1986 born Slavia Praha juniors star, has all the tools of a future elite scorer and scored
all his WHC points in one game, going 4 goals + 1 assists. The second 1986 born player is
Ladislav Smid from the Liberec juniors, an exceptionally smart defenseman who handles
his defensive duties with surprising poise and maturity.
So let’s have a look at a recap of the Czech games!

Team Pacific – Czech Republic 7:1

In the first game of the World Hockey Challenge the young Czechs had to cut the opponent’s
lead from the first seconds of the game. At 1:58 Jeff Lynch gave Team Pacific the lead when
he has beaten Jakub Cech after a play of Colin Fraser. For nearly the whole first period
the Czechs tried to penetrate into the Team Pacific’s zone and create some mess in front of
Kevin Nastiuk in the net for Team Pacific, but they faced a well-organized defense. During
the first period both opponents seemed equal and it was evident that the special units will
be a factor in this contest. The Czechs made use of already their second powerplay in the
game. Ryan Gibbons received a minor penalty for high sticking, soon after that Dale Mahovsky
and Adam Stepan exchanged some fistcuffs, so it turned out to be a 4 on 3 powerplay. Petr
Vrana fed Jiri Drtina who fired an accurate slap shot which surprised Nastiuk to tie the game.
The decision about this contest fell in the second period as Team Pacific scored four
unanswered goals, two of them on powerplay. Lanky Red Deer Rebels defenseman Dion Phaneuf
played on fire, his powerplay blast in the second period turned out to be the game-winner
and he assisted also by goals scored by Reed Pettinger and Dale Mahovsky. Adam Stepan was
the Czech “nasty guy” as he took another two minors in the second stanza, but this time quite
dumb penalties.
Jakub Cech, one of the youngest players to play ever in the senior Extraleague, was replaced
between the pipes by Vladislav Koutsky for the third period, but about the result was decided.
The ruling Team Pacific allowed almost nothing to the Czechs, who pressed very hard. The play
was for nearly the whole period in the Team Pacific’s zone, but still no goal for the Czechs.
Clarke McArthur along with
Lethbridge Hurricanes gem Brent Seabrook even increased the lead. The Czechs, frustrated
by the sweep, tried to start a fight with two minutes left to go as hulking 6’4” defenseman
Martin Lojek wanted to punish Matt Fornataro’s crosscheck, but no gloves were dropped
and the result was a 7-1 win of Team Pacific.

Czech Republic – USA 4:5

The Czechs had a horrible start into this game, after the first two minutes Czech goalie
Vladislav Koutsky was beaten twice and it looked like another sweep. Flashy Robbie Earl
made use of the first powerplay of the game when Lukas Bolf was in the penalty box for
slashing and in the next minute John Vigilante rebounded the puck after Justin Corbin’s shot.
It was even worse as Jake Dowell scored his unassisted marker as the period passed the halfway
mark. Vojtech Polak gave the Czech a hope when he took away the puck from one of the USA
players and has wrister has beaten Alvaro Montoya in the USA net. Powerplay specialist,
Slavia Praha juniors defenseman Jiri Drtina scored a powerplay marker in the last minute
and the Czechs were back in the game.
The dominant line Vojtech Polak-Petr Vrana-Ivo Kratena was a main force also in this contest
and Petr Vrana tied the game at 12:28. With Mike Bartlett in the penalty box for interference,
Vrana received a pass from Ivo Kratena and has beaten Montoya with his shot which went right
under the crossbar. At this point the Czechs were maybe too satisfied with the fact that
they were able to nullify a 3:0 lead of the USA and on the same Czech powerplay Joshua Sciba
restored the USA lead with his shorthanded goal.
It was up to the confidence of the Czech team to deal with this fact. Great individualities
like Vojtech Polak or Petr Vrana have the tools to score important goals. This became even
more needed as Mike Bartlett increased the USA lead early in the third period. At 10:49 of
the third Vojtech Polak made another great takeaway, raced for a breakway and scored a
shorthanded goal, but that was it. The USA players controlled the game and didn’t allow to
score the game-tying goal.

Germany – Czech Republic 5:8

For the first time at the World Hockey Challenge the young Czechs captured the lead first.
Immediately after the opening faceoff Jiri Drtina grabbed the puck, passed it to Ivo Kratena
and Kratena’s move fooled Danny Aus den Birken in the German net. With only 10 seconds played
the Czechs were in a 1:0 lead. The great first Czech line netted another goal at their
third shift overall. Lukas Spelda combined with Ivo Kratena, who fed sniper Vojtech Polak.
Polak then deked the German goalie to give the Czechs a two-goal cushion. The Germans tried
hard not to allow the Czechs any huge lead and eventually succeeded as Thomas Schenkel scored
on the powerplay. But the two Czech goals in the last minute of the opening period downed
the German chances. Just 29 seconds apart Jan Prudic and Havirov juniors standout Petr Vrana
scored their markers and it was nearly decided about the result. Especially Vrana’s goal was
very nice, he tipped the puck behind Aus den Birken after a great passing play of Vojtech
Polak and Ivo Kratena.
Petr Vrana wanted to be the German killer alone, he scored another goal at the beginning
of the second and had his hattrick finished at 11:14. The first goal came after Vrana one-timed
Vojtech Polak’s pass and the second was a powerplay goal. After that the Czechs slowed down
a bit and tried to play an exhibition game, but the Germans made their presence felt. Jan
Barta and Danny Albrecht brought some drama into this contest as they have beaten Jakub
Cech in the Czech net.
The Germans saw a light at the end of the tunnel as Kai Hospelt fed Alexander Feistl, who
deked Jakub Cech and at 7:36 of the third the Czechs were leading now only by two goals.
But it was also Alexander Feistl who was called to the penalty box for holding and the Czechs
scored on that advantage. Jiri Drtina quarterbacked the powerplay, found Petr Vrana with
his pass, Vrana made a crosspass and Vojtech Polak chipped the puck in. After nearly three
minutes also Vojtech Polak completed his hattrick and it was again after a play of Ivo
Kratena and Petr Vrana. The Germans responded with a goal of Marcus Kink, but couldn’t
change anything more. The Czechs recorded a deserving win.

Czech Republic – Quebec 4:5

On the first day of the new year 2002 the Czechs met the Quebec team. The Quebec players
grabbed the lead soon after Maxime Boisclair scored the first goal. Boisclair got the puck
after a play of Philippe Dupuis and Danny Roussin and then made a nice move to lift the puck
over Jakub Cech in the Czech net. But the Czechs turned the game over before the first period
was over. First on a Quebec powerplay Ivo Kratena caught a bad Quebec pass and passed the
puck to Petr Vrana, who scored after a breakaway. With 7 seconds left to play Vojtech Polak
made use of a two-man advantage. Jiri Drtina and Ivo Kratena got the assists. It was a typical
powerplay goal, with fast passes and a final shot.
The Czech lead didn’t last for long. At 6:02 of the second period the Quebec team had the
turnover finished. Jean-Francois Jacques and then Philippe Dupuis scored the goals and it
was up to the Czech team to turn the game over again. The game was quite defensive and there
wasn’t a lot of quality chances. Simply a tough task.
In the ninth minute of the third the Czechs were able to kill a 5 on 3 of the Quebec team,
but one second after Jan Prudic stepped on the ice Remy Tremblay finally popped the puck
behind Cech’s back. But the Czech team worked really hard in this game and they didn’t want
to give up so fast. Instead of the usual Ivo Kratena it was Lukas Kaspar who combined with
Petr Vrana and Vojtech Polak and after his accurate wrister the Czechs were trailing just by
one. After the next three and a half minute the feat was accomplished – the game was tied.
Underager Ladislav Smid fired a slap shot on the powerplay and Ivo Kratena rebounded the
loose puck.
Everything looked like the game will result as a tie, but then came a situation to be talked
about. Jean-Francois Jacques made a pass to Steve Bernier and after a mess in front of
Cech the first overall pick of the 2001 QMJHL draft brought the puck behind Cech’s back.
The problem was that at the same time there was the final buzzer. The whole Czech team
argued that the goal came after the buzzer, but the referee called it a goal. The Czechs
then gave a protest to the tournament’s directory, but it was turned down and nothing did
change on the final score.

Team West – Czech Republic 2:7

Team West was the last Czech opponent in the regular group. Defenseman Jiri Drtina showed
his amazing offensive talent again as he scored two goals on his first three shifts. The
first was after Petr Vrana took the puck away from a West player, found underager Jakub Sindel
and Sindel has let Drtina to lead the rush and score. Drtina’s second marker came on the
5 on 3 powerplay, Josh Lepp couldn’t make a save on Drtina’s blast from the point. At 15:07
of the first Lukas Kaspar then secured the lead with his goal after a play of the two Polak’s
on the team – Michal and Vojtech.
At 3:08 of the second period young Jakub Sindel started his unbelievable period. His first
goal came at an even number of players on the ice. Ladislav Smid made a clearing pass, Petr
Vrana could corral it and went with Sindel on a breakaway. Vrana timed the pass perfectly
and Sindel scored his first at the WHC. Team Western pressed hard in the second, fired lot
of shots at Vladislav Koutsky in the Czech net, but only Josh Froese and Stefan Meyer succeeded.
The deciding factor in this game had the name Jakub Sindel. With Brett Novak in the penalty
box for roughing, Jiri Drtina made a pass to Ivo Kratena and Kratena found Sindel near
the left goalpost. Sindel scored also on the powerplay, now he was waiting only for a
shorthanded goal. Exactly five and a half minute later he managed to score also the
shorthanded goal after Lukas Bolf fed him with a pass. So Sindel completed his hattrick
during one period, scoring both powerplay and shorthanded goals and at an even number
of players! Totally amazing for a 1986 born player…
And that wasn’t still enough. The Western team seemed not to have enough strength to score
the needed goals to try to tie the game at least, but Jakub Sindel had enough strength to
score again. Ivo Kratena found him with a pass and Sindel made a nifty stick move to deke
the Western goalie and score his fourth that game. That game was a five-point effort for
Jakub Sindel and a 2:7 win of the Czechs.

Czech Republic – Russia 7:6

Because the young Czechs didn’t manage to qualify for the playoffs, they only faced the young
Russians in the placing game for the fifth place overall. This time it was super-sniper
Alexander Ovechkin against the offensive dynamo line V.Polak – Vrana – Kratena. The game
was all about offense and goalies faced lots of quality chances. On the Czech side goalie
Vladislav Koutsky made some key saves to backstop the Czechs in the win. The Russians created
some great plays, but it was the Czech team which was in the lead for nearly the whole game.
Ivo Kratena was the biggest star of this contest as his hattrick was essential in defeating the
Russians. Petr Vrana added another goal and two assists while Vojtech Polak didn’t contribute
so much as usually as he notched just one assist. But it was enough for the win. Both teams
played a great offensive hockey and also the defensemen concentrated more on offense, thus
leaving some holes in the defensive system. It can’t be said that the Czech team was clearly
better, they had more luck in the end and could make use of their chances.