Kladno won Czech Junior Extraleague

By Robert Neuhauser
The Czech junior Extraleague finally came to the championship battle. Every team, who wants
to compete for the title, muss pass a long way. First there is the regular season, which
consists of 36 games. The teams are divided into two groups, Group A for the teams from the
western cities of the Czech Republic and Group B for the eastern cities’ teams.
Each Group consists of 10 teams. During the regular season the teams meet only opponents from
their own group. Then the Final group comes around. To this Final group advance the top 6 teams from
Group A and also the top 6 teams from Group B. In the Final group the teams from group A play only the teams from Group B and every
team meets his opponent twice – home and away. Also the Final group is divided into two parts.
After that the top four teams from every Final group create four quarterfinal pairs and then
it is a regular playoff, the games are best of five except of the quarterfinal series which is only best of three.

This season Kladno juniors squared off against Trinec juniors in the final series. Kladno iced a more experienced squad, backed up by netminder Miroslav Kopriva, a possible wildcard for this year’s draft and the top goaltender of this year’s Czech junior Extraleauge. The back lines in Kladno consisted of a good mix of young and more experienced junior players. Overager Jiri Zeman is already learning the tools of the Div I league trade and Tomas Kolafa skated sparingly with the Czech Under-18 team during the last season. Rookie defenseman Petr Horava is a member of this year’s edition of the Under-18 team and a possible late-rounder for the upcoming NHL draft. Up front Kladno boasts two more NHL prospects, diminutive Milan Hluchy is eligible already this year and Martin Ruzicka won’t have his chances on a NHL employer even till 2004. But this duo wasn’t the leading force of the forward lines. Overager Martin Frolik bursted out in the playoffs to emerge as an offensive leader, supported by forwards Michal Petrak, who is the Kladno regular season scoring champion, Tomas Landa and former WHLer Tomas Tesarek.

Trinec juniors played the regular season almost without any overagers or third-year players and their squad had the average age almost one year lower than Kladno. But they had enough quality players to be an equal opponent. Plus some of their players were members of the championship trophy winning Trinec midget team from the previous season. Between the pipes the duo of Vaclav Stachura and Marek Wolf shared the workload, none of them being the clear starter. Blueliner Jiri Hunkes, the former Under-18 team player, anchored the back lines, using his playing experience from the senior Extraleague. Flashy Patrik Stejskal, gritty Jiri Ripa and the Slovak duo of Anton Zagora and Michal Kokavec provided lots of the scoring punch of Trinec and the emergence of young 2004 eligible forwards David Krejci and Jan Danecek even boosted their offensive power.

Trinec juniors controlled the early stages of the first contest, creating scoring chances with their better skating and creativity. Late in the opening period they even grabbed the lead as defenseman Milan Bendik went on an offensive raid, deked both Kladno blueliners and finally fired the puck through Miroslav Kopriva’s five-hole to give Trinec a 1:0 lead.
This made the Kladno juniors wake up from their “sleep” and especially overager Martin Frolik, the former QMJHL player with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, showed an inspiring performance. But Vaclav Stachura in the net for Trinec really stood on his head and kept Kladno forwards off the scoresheet. Only Martin Frolik could beat him after Milan Hluchy missed his scoring attempt. Frolik won the puck battle in the corner, maneuvered through the traffic in front of Trinec net and released a wrister through a screen. Vaclav Stachura had his view limited and saw the puck only when it was behind his back.
In the third period the pace of the game was faster and the play was more offensive. Vaclav Stachura made two key saves as the period reached the halfway mark as he stopped Martin Frolik on two consecutive breakaways. And so Trinec gave Kladno a lesson from productivity. Midget star David Krejci, an underager with the junior team, made use of the mess in front of Miroslav Kopriva and rebounded the loose puck behind Kopriva’s back to register the game-winner. After that Trinec allowed almost nothing to Kladno and went home with a 2:1 in the first contest.

Underager David Krejci recorded another impressive performance in the second game of the final series, when Trinec had the advantage of the home ice. Just a few minutes into the first stanza Krejci and Patrik Stejskal went on an odd man rush, Stejskal unleashed a slapper, Kladno goalie Kopriva made the save but David Krejci rebounded the puck to give Trinec an one-goal cushion.
Kladno didn’t wave the white flags in any way. They kept on forechecking and defenseman Tomas Kolafa managed to tie the game. He fired a hard slap shot from the blue line and the puck went undeflected all the way into the net. David Krejci obviously wasn’t happy with this and soon he restored the Trinec lead. He drove fearlessly to the net from the right wing and deked Kopriva with a nice move.
Kladno displayed enough heart and grit as they nullified the Trinec lead only minutes later. Petr Horava, a regular with the Czech Under-18 team and a 2003 eligible talent, released a tippable shot low on the ice and Michal Petrak made a smart deflection against which Trinec goalie Vaclav Stachura didn’t have a chance. David Krejci had his hands also in the third goal of Trinec. He went with the puck into the zone of Kladno and found Patrik Stejskal with an accurate pass. Stejskal had a good scoring chance and his wrister surprised Miroslav Kopriva to give Trinec the lead.
Kladno players were able to tie the game also for the third time. Overager Martin Frolik buried the puck behind Vaclav Stachura and the result of the game was still open. Tomas Zboril, a player with senior Extraleague experience, decided the game for Trinec. First he made use of a mess in front of Kladno netminder Kopriva to beat him with a screened shot and after Kladno has pulled their goalie, he scored an empty netter. That was already the second empty-net goal of Trinec, the first was scored by Richard Bordowski. Trinec won the second game 6:3 and was only one win away from the junior Extraleague championship title.

The series returned to Kladno for the third matchup and for the third time it was the Trinec team who scored the first goal. Jan Blaton, a fringe player of the Czech Under-18 team, made use of a Trinec powerplay. David Krejci served as a powerplay quarterback, he fed Tomas Zboril with a pass and Zboril made a crosspass to Blaton, who only tipped the puck into the almost empty net.
But this time Kladno managed to turn the game over and now it was Trinec who had to deal with the opponent’s lead. First Kladno defenseman Tomas Kolafa has beaten Trinec netminder Vaclav Stachura with his wrister from between the faceoff circles to set the score at 1:1. The second Kladno goal was scored by forward Tomas Landa, who received a nice pass through the Trinec crease and popped the puck behind Vaclav Stachura.
The hopes of Trinec on a sweep of Kladno were suddenly boosted when Rostislav Sabela finally brought the puck behind Miroslav Kopriva’s back. The Trinec midgets captain from two seasons ago took advantage of his intensity and drive to the net. He went with the puck into the Kladno zone, fired a slap shot on Kopriva and could win the puck again only to pop it behind Miroslav Kopriva. The game was more a defensive one and both teams headed into overtime without many scoring chances.
Trinec needed only one goal to cap off the season and claim the title. The problem was that Kladno roster boasts Martin Frolik, who was clearly against the Trinec win. He positioned himself in front of Trinec net and fired the flipping puck right under the crossbar to beat Stachura and give Kladno the 3:2 overtime win. Kladno was still alive in the fight for the title.

Trinec juniors were off key forwards Richard Bordowski and Patrik Stejskal for the fourth contest of the final series and it influenced their performance more than expected. Both players dressed up for the game of the Trinec senior team, competing in the senior Extraleague semifinals against Pardubice. Kladno was more active even from the opening faceoff and the Trinec playrs could hardly do anything against the Kladno offensive raids.
And for the first time in this series Kladno scored the first goal in the game. Tomas Landa won the puck in the offensive zone, made a fooling move to deke Trinec goaltender Stachura and fired the puck through Stachura’s five-hole into the net. Only seconds after that failed Milan Hluchy to score on a breakaway, but Kladno was in clear control of the game. Overager Martin Frolik increased the Kladno lead with a goal which caused him some pain. Frolik and Milan Hluchy were on an odd man rush, Hluchy unleashed a hard slapper which missed the net and hit the glass, but Martin Frolik deflected it with his own face behind Vaclav Stachura’s back. The goal cost Frolik a minor face injury, but he returned to the game soon.
When Tomas Landa registered his second marker in the game from a rebound it was clear that the Trinec juniors won’t be able to turn the game over. Their defense was porous and they lacked the creativity they displayed in the first two matchups of the final series. 2004 eligible prospect Martin Ruzicka decreased the Trinec chances even more, the shifty Kladno forward found himself on a breakaway and scored through Vaclav Stachura’s five-hole.
Kladno puckstopper Miroslav Kopriva didn’t earn the shutout, though. Trinec juniors made use of a two-man advantage at least, after a fast passing play in the Kladno zone Jan Blaton tipped the puck into the almost empty net. That was also the last goal of this game, Kladno won 1:1 in Trinec and headed home for the fifth and final game of the championship series.

Trinec juniors showed a completely different start into the fifth game than in the previous contest. They have put Kladno juniors under a pressure, firing 13 shots during the first ten minutes of the game. Especially Rostislav Sabela had a huge scoring opportunity, but failed to lift the puck over Kladno goalie Miroslav Kopriva on his chance. After Kladno survived the first Trinec barrage of shots, they created some offense of their own. It weren’t their forwards but defensemen who entered the scoresheet, though. Petr Horava fed overager Jiri Zeman with a pass and Zeman’s slapper from the blue line made all the way into the Trinec net to give Kladno the lead. This goal cooled off the Trinec players a bit and Kladno did strike again. It was a play of Martin Frolik, who made a great move to slip behind Trinec defenseman Milan Bendik and beat Vaclav Stachura with his wrister from between the faceoff circles. Kladno played solid defense and scoring three goals seemed to be a heavy task for the Trinec players.
Trinec underager David Krejci gave them some hope when he has cut the margin by one goal. Krejci received a pass from Patrik Stejskal and lifted the puck right under the crossbar to set the score at 2:1. From now on has Trinec put everything on offense, but Kladno defensemen backed by Miroslav Kopriva handled their job well. Two minutes before the finish of the third period Trinec pulled their goalie Stachura, but it didn’t help them much. Lukas Klaus, a forward with the same surname as new Czech president, won the puck in the neutral zone and released an accurate wrister which underlined the Kladno victory in the game and also in the championship series. Kladno juniors managed to turn the series over even if it seemed to be lost and they are the deserving winners of the 2002-2003 Czech junior Extraleague.