A year ago in Alberta, the Czech Republic's U-20 national team was one of the surprises at the 2012 World Junior Championship. After stunning the United States in the preliminary round, the team took on Russia, surviving until overtime when the silver medal squad scored a controversial goal to defeat the Czechs. Besides the team success, Detroit Red Wings goalie prospect Petr Mrázek gained a lot of fans for his celebrations late in the game against the Americans.
Two years ago, little was known about Tomáš Hertl, then a 16-year-old center for the junior team of Slavia Prague. That season, he played mostly in the Czech U-20 Extraliga, posting better numbers than Radek Faksa, who was, however, drafted at a higher place at the 2012 NHL Draft. The same year, Hertl had his Czech Extraliga debut, not collecting any points, but at the age of sixteen, surely letting the hockey world notice his name.
The Czech Extraliga is now underway. As is the case each season, we can look forward to top-notch European hockey, since the league may be among the three best on the continent. Almost every team has one or more veterans who lead the franchise and are either long-time patriots or new acquisitions from abroad. However, this year will feature more youngsters than normal, just because the level of Czech junior hockey has gone back up close to where it used to be. And finally, we'll also take a look at some possibilities that come with the NHL lockout.
The annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, considered by some to be the most prestigeous international hockey competition of players under eighteen years of age, was held last week in Břeclav, Czech Republic, and Piešťany, Slovakia. And as is usually the case in the world of hockey, some results and statistics were simply surprising.