A game to watch

By Robert Neuhauser
The time has come for the Czech Zepter hockey cup semifinals. The Zepter Cup is a summer event, where teams form all Czech senior leagues take part. In the first rounds meet the clubs from the minor leagues and the weakest teams are eliminated. It’s simply just one game played and the winner continues to the next round, while the loser is eliminated. After that the 16 remaining teams build four divisions, where every team meets the three others in the division twice, home and away. The division champions are the semi-finals rivals. After the semifinals there is only the game for the championship left. It’s a completely new event in the Czech republic and the semifinal pairings were Vsetin-Pardubice (Pardubice won 3:1) and Ceske Budejovice-Litvinov. This second game featured three future Czech hockey stars. Possible 2001 first round pick Jiri Novotny hit the ice with the white-red jersey of Ceske Budejovice, along with 2003 eligible star Milan Michalek. Also 2003 eligible forward Kamil Kreps wore the gold-black jersey of Litvinov, where he centered the 4th line in this game. Both Michalek and Kreps are 1984 born, but due to their birth dates (Michalek 12-07-1984, Kreps 11-18-1984) they are 2003 eligible.

Big skilled center Jiri Novotny centered the 4th line, with Michalek and mature veteran Vaclav Kral on the wings. Since the puck was dropped, Novotny showed why he is a 2001 top prospect. He played very aggressive along the boards, always using his size to fight for the puck. Jiri also showed good forechecking and tried to hit the opponents and after that make a smart play, too. After 12 minutes of the play he grabbed the puck in the neutral zone, raced towards the opponents net and after he deked the defenseman, Jiri made a beautiful pass to Vaclav Kral, who unfortunately failed to score. A pair of minutes later Jiri found himself in the same situation, but decided to release a booming shot, which hit the goalie’s Michal Podolka (Detroit’s 1996 draft pick) head. Podolka was bleeding from the head, but was able to continue playing.

Jiri Novotny’s left winger Milan Michalek also had a strong first period. Milan showed a good skating ability and played good defensively. After Milan received the puck in the neutral zone, he showed perfect puck control in a 1-1 breakaway. He deked the defenseman, but was forced to go behind the net, from where he made a nice pass, but the scoresheet remained empty. Milan could change this once more, when he tried to knock the puck off the air while standing in front of Litvinov’s net, but this nice play didn’t lead to a goal.

The first period was the only period in which Kamil Kreps played. Just 5’8” small center wasn’t a big offensive threat, mostly because Litvinov played defensively in the first period. But Kamil played a solid defensive play and made no serious mistakes, despite his size. He simply showed that he is a name to remember. After the first period Litvinov’s coach benched the whole 4th line and Kamil didn’t appear on the ice for the rest of the game.

In the second period the two Budejovice forwards played well, too. Milan Michalek did a great takeaway, but the following pass wasn’t good enough to call this a scoring opportunity. Jiri Novotny continued to forecheck and backcheck well, but no one of these youngsters was on the ice when Budejovice scored their pair of goals. Unfortunately, Jiri and Milan were on their shift when Litvinov scored. Milan Michalek wasn’t able to knock Litvinov forward Stanislav Stavensky off the puck when Stavensky drove to the net and his wrister found his way into Ivo Capek’s net.

In the third the fourth line of Ceske Budejovice saw only limited ice time. On one of these rare occasions Jiri Novotny won two faceoffs in a row against Buffalo Sabres prospect Kamil Piros. After that Jiri threw in some nice clean hits as he continued to work hard along the boards. None of the guys scored a point in the 3:2 win, but they showed a big promise and offensive talent. Jiri Novotny and Milan Michalek will have a taste of the first Zepter Cup finals and it’ll great to watch them play.