Recap of the tournaments of the Czech Under-20 and Under-18 teams

By Robert Neuhauser

The Under-20 team

The Under-20 teams of Czech Republic, Russia and Finland headed to Sweden in the second week of November to participate in a tournament held in Uddevalla, Sweden. This 4-nations tournament was scheduled as the last chance to meet the opponents from the top Euro countries before the WJC in Russia, beginning Dec., 26th. Every country built a strong squad, where most of the players are projected to play in Russia, especially the players from the Sweden and Finland rosters. But for example the Czechs are going to invite up to 8 players, playing in the CHL this year. The last season’s team invited 5 – and it won the championship. The team in Sweden was good, too, even if it missed injured Michal Sivek of HC Sparta Praha (Washington Capitals draft pick) and Vaclav Nedorost of HC Ceske Budejovice, drafted by the Colorado Avalanche. The players of the Under-20 team don’t see a lot of ice time in their respective Elite league teams (mostly on powerplay and penalty killing units) and they split time between the Extraleague and the Junior league. Two NHL draftees competed in Sweden, Ivan Rachunek, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect and Ladislav Vlcek, draft choice of the Dallas Stars. 4 serious NHL prospects showed their skills for Sweden, 2001 eligibles Tomas Plekanec of HC Vagnerplast Kladno and Petr Puncochar of HC Becherovka Karlovy Vary along with 2002 top talents Jiri Hudler of HC Slovnaft Vsetin and Marian Havel of SK Jihlava.

The Czech guys started out the tournament playing very well. Goalie Tomas Duba of HC Sparta Praha Jr. had a shutout in a 3-0 win against Finland, while Tomas Plekanec netted two goals. The NHL scouts surely noticed this fact and the whole 3rd line played well. Plekanec centered this line, with his teammate Vlcek and Marek Tomica, of HC Slavia Praha, on the wings. The Czechs outskated the Finns and allowed them almost nothing. The next day was the battle against the home Swedes on the schedule. The Czechs had injuries to two of their defensemen from the previous game (Jan Choteborsky – concussion, Jan Vytisk – shoulder injury) but managed to reach a 2-2 tie after regulation on goals scored by Ladislav Vlcek and David Pojkar. Unfortunately the Swedes scored an overtime marker, leaving the Czechs with one point. Almost the same situation occured the next day after 60 minutes of the last game, against Russia. Only the score was different, 1-1, Patrik Moskal scored the lone goal. But this time the overtime didn’t decide a winner. The penalty shots had to. The Russians were the lucky team and this win helped them to win the tournament, and the Czechs finished right behind them in second place. They don’t need to worry, they were the only team not to record a loss after regulation time and they showed a sound defensive game. That’s optimistic when you imagine that the WJC begins in one month. The Czech Under-20 team will open their camp to prepare for the WJC on Dec., 10th, in Havlickuv Brod.

The Under-18 team

The Under-18 team travelled overseas to meet the top Under-18 squads of Russia, Sweden, Finland and the host USA. The event took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, and it was planned as a test for the Olympic Arena and all the background, before the 2002 Olympics start. Besides testing the arena, the Czech guys tested mostly the hotel. Their only leisure time activity was attending one NBA game. Maybe because they had to worry about their lack of scoring. In the first game the Czechs were swept by the prospects-stocked Russian team, 1:7. Next to prospects like Ilya Kovalchuk and Stanislav Chistov the Czechs guys looked a bit out of place. The lone goal came by 2002 eligible Petr Taticek of HC Vagnerplast Kladno, one of the best Czech forwards in the tournament. Taticek misses the 2001 draft only by 7 days and could be one of the darkhorses in 2002. He played some games in the Extraleague since he was 16 and has a nice 6’0”, 175 lbs. frame. Not a good showing was also the game against Sweden, a 1:5 loss. The Swedes played an aggresive high-speed hockey and the only goal scored by the Czechs was a Petr Domin’s tally. Domin, a player of HC Becherovka Karlovy Vary, played winger on the Taticek’s line. This line, built of Lukas Dobry – Petr Taticek – Petr Domin was the best Czech line in my opinion and Petr Domin, a 6’2”, 185 lbs. winger showed that he can use his size well if needed. He has the potential to be drafted next June, we’ll see. A 3-3 tie against the Finns brought the only point to the Czech squad. Too bad that the Czechs weren’t able to score more than 3 goals in a game in the whole tournament. That was the fact that costed them the win against the USA team, as they lost 3:4. It was probably the best Czech performance in the tournament, they were able to skate at a smaller rink against the aggresive US-guys, got used to this style quite fast and put some nice plays on display. Defenseman Ondrej Danicek scored in the last two mentioned games and was the only Czech defenseman to register more than one goal in the tournament. However, the Czechs finished last-placed and that’s not good news. They desperately needed a forward who can score if needed and also lead the team. Highly touted prospect and captain of the team Jiri Novotny should fill the role, but was held scoreless. Well, well. At least the Czechs brought 4 1984 born guys into the team and provided them with an opportunity to play against the world’s top prospects. But I don’t see a lot of other positives in their showing at the Salt Lake City tournament. Maybe next time. There is still a lot of time left before the Under-18 WJC next April and a lot can be improved.