Friday, December 31, 2010

Czechs fall to Sweden, face all-important game vs Russia on New Year's Eve

Jakub Jeřábek tries to protect the puck against
Swedish pressure. Photo:
It is said that the two powerhouses in Group B are Canada and Sweden. The performance of the Czech Republic against each team seems to bear an uncanny resemblance.

As they did against Canada, the Czechs struck early against Sweden, this time it was Milan Hlinka on a power play at 3:09. But then Sweden's Johan Larsson answered on a power-play of their own. As was the case against Canada, when they gave up a short-handed goal on a five-minute power-play, the biggest blow came when the Czechs trailed 2-1. This time, the knee-capping goal came when Jesper Fasth's seemingly harmless shot along the ice beat Marek Mazanec and Sweden took at 3-1 lead to the first intermission.

After the lead was increased to 4-1, Czech coach Miroslav Přerost made the curious move of replacing Mazanec with Filip Novotný in goal. With an all-important game against Russia coming tomorrow, it would seem that playing a rested Novotný would be the most sensible way to go if he was unhappy with Mazanec's performance. In any event, Novotný was beaten on the first shot he faced and Fasth had his second of the game to make it 5-1.

Just when all hope seemed lost, 17-year-old Martin Frk struck twice to bring the Czechs within two at the second intermission. His first was an impressive wrist shot that beat Swedish goaltender Fredrik Petersson-Wentzel to the stick side and the second was a slapshot from the point on a power-play. Both of his goals were assisted by team captain Jakub Jeřábek. Frk was thrown out of the Czechs' last game when he was penalized for spearing, and it was initially not clear if he would be able to play this game.

Eventually, it was all for naught, Sweden won 6-3, meaning they will face Canada on Friday in a showdown for first place in the group and an automatic berth in the semi-finals. As for the Czechs, they face Russia on Friday and, assuming Russia beats Noway, the game will determine which team gets third place in the group and advances to the quarter-finals and who will be sent to the relegation round. In Europe, the game will actually begin in the new year, at 1:00 CET on ČT4 Sport.

Click here to watch the Czech Republic-Sweden game in its entirety.

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