Monday, January 31, 2011

Slavia to celebrate 110th anniversary Tuesday

HC Slavia Praha, circa 1901. Photo:
Founded in 1901, HC Slavia Praha is celebrating its 110th anniversary in 2011, and as part of the celebrations have announced that they will don retro sweaters from the start of the 20th century at Tuesday's home game against HC Plzeň 1929. For their part, Plzeň will wear sweaters from the 1950s.

The festivities will include a pre-game ceremonial face-off performed by Czech hockey legend Augustin Bubník. Bubník was a member of Czechoslovakia's 1948 Olympic silver medal-winning team and their 1949 World Championship team. After spending five years in jail for an alleged plot to defect, he became the first Czech to coach abroad, leading Finland internationally from 1966 to 1969 and the Netherlands in 1980 and 1981.

"One hundred and ten years as a club, it's a wonderful thing, so we decided to take this opportunity to hold this event," said Slavia coach and general manager Vladimír Růžička on the club's website. "Who else would we choose to play other than the oldest club in the league (Plzeň)? I'm very glad that this match-up can take place. We originally wanted to play it on January 6, when it was exactly one hundred and ten years after the first match, but we had to thoroughly discuss with sponsors. Now, additionally, we play an attractive opponent."

Plzeň's retro sweaters and socks. Photo:
"Many of our biggest fans still wear retro jerseys to cheer us on at home and away games," said Plzeň's captain and general manager, Martin Straka. "They know the tradition well. After all, these jerseys are an important piece of our successful history and present. And they are beautiful." 

After the game, the sweaters will be autographed by the players and then auctioned off, with the proceeds going to charity.  

Beyond the festivities, the game is also a big one. With only six games to play, each team is battling for playoff positions. Slavia currently sits in seventh place with 71 points, 2 back of Mountfield České Budějovice and 3 behind Eaton Pardubice. They are aiming at a birth in the top six, which would mean a bye past the first round into the quarter-finals.

Just behind Slavia in the standings is a group of four teams that are battling for the final three playoff spots. They are Energie Karlovy Vary with 66 and a then a three-way tie between Plzeň, Kometa Brno and Benzina Litvínov with 65 each. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hradec Králové to host 5-team U18 tournament in February

The IIHF World U18 Championships will run April 14 to 24 in Crimmitschau and Dresden, Germany. For hockey fans in Northern Bohemia, they will have a wonderful opportunity to see some of the world's top prospects play in the nearby German state of Saxony, and cheer for their national team as well. Before that tournament takes place, however, fans in Eastern Bohemia will have a chance to witness a tune-up event.

From February 9 to 13, Hradec Králové will play host to a 5-team, round-robin tournament. The host Czech team will welcome the U18 national teams from Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.

Dmitrij Jaškin. Photo: Pavel Vrtiška,
The most notable name on the Czech roster is Dmitrij Jaškin, the only member who plays regularly in the Czech Extraliga. Jaškin was named to the preliminary roster of the country's U20 team, but was injured in late November and forced to miss the World Junior Championships in late December and early January. He returned to the Slavia Praha lineup last week.

At the World Championship tournament in April, all teams will have the opportunity to augment their rosters with players from North American junior teams who have been eliminated from their respective leagues' playoffs. Some Czechs who might have the opportunity to play are defenceman David Musil of the Vancouver Giants and right winger Martin Frk of the Halifax Mooseheads. In that tournament, the Czech Republic will play in a group based in Dresden against Canada, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

From the Czech Ice Hockey Association's website,, here is the roster of the Czech team that will compete in the tournament, February 9 to 13 at ČEZ Stadion in Hradec Králové:

Goaltenders: Patrik Bartošák (Vítkovice), Jaroslav Pavelka (Hradec Králové), Jiří Sýkora (Kladno).

Defencemen: Tomáš Pavelka (Vítkovice), Štěpán Jeník, Antonín Růžička (both Slavia Praha), Petr Šidlík, Vojtěch Zadražil (both Jihlava), Tomáš Kvapil (Lulea, Sweden), Ondřej Starý (Pardubice).

Forwards: Michal Švihálek, Tomáš Rousek, Lukáš Sedlák (all České Budějovice), Dmitrij Jaškin, Tomáš Hertl, Tomáš Moravec (all Slavia Praha), Matěj Beran (Lulea, Sweden), Petr Koblasa (Karlovy Vary), Radek Faksa (Třinec), Tomáš Hyka (Mladá Boleslav), Jakub Matai (Litvínov), Ondřej Hampl, Zdeněk Doležal (both Sparta Praha).

Substitutes: Marek Červený (Hradec Králové), Václav Tomek (Slavia Praha), Michael Janota (Zlín), David Březina (Pardubice), Michal Gutwald (Kladno), Jakub Šrámek (Litvínov), Jakub Faschingbauer, Martin Váchal (both Plzeň), Lukáš Kříž (České Budějovice).

Coaches: Jiří Šolc, Martin Hosták

Team Manager: Martin Hosták 
Goaltending coach: Marcel Kučera 
Physician: Dr. Petr Čech 
Treasurer: František Ptáček

Here is the schedule of the tournament in Hradec Králové:

Wednesday, Feb 9:
15.00 Czech Republic – Finland
18.30 USASweden

Thursday, Feb 10:
15.00 Russia – USA
18.30 Sweden – Finland

Friday, Feb 11:
15.00 SwedenRussia
18.30 Czech Republic – USA

Saturday, Feb 12:
15.00 FinlandRussia
18.30 Czech RepublicSweden

Sunday, Feb 13:
13.30 USA – Finland
17.00 Czech RepublicRussia

Friday, January 28, 2011

Playoff positions continue to change, Straka feels the pressure on and off the ice

Since the last full slate of Extraliga action took place on Sunday, only two games have taken place, but each have had an effect on who will be in the playoffs.

Litvínov has won 2 in a row since the coaching change.
Photo: Jan Beneš,
On Tuesday night, Sparta Praha hosted Benzina Litvínov in a game in which the two teams made up the game in hand they had on the rest of the league. The game was originally scheduled to be played in late December, but was moved to accommodate Sparta's participation in the Spengler Cup.

The game in hand was especially important for Litvínov, as they could use it to get themselves back into the top 10. They continued the mini-roll they've been on since Vladimír Kýhos took over as coach, winning 4-1 to move into a ninth-place tie with Energie Karlovy Vary, 2 points ahead of Plzeň 1929.

Langley, BC's John Lammers (right) gives Plzeň a 2-0 lead.
Photo: Milan Podpera,
Plzeň took to the ice at home on Thursday night against Vítkovice Steel. Though they've been at or near the top of the standings all season, Vítkovice has been in a bit of a slump of late, and went into the game 6 points out of first place.

After a scoreless first period, Plzeň took control of the game in the second, scoring twice. First was a strike by the club's top scorers, as Radek Duda scored on a setup by Martin Straka and Tomáš Vlasák. For Straka, it ended a 4-game scoring draught.  Next was a goal created by the North American combo of Nick Johnson and John Lammers. Johnson took the puck hard to the net, but was denied by goaltender Roman Málek. However, Lammers was waiting on the doorstep and stuffed home the rebound to give the home side a 2-0 lead. Defenceman Nick St. Pierre of St-Étienne, QC was a third North American on the ice at the time of the goal. Vítkovice cut the lead to 2-1 midway through the third period, but Vlasák scored an empty-netter, assisted by Straka and Duda, to makde it a 3-1 final.

The win temporarily put Plzeň into an 8th-place tie with Kometa Brno, one point above Karlovy Vary and Litvínov.

 After the game, Plzeň captain and general manager Martin Straka appeared relieved. Not only had he bumped a 4-game slump with 2 points, but the game came the day after the APK vote in Špindlerův Mlýn when Jan Svoboda voted on behalf of the Plzeň club to withdraw the club's objection to the points deduction. According to Straka, he wasn't even aware the vote was going to take place.

"I do not want to lie, it was complicated, and I didn't sleep the best," he answered, when asked about how ready he was for the game after the off-ice troubles.  

"I had no indication that this would happen. Unfortunately, it happened. Even while it was happening I was given no explanation. We were taking a position for something, for something we have struggled hard for and at one point it changed and we all look like fools. I agreed to meet with Mr. Svoboda so he could explain to me what happened there. The withdrawal was his initiative. He saw that I was very unhappy, as were all people around the club."

Svoboda then resigned from his position with the club.

The stage is set for a wild evening of hockey Friday evening, in which the standings are expected to change some more. Most of the six games being played can be followed at, while Kometa Brno-Sparta Praha can be seen live on ČT4 18:40 CET.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Points deductions upheld, Champions League in jeopardy again

Plzeň 1929, BK Mladá Boleslav, and Vagnerplast Kladno will not get their points back, and the issue that has hung over the 2010-11 Extraliga season like a cloud seems to finally be over, though not to everyone's satisfaction.

At the most recent meeting of the Association of Professional Clubs (APK) this week in the Krkonose town of Špindlerův Mlýn, clubs voted 13 to 1 in favour of bringing the matter to a close, with the lone objection coming from Mladá Boleslav. Suprisingly, even Plzeň delegate Jan Svoboda agreed to accept it, though he resigned his position with the club the next day. This sparked speculation at website that his vote was not popular within the organization, in particular general manager Martin Straka. The club's only comment was that Svoboda had resigned.

Though the matter can't officially be closed, there is no longer any possibility of the points being returned, as any further discussion on the matter won't take place until after the season is finished.

In early November, it came to light that five players on three Extraliga clubs had not been properly registered, and therefore had played ineligibly. On November 19, the APK stripped the three clubs of all points they received in the games where ineligible players competed. Mladá Boleslav lost 22 points, Plzeň 19, and Kladno 6. The three sunk to the bottom of the standings. Within a week, Mladá Boleslav and Plzeň appealed the rulings.

In the two months and change since the ruling, Plzeň has managed to climb out of its precarious position to engage in a battle for the playoffs. Last week they climbed as high as ninth place, though they currently sit in 11th. Neither Mladá Boleslav nor Kladno have shown any real signs of life since.

Martin Adamský. Photo: Lenka Rybaříková,
It was speculated that there was more news regarding points deductions, as some irregularities were found in the registration of Oceláři Třinec's Martin Adamský, who was transferred from Plzeň in the off-season. Mladá Boleslav, in particular, was adamant that this situation had to be handled with the same severity that they were shown. However, the APK disagreed, claiming that the registration was completed and it was only a case of the registration form being damaged.

"It was damaged paper, but the evidence and the registration were completed. Both clubs also received notification that Adamský was registered in Třinec," said Ctibor Jech of the APK.

In other news, the APK announced that it may not accept the IIHF's invitation to participate in the 2011-12 edition of the Champions Hockey League. The Czech Extraliga, among the group of the top seven hockey leagues in Europe, has been invited to send its regular-season and playoff champions from the current hockey season. All leagues have until February 17 to accept this invitation. However, there are still unresolved issues regarding the cancellation of the 2009-10 season, and board member Ladislav Blazek said this must first be addressed.

"The resolutions made in previous meetings were confirmed, insofar as all the clubs support Slavia, Plzeň, Karlovy Vary and Pardubice in the case of the old settlement of obligations. This means that in case of pre-existing unsettled obligations, we won't (participate)."

Slavia and Karlovy Vary were the regular-season and playoff champions, respectively, from the Extraliga in 2008-09, which earned them berths in the 09-10 Champions League season before its cancellation. Plzeň and Pardubice won those same titles last season.

Other European leagues also have similar concerns.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Litvínov wins first with new coach, back in playoff hunt

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Apologizing to the fans after Tuesday's dismal home-ice performance against Kometa Brno didn't work; on Thursday, Benzina Litvínov dropped its fourth in a row. Suddenly, on Sunday Litvínov hosted Plzeň 1929, a club they once had a comfortable lead over, whom they now trailed by four points for the final playoff spot. General manager Jiří Šlegr figured it was time to make a move. On Saturday, he fired coach Robert Reichel and then on Sunday named Vladimíř Kyhos his replacement. It's the second coaching change the team has made this season.

The visiting team from Plzeň came riding in on a high, winners of their last seven, climbing from 12th place into a tie for ninth in the process. But the further the game went along, the more frustrated they seemed to get by the positionally sound play of the home team; Kýhos had his team playing a solid team game. Finally, as the game approached its midway point, Viktor Hübel sent a wrist shot from the high slot through traffic that beat Luboš Horčička just inside the post to give Litvínov the 1-0 lead.

For the rest of the second and the first half of the third, nothing changed, but halfway through the third period Michal Trávníček caught Martin Heřman with a knee, which knocked the Plzeň winger out of the game. Trávníček's night was also finished, as he was given a major and game misconduct. Plzeň couldn't get much going for much of its five-minute power-play, however, until coach Marian Jelínek called a timeout to re-compose his troops. That seemed to help somewhat, as they managed to put on some sustained pressure in the last minute of the advantage, but couldn't score.

Plzeň's best two scoring chances came off the stick of Radek Duda. Late in the second, he just barely failed to get the puck up and over a fallen Martin Volke. Then, with only 30 seconds remaining on the clock, his backhander hit the bottom of the crossbar and bounced out.

With the win, Litvínov advances to within one point of Plzeň with a game in hand.

Other scores:

Slavia Praha 4-3 Vítkovice Steel
Energie Karlovy Vary 2-4 Kometa Brno
Eaton Pardubice 3-5 Bílí Tigři Liberec
Mountfield České Budějovice 2-1 Vagnerplast Kladno
PSG Zlín 2-1 BK Mladá Boleslav
Sparta Praha 3-5 Oceláři Třinec

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sparta wins Prague derby, 2 points for Kůrka in Pardubice debut

Regardless of the standings, a Sparta-Slavia match-up always
has feeling. Photo: Jan Beneš,
For hockey fans in Prague, there is nothing more exciting than a match-up between the capital city's two Extraliga clubs, Sparta and Slavia. Ever since Slavia returned to the country's top league in 1994, it's been a spectacle, reaching its peak when the teams met in the 2006 Final, which was won by Sparta. When the teams met at Tesla Arena on Friday night, there wasn't as much at stake, but as the league enters its stretch-run, both clubs still viewed it as a must-win game.

For visiting Slavia, who currently sit in seventh place, they want to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in round. As well, with the tightness of the standings, a playoff spot was still not guaranteed. For Sparta, the situation was more critical. Trailing the final playoff spot by 13 points with 11 games to play, they need to put together a substantial run if they want to have a chance at the playoffs and salvage a season that has been, to this point, a disaster.

Tesla Arena has been a lonely place for much of the season, with crowds in the 3-5,000 range being the norm for much of the past couple months. Of course, the derby meant a healthy number of Slavia supporters and more Sparta fans who want to be part of the atmosphere, and the crowd swelled on Friday night to 10,108. Possibly charged by the atmosphere, Michal Broš scored the winning goal for Sparta in the game's first minute and Tomáš Pöpperle stopped all 23 shots he faced, as the home side prevailed 3-0.

If there was any good news for Slavia, it was the return to the line-up of 17-year-old phenom Dmitrij Jaškin. He injured his knee on November 21, causing him to miss two months of action, which included the World Junior Championships. Jaškin saw limited action during the game, but didn't look out of place.

The three points may give Sparta a glimmer of hope in its bleak playoff chances. With 10 games to play, they trail Kometa Brno and Plzeň 1929 by 10 points and hold a game in hand, but Benzina Litvínov stands in their way.

Litvínov went into Pardubice on Friday night looking to atone for Tuesday's dreadful 7-1 loss on home ice to Kometa Brno. The team, led by general manager Jiří Šlegr and head coach Robert Reichel, was so embarrassed by their performance in such a big game that they issued a public apology to their fans.

Tomáš Kůrka in his Eaton Pardubice debut.
Meanwhile, Pardubice fans were buzzing about the debut of Tomáš Kůrka, who was cut loose by Sparta on January 9. After recording 41 points in 43 games for Slavia last season, the 29-year-old right winger had only 12 points for Sparta in 38 games this season. Kůrka played on a forward line with Tomáš Zohorna and Adam Pineault of Holyoke, MA, and the trio led Eaton Pardubice's attack.

After a scoreless first period, Kůrka set up Zohorna, who made a nifty move from behind the goal line to stuff the puck into the open side and give the home team the lead. Five minutes later, Zohorna scored his second of the game on a long shot from the point, assisted by Pineault. After Litvínov struck twice to tie the score, Pardubice regained the lead late in the middle frame when Pineault and Kůrka combined to set up defenceman Jan Kolář, who fired a bullet past goaltender Martin Volke. In the first minute of the third period, a forward who is also named Jan Kolář (a different, unrelated player) restored the 2-goal cushion. There was no further scoring and the game ended 4-2.

After ending their losing streak on Tuesday, Kometa Brno was looking for more on Friday against PSG Zlín. The game was tied 2-2 in the third period, but Zlín's Martin Hamrlík broke the tie with 6:42 on the clock and an empty-netter made it a 4-2 final. Failing to get any points means that Kometa remains tied for ninth with Plzeň, who won in Liberec on Thursday. 

In other action, Oceláři Třinec held its lead on first place with a  6-4 victory on home ice over Vagnerplast Kladno, and Vítkovice Steel took advantage of the Liberec loss and returned to second place by doubling Energie Karlovy Vary 4-2. And in their first game after releasing Scott Barney, last-place BK Mladá Boleslav edged Mountfield České Budějovice 3-2.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Scott Barney leaves Boleslav, returns to Finland

Scott Barney of Oshawa, ON has parted company with BK Mladá Boleslav and will return to the Finnish SM-liiga, reports the club's website. He will join club HPK Hameenliina.

The 31-year-old centre and right winger signed with Boleslav back on November 21 and made his debut with the club five days later. He scored that night in a 4-1 loss to Vítkovice Steel and picked up an assist in his second game, a 3-2 loss to Slavia Praha. In the 11 games since then, however, Barney registered only 1 goal and 1 assist, while the club struggled along in the league basement.

Barney becomes the second Canadian player to leave the Boleslav club this season. Duncan Milroy of Edmonton, AB started the season with the team, but left in November to join the Krefeld Penguins of the German DEL. Defenceman Darrell Hay of Kamloops, BC has played on the club all season. The son of former NHL coach Don Hay has played in all 42 of his team's games this season, and has 5 goals and 13 assists.

Barney started the season in the SM-liiga, playing 21 games for SaiPa Lappeenranta before being released from the club after he was arrested for driving while impaired.

It's been a trying season for BK Mlada Boleslav. After getting off to a decent start and sitting in a playoff position in mid November, they were stripped of 22 points by the league for improperly registering three of their players. The club's appeal is still pending. Additionally, they faced banishment from the Extraliga when they were accused of falsifying documents relating to the club's financial status in December, but it was eventually ruled that the discrepancies were not malicious, and they faced only a fine.

It appears unlikely they will climb out of the basement before the end of the season, which would mean that they will have to defend their position in the top league in a best-of-seven series against the First League champions.

Extraliga playoff race heats up

In round 42 of the Czech Extraliga's 52-game schedule, the playoff race is really beginning to heat up. The top 10 teams make the playoffs, and teams nine through 12 took to the ice against each other Tuesday night.

For these Kometa Brno fans, the trip to Litvínov was well worth it.
Photo: Roman Kantor,
12 games ago, HC Kometa Brno was tied for third place and had its eye on top spot, but they've only won once since then and found themselves in danger of falling out of a playoff position as they took to the ice in Litvínov against HC Benzina. They picked an opportune time to break out of their slump as they struck for three goals in the first period, all of them assisted by Ivan Huml, en route to a convincing 7-1 win over Jiří Šlegr's squad.

Meanwhile, 11th-place HC Plzeň 1929 hosted 12th-place HC Sparta Praha. Plzeň got two first-period goals from Radek Duda, and that's all the offence they needed, as Luboš Horčička stopped all 27 shots he faced in a 2-0 victory. John Lammers of Langley, BC and Nick Johnson of Windsor, CT, who are flatmates in Plzeň, were re-united on the same line for the first time after over a month apart. They responded with a solid defensive effort. 

With the win, Plzeň leap-frogs over Litvínov into 10th place, and a playoff position; an amazing accomplishment, considering they were stripped of 19 points in November for dressing improperly registered players. If they hadn't lost those points, they would currently be tied for third place.

In the Extraliga's current playoff structure, the top six teams in the regular season advance to the quarter-finals, while teams seven through ten play best-of-five series to determine the last two quarter-final berths. With the possibility of facing a red-hot Plzeň team, who are not really a 10th-place club, teams have extra incentive to try to finish in the top six, which made Tuesday's match-up between sixth-place Slavia Praha and seventh-place Mountfied České Budějovice interesting. Slavia held a one-point lead, but Budějovice won 3-0 on home ice to pass Slavia and slide into sixth position.

At the top of the standings, Vítkovice Steel fell out of first place when they lost in Liberec to Bílí Tigři by a 4-2 score. Oceláři Třinec also beat BK Mladá Boleslav 5-2 to pass both teams and claim top spot, knocking Vítkovice into third.

Rounding out round 42, PSG Zlín shut out Vagnerpast Kladno 3-0 and Energie Karlovy Vary knocked off Eaton Pardubice 4-1.

All teams now have 10 games to play, except for Benzina Litvínov and Sparta Praha, who each have 11. The game in hand will benefit Litvínov more than Sparta. Litvínov now sits in 11th, but only one point out of a playoff spot, but Sparta is 10 out and needs a major reversal of fortunes to get back into the playoff race.

Here are the current standings:

1 HC Oceláři Třinec 4220  5
8 9
2 Bílí Tygři Liberec42 21  5
4 12
3 HC Vítkovice Steel 42 21  5
2 14
4 PSG Zlín 42 18  5
7 12
5 HC Eaton Pardubice 42 18  2
10 12
6 HC Mountfield České Budějovice 42 18  5
3 16
7 HC Slavia Praha 42 17  6
2 17
8 HC Energie Karlovy Vary 42 13  6
10 13
9HC Kometa Brno 42 16  5
1 20
10 HC Plzeň 1929 42 21  5
2 14
11 HC Benzina Litvínov 41 16  2
3 20
HC Sparta Praha
HC Vagnerplast Kladno


14 BK Mladá Boleslav                     42 11  3
   5   23 22

To see how the standings have changed since Plzeň, Mladá Boleslav, and Kladno were stripped of points, here is how things looked prior to games played November 16:

1 HC Oceláři Třinec 20 11  3
2 4
2 HC Vítkovice Steel 20 11  2
1 6
3 Bílí Tygři Liberec 20 10  1
4 5
4 HC Mountfield České Budějovice  20 9  3
1 7
5 HC Eaton Pardubice 19 9  1
4 5
6 HC Kometa Brno 20 10  1
1 8
7 HC Energie Karlovy Vary 19 7  3
3 6
8 PSG Zlín 20 6  3
4 7
9HC Benzina Litvínov 20 8  1
2 9
10 HC Slavia Praha 20 7  2
0 11
11 HC Sparta Praha 21 5  4
2 10
HC Plzeň 1929
HC Vagnerplast Kladno


14 BK Mladá Boleslav                      21 0   1
    1   19 3

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Plzeň climbs the ladder, Brno free-falls

Back on November 19, the Association of Professional Clubs stripped BK Mladá Bolselav, HC Plzeň 1929, and HC Vagnerplast Kladno 22, 19, and 6 points, respectively, for using improperly registered players in some of their early-season games.

The ruling seemed like a death sentence for the three clubs in the 2010-11 season and, indeed, for two of the clubs it has been. Mladá Boleslav and Kladno are buried at the bottom of the standings; the only thing left to decide is which one will finish last and face a relegation series against the First League winner. But Plzeň, who dropped from seventh place to 12th with the ruling, 13 points out of a playoff spot, are now within 2 of getting back into the top 10.

Plzeň celebrates Jaroslav Modrý's winning goal on Sunday.
The Indians are currently riding a five-game winning streak, the latest win coming Sunday night over Mountfield České Budějovice, 3-2. Windsor, CT's Nick Johnson assisted on Jaroslav Modrý's game-winner midway through the third period. In that stretch, they have put 12th-place Sparta Praha 10 points in arrears and now have 53 points. Within their their sights are Benzina Litvínov with 55, Kometa Brno with 56, and Energie Karlovy Vary with 58.

The chase for a spot in the top 10, and a playoff position, was aided by the fact that all three teams they are chasing lost on Sunday. Litvínov lost 4-2 to league-leading Vítkovice Steel, Brno lost 2-1 on home ice to Mladá Boleslav, and Karlovy Vary got walloped 7-1 by Bílí Tigři Liberec. Brno, who were in third place a month ago, are running in the opposite direction of Plzeň. They have won only once in their last 12 games and are now in danger of missing the playoffs, a prospect that seemed unthinkable not long ago. Kometa hosts Litvínov in a huge game Tuesday night.

As for Plzeň, they host Sparta on Tuesday before heading on the road to play in Liberec Friday and Litvínov next Sunday. The match-up with Sparta was slated to be the final installment of the season in the battle of Newfoundland defencemen, John Slaney and Doug O'Brien. However, Slaney suffered a concussion on Friday night in Karlovy Vary and missed Sunday's game. His status for Tuesday is unknown. Slaney missed 11 games earlier this season with a broken jaw.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Czech U18 women finish 4th

Lenka Craigová sweeps the puck out of the net for one of the
USA's 14 goals in the semi-finals. Photo: Matthew Murnaghan
When they reached the semi-finals in a pool of teams that included the United States, Canada, and Finland, anything better than a fourth-place finish for this Czech U18 women's team would have been amazing. In the end, they did indeed finish fourth, but they put forth an effort to be proud of.

At first glance, their 14-1 defeat against the USA in the semi-finals seems like nothing to write home about, but if you saw the game, you would have seen that they really put up a great battle in the first period against a team they had virtually no chance of beating. After Haley Skarupa gave the USA a 1-0 lead at the 6:52 mark, Denisa Křížová tied the game just seven seconds later. When the period ended, the USA, perennial powerhouses of women's hockey, held a slim 2-1 lead. From that point on, however, it was all downhill for the Czech team, and it finished 14-1. Still, the fight they put up in the first period should not be ignored.

After their quarter-final win against Germany, Czech team captain Jana Fialova commented that their goal was to win the bronze medal, and even if they didn't manage to do it, they put forth a great effort in the bronze-medal game. The Finns led 1-0 after a period, and when they scored twice in the first six minutes of the second period, the game had all the earmarks of a blowout; an over-matched Czech team that had kept things close early, but tired quickly and folded. But they didn't.

They didn't surrender another goal the rest of the way. In fact, in the third period, they staged a furious offensive attack, if not to score three goals, at least to get one. But they were unable to beat Finnish goalkeeper Isabella Portnoj, who preserved the shutout and the bronze medal for the Finns.

Though they didn't manage to medal, this Czech U18 team finished better than any other Czech women's team at an IIHF word championship tournament, which is a positive result for a women's hockey program that has lagged far behind the other traditional hockey powers in the world. 

For the official individual statistics of the Czech team, as compiled by the IIHF, click here:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Czech U18 women advance to semi-finals

Defenceman Markéta Vytisková celebrates with goaltender
Veronika Hladíková after beating Japan. Photo: Phillip
MacCallum, HHOF-IIHF Images
For the first time ever, a Czech women's team has advanced to the semi-finals of an official IIHF world championship tournament.

After dropping their first two games of the 2011 IIHF Women's World U18 Championships, the Czech Republic dispatched Japan 4-1 in their final group game on Tuesday and then topped Germany 3-1 in Wednesday's quarter-final, setting up a semi-final match-up against the United States on Friday.

The win against Japan was an expected result, and the result may have been flattering to the Japanese team as the Czechs had a 43-25 edge in shots. They were led by 2 goals from Markéta Vytisková and 1 goal and 1 assist from Kateřina Kaplanová.

In the quarter-finals, they were the benefactors of an upset in the other group, as Germany's victory over Finland meant that the third-place Czechs crossed over to play the second-place Germans instead of Finland, who are traditionally more powerful. Having beaten Finland, some predicted that the Germans would be able to handle this Czech team. However, the Czechs came out storming and were unlucky to finish the first period still scoreless, as they outshot the Germans 14-6. Undaunted, they continued to apply the pressure, and midway through the middle frame Kateřina Solničková finally solved German goalkeeper Sonja Grüber, giving the Czechs a 1-0 lead. In the first minute of the third period, Solničková set up Klára Chmelová for the eventual game winner; the teams traded goals after that point.

“We played with a big heart. We were pretty tired, after the game and having played with practically just two lines, so we left everything on the ice,” Czech captain Jana Fialová said after the game, as reported by Risto Pakarinen of “Now our goal is to win a bronze medal.”

Indeed, given their semi-final opponent, that is probably the only realistic goal.

In the other quarter-final, Finland shook off its group stage loss to Germany and beat the host Swedes 3-2, meaning that Friday's semi-final match-ups will feature Finland against Canada at 15:30 Central European Time (9:30 AM Eastern Time) and the Czech Republic versus the USA at 19:00 CET (1:00 PM ET). The two games Saturday will be at the same times, with the earlier game being for the bronze medal and the later game for the championship. All four games can be seen streaming at:

 Most pundits would agree that it is extremely unlikely for the Czech Republic to advance to Saturday's final, given that the U.S. women's program, on the elite level of the world, has so far outscored its opposition 28-1 in the tournament, including an 11-0 win over the Czechs in the tournament opener. In fact, it would be a surprise if they finish better than fourth place. However, that would still make it the best finish ever by a Czech women's team at a world championship tournament at any level, which is an encouraging sign.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Czechs finish 7th at WJC

Petr Holík engages in a battle along the boards
against Slovakia. Photo:
The Czech Republic played its last game of the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship on Tuesday night, beating Slovakia by a score of 5-2 to finish seventh in the tournament. They were led offensively by captain Jakub Jeřábek (2 assists), Martin Frk, and Andrej Nestrašil (each 1 goal and 1 assist). In goal, Filip Novotný stopped 19 of 21 shots for his second straight win.

Click here to see the official individual statistics, as compiled by the IIHF, for the Czech U20 team at the 2011 World Junior Championships.

Jeřábek was their leader and best player all tournament. The 19-year-old undrafted defenceman led the team offensively with 8 points (1 goal and 7 assists) in 6 games. Collectively, only 1 other point was recorded by a thin Czech defensive unit. Jerábek, who plays full time for HC Plzeň 1929 in the Czech Extraliga, made a strong case for being drafted in 2011, and suitors from the KHL may come calling as well.

Up front, the club was led by 17-year-old Frk. Frk wasn't even on the radar for inclusion on this team at the start of the season, but his strong season in Halifax garnered attention. Frk recorded 3 goals and 3 assists and, since his October birthdate means that he won't be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2012, he will almost certainly return next year and be counted on as one of the team's offensive leaders. Michal Hlinka also scored 3 goals and added 1 assist, and Antonín Honejsek had 2 goals and 2 assists.

In goal, the team was definitely hurt by the absence of Petr Mrázek of the Ottawa 67's, and were forced to alternate between Extraliga backups Marek Mazanec and Novotný. While better results may have been expected, they were often getting shelled with a weak blueline in front of them. Mazanec may now face more of the same when he returns to a Plzeň team that has had goaltending and defensive woes all season.

By finishing seventh, the Czech Republic will find itself next season in a group with Canada, the USA, and Finland, with either Denmark or Latvia being the group's fifth team. Again, they will be ranked fourth in their group and facing an uphill battle to reach the quarter-finals, though it may be slightly easier than it was this year.

From this year's club, only Frk, Bohumil Jank, Petr Holík, and Rimouski Oceanic teammates Jakub Culek and Petr Straka will be eligible to return. Dmitrij Jaškin and defenceman David Musil, a pair of 17-year-olds who missed this year's tournament with injuries, are also expected to be there.

Though the Czechs ended up in the relegation round, they were represented in the gold medal game of this tournament. Příbram-native Martin Fraňo was one of the referees of the game in which Russia defeated Canada 5-3 to claim the championship. The 28-year-old Fraňo, who is a referee in the Czech Extraliga, also worked the Canada-USA semi-final. In his early twenties, he spent a year living in Minnesota and worked as a linesman in the junior A-level United States Hockey League. Jaromír Bláha, from Újezd nad Lesy, was a linesman in the tournament and worked the Finland-Russia quarter-final.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fans react to Open Air Hockey in Pardubice

"The cost for us it is a pretty decent risk. But since we assume a great response and especially from our great fans, we see an event like this as a gift to the people."

That's what Pardubice General Manager Zbyněk Kusy said back on November 11, when Open Air Hockey 2011 was in its planning stages. On Sunday, we saw that planning come to fruition when Eaton Pardubice defeated Kometa Brno 4-2 before 17,140 fans outdoors at Pardubice-Svítkov Speeday. It was the first outdoor professional hockey game ever played in the Czech Republic.

Was it a gift to the people? What did Pardubice's great fans think of this unique spectacle on January 2? Some who attended put their thoughts into words:

I had standing ticket and that became the first nice surprise - I saw perfectly! The rink wasn't as far as I thought it was going to be. In the beginning of the game I was a little disapointed by the number of people who came but all the fans who showed up were so alive and excited that it didn't matter. 17 thousand is a lovely number. We didn't really trust the stability of the construction but it turned out well, even when we were jumping. (Just for fun, we counted the stairs - 98 exactly.) A snow storm came during the first period and I didn't feel my toes the whole game but I think these things kind of belong to it so I didn't mind.

Brno fans can be very loud - and they were loud. But I could barely hear them after Pardubice tied the game.

The organization was good, as well as the possibilities to buy some food (sausages, noodles and some Czech/Slovak specialties such as halušky or trdelník) or something to drink (tea, beer, rum, hot pear juice, etc.). Prices were acceptable. Buses and trains to Svítkov and back to the city were free.

There was, I think, only one negative aspect - the visitors, who spent more money for seating tickets (600 - 5000 CZK) in order to see the match better, had a worse view than than the fans in the standing area had (500 CZK).

All in all - Open Air Game in Pardubice was amazing. Everyone left Svítkov feeling a part of something special. I don't know if doing this every year would be a good idea but it was definitely the best hockey experince I've ever had. If you ever have a chance to go to an outdoor game, don't hesitate.

- Lada Černohousová, Pardubice

Another wrote and posted the accompanying photo in a blog post titled "Open Air Game: aka Winter Classic in Czech stlyle":

During the 1st period started a little snow storm but since the second the weather went much better and the score as well . :) The Kometa fans were very loud in the first period (much louder than home fans, I must admit) but since the moment when Pardubice scored for the first time they only kept silence.

Unfortunately, I could only see half of the rink because of the tower with a TV cameraman. But there were a screen above the rink so I didn't mind it. The match was a good experience and at least now I know that I have to wear at least two pairs of socks for outdoor matches, lol.
Of course, I was frozen a bit. No, I didn't mind ;)

We spent the first period in the standing sector and.. yes, there was the best view. Seriously. And it snowed, like a lot.

Second and third periods we went to our seats and .. were freezing. :) It stopped snowing and Pardubice tied the game but well, sitting on a cold bench is not the best thing you can do.

I didn't take many photos, because it's hard to handle a touch screen while you are wearing your gloves. (You all should call me the boss of excuses.)

PS: If you heard me saying I'm not visiting the game, yeah, I was resolved not to go. But is there anyone who would refuse a ticket with 75% of the price off? I don't think so :) (Wanted to show you my ticket but.. I didn't close my bottle of water enough, oops.)

- Susanne Towy, Pardubice
Additionally, many fans of both the Pardubice and Brno clubs have posted homemade videos on YouTube:

If you missed the game but would like to see it, it is available online, in its entirety at:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Czech U20 men barely beat Germany to avoid relegation, U18 women start 0-2

Ondřej Palát scores his first of 2 to tie the game. Photo:
Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images.
We know for sure now that the Czech Republic will appear at next year's World Junior Championship in Calgary and Edmonton, AB. By virtue of their 3-2 win over Germany on Sunday night, they can finish no worse than eighth at this year's tournament. But they didn't make things easy on themselves.

For the first time in the tournament, the Czech team didn't score the first goal. After a scoreless first period, Germany's Norman Hauner beat Filip Novotný early in the second to open the scoring. Michal Hlinka then tied it for the Czechs on a power-play five minutes later to tie the score.

Despite going 0-4 in Group A, Germany was not blown out in any game, and they hung around in this one as well. In fact, early in the third period, Marius Mochel scored to give the Germans a 2-1 lead. As the period reached the halfway point, the score remained unchanged. Then they received some help from an unlikely source. Ondřej Palát scored his first goal of the tournament with 9:16 remaining to tie the score. Then, as overtime loomed, Palát scored again with exactly 1:00 to play in regulation time to give the Czechs the 3 points they needed to clinch a berth in next year's tournament.

The Czech Republic was once again led by captain Jakub Jeřábek in this game. The 19-year-old defenceman from Plzeň 1929 chipped in with 2 assists and has been their best player all tournament.

Had they lost Sunday, the Czech Republic would have needed a win on Tuesday against Slovakia to avoid relegation. Now the game will merely determine who finishes seventh and eighth. Last year, the teams faced an identical situation, and the Czechs won to get seventh place and the 2-3-6-7 group for this year's tournament, which turned out to be a lot stronger than the 1-4-5-8 group that Slovakia got into. Of course, being that the top six positions of this tournament haven't been determined yet, there's no way to say which is preferable at this point. The fifth teams in each group for next year will be Denmark and Latvia, to be determined randomly.

Sweden scores against the Czechs at the Women's U18
Championships in Stockholm. Photo: Matthew
Murnaghan / HHOF-IIHF Images.
The Czech women's U18 team has lost its first two games at the 2011 IIHF Women's U18 World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, but they still have a good shot at the quarter-finals. They were blown out 11-0 by the USA in the opener on Saturday, and then lost a tight game, 3-2 to the host Swedes on Sunday. The Czechs were outshot in the game 42-28, but stayed with the Swedes thanks to the netminding of Veronika Hladíková. Kateřina Solničková gave the Czechs the lead in the first period and then, trailing 2-1 in the dying seconds of the second period, Kateřina Kaplanová scored a buzzer-beater to tie the score. Lina Backlin scored the winning goal for the Swedes at 7:26 of the third period.

Despite the loss, the close showing against one of the world's leading women's teams is a considerable accomplishment for the Czech Republic, whose women's hockey program is trying to catch up to the powers of Europe. They will play their final group game on Tuesday against Japan, with the winner clinching third place and a spot in the quarter-finals.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pardubice wins Open Air game at home

HC Eaton Pardubice, on what was their home ice for one day, erased a 2-0 deficit and beat Kometa Brno 4-2 in a historic game for hockey in the Czech Republic.

Only five weeks after announcing grand plans to stage the first-ever outdoor professional hockey game in the Czech Republic, the two teams took to the ice at Pardubice-Svítkov Speedway, which is normally a course for motorcycle racing.

Action during the Legends Game. Photo: Jan Jedlička,
The day began at 10:00, with a legends game, made up of two teams composed of former greats who played for the Pardubice and Brno clubs. Perhaps the most recognizable name to North Americans to participate in this game was Vladimír Martinec, who starred for the Czechoslovakian team that made a memorable showing at the 1976 Canada Cup. He scored in the third period to give Pardubice a 3-2 lead, but Brno later tied it and the contest ended in a 3-3 tie. "Today's outcome isn't significant," he said. "Nobody got hurt and we had a great time playing . . .  It was good. The weather was nice, not freezing too much. It worked great."

While the sun was out when the legends began to play, it started to snow before they were finished. By the time the main event began at 12:30, the teams were playing in driving snow. The conditions were favourable to Brno, who had the wind at their backs and the snow blowing into the face of Pardubice goaltender Adam Svoboda. The visitors held the run of the play in the first period and scored two goals; Marek Kvapil and Roman Erat doing the damage. The two teams began the game wearing vintage sweaters from past editions of their teams. After the game, Svoboda commented, "The first period was not very good. We played upwind in a blizzard. I was looking through one eye because everything blew into my face. When five centimetres (of snow) falls, you can't see the puck."

Second period faceoff. Photo: Jan Jedlička,
When the two clubs took to the ice for the second period, it appeared to be a whole new game. The snow had stopped and the teams were wearing their regular sweaters, the latter move likely to appease the advertisers. As well, Martin Růžička took over from Svoboda in the Pardubice goal, and he was perfect the rest of the way. Rastislav Špirko tipped a one-time drive from Václav Kočí past goaltender Jiří Trvaj and Pardubice was on the board. This wasn't Špirko's first appearance in an outdoor game. He played for Slovakia in an outdoor exhibition game in the Swiss Alps two years ago. Pardubice struck twice more before the middle frame was half finished, first Jan Starý and then Martin Bartek on a routine shot that Trvaj misplayed. Late in the second period, the sun came out, and the frozen spectators certainly welcomed that.

In the third period, Radek Dlouhý had the opportunity to tie the score on a penalty shot, but he was denied by Růžička. Starý scored his second of the game into an empty net, and Pardubice had the 4-2 win.

There was one North American playing in this game. Holyoke, MA's Adam Pineault played on Pardubice's fourth forward line, seeing limited action. Their other American, Jeff Jillson of North Smithfield, RI, was scratched from the lineup for the third straight game. 

Though the rink in the middle of the large track didn't afford the fans the best sightlines, and the heavy snowfall during the first period made things even more difficult, the crowd was definitely into the game. The chanting and singing in the style of European football fans gave it an atmosphere that is distinct from when these sorts of games are staged in North America.

Though the crowd of 17,140 established a new record for the Czech Extraliga, it did not break the record for largest hockey crowd to ever see the game in what is now the Czech Republic. That record still stands at 18,500 for the grand opening of Sportovní hala in Prague (now TESLA Arena) in the Czechoslovakian First League. A team from Brno was also visiting on that day; ZKL Brno visited Spartak Sokolov. The stadium for Sunday's game was configured to accommodate up to 25,000, and it was hoped that capacity would be reached. The previous record for the Extraliga was from the seventh game of the 2008 Finals, when 17,123 filled Sazka Arena (now O2 Arena) to watch Slavia Praha defeat Energie Karlovy Vary and claim the championship.

"Its true that we are a bit sad that there werent more, but this is good for us," Pardubice General Manager Zbyněk Kusy said of the crowd. "We are pleased that we were able to welcome over seventeen thousand spectators. Getting more people, it probably isn't likely in the Czech Republic right now."

Among the reasons some fans gave for the lower-than-expected turnout were the high ticket prices and the lack of any marquee names playing in the game. Tickets ranged in price from CZK 450 to 1000 (approximately USD 24 to 53). Ticket prices in the Extraliga are usually in the range of CZK 100 to 300.

The win moved Pardubice into a three-way tie for second place in the Extraliga standings. The tie is only temporary, however, as the other two tied clubs, Oceláři Třinec and Bílí Tigři Liberec, will take to the ice against each other later on Sunday.

More photos from the event can be found here:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Russia wins on NYE and goes to quarters, Czechs to relegation round

Marek Mazanec is unable to prevent Denis Golubev from giving
Russia a 3-1 lead. Photo: Andre Ringuette, HHOF-IIHF Images.
It was a showdown on Silvestr between too old hockey rivals, Russia and the Czech Republic. It was the very last game of Group B at the 2011 World Junior Championships, and there was a lot riding on it. The winner would finish third place in the group and advance to the quarter-finals, while the loser would finish fourth and be sent to the relegation round.

From the start of the tournament, the Czech Republic knew that making the quarter-finals would be a difficult task. And though they appeared so close to advancing, in the end they were so far.

Like they had in their losses to Canada and Sweden, they got off to a quick start, with Jakub Osrava getting the first goal at the 1:53 mark. And like those other games, the wheels came off the bus not long afterward. The Russians scored four goals in under eight minutes in the first period to put the Czechs in a deep hole. After getting pulled after four goals against Sweden, goaltender Marek Mazanec was pulled again on Friday at 6:28 of the second period after allowing six goals on 16 shots. Filip Novotný stopped 11 of 13 shots the rest of the way.

The final score was 8-3, with Petr Straka and Michal Hlinka scoring the second and third goals for the Czechs. In their four group games, the Czech Republic was led in scoring by captain Jakub Jeřábek with 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists). Martin Frk, Antonín Honejsek, and Hlinka each had 3 (2 goals and 1 assist each).

Russia was led in the game by a goal and three assists from captain Vladimir Tarasenko. Dmitri Orlov, Danil Sobchenko, and Yevgeni Kuznetsov each chipped in a goal and two assists.

With the win, Russia advances to the quarter-finals, and they will play Finland on Sunday. The winner will play Sweden, the winner of Group B, on Monday. The other quarter-final, also on Sunday, will feature Canada against Switzerland, with the winner playing Monday against the USA, tournament host and winner of Group A. The bronze and gold medal games will be played Wednesday.

The next task for the Czech team is avoiding relegation. They are joined in the group by Norway, Germany, and Slovakia. The top two teams will stay in the top group and play in next year's World Junior Championship in Calgary and Edmonton, AB. The bottom two will drop to the Division 1 tournament, their spots in the top tournament to be taken by Denmark and Latvia.

The Czech Republic's 2-0 win over Norway carries over into the relegation round, as does Slovakia's 2-1 overtime victory against Germany. Therefore, the Czechs currently lead the group with 3 points, followed by Slovakia with 2, Germany with 1, and Norway with 0. The Czechs play against Germany on Sunday and against Slovakia on Tuesday. A win in at least one of those games will be enough for the Czech Republic to remain in the top group.