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.

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