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.

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