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.

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