Thursday, March 31, 2011

Znojmo wins national junior championship

Orli Znojmo is the champion of the Czech Junior Extraliga, having beaten Energie Karlovy Vary, two games to one, in the final series.

Both teams were a bit of a surprise to make it this far, defeating teams that finished higher than them in the regular season in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. Seventh-seeded Karlovy Vary swept both second-seeded Vítkovice and top-seeded Sparta Praha, while fifth-seeded Znojmo edged fourth-seeded Zlín and third-seeded Slavia Praha, each in three games. In the best-of-three final, the home team won each game.

Game 1 was played in Karlovy Vary on Sunday with the home side winning it's fifth consecutive playoff game, 7-3, before an enthusiastic crowd of 1,870. Tomáš Klíma scored 2 goals and added 2 assists, while Vladislav Habal turned away 31 of 34 shots. At the other end, Ondřej Kacetl was beaten on 7 of 24 shots.

Znojmo took to its home ice on Tuesday night needing a win to prolong the series, and they did so in a big way. Tomáš Rachůnek opened the scoring when he scored on a first-period penalty shot, and that opened the floodgates to a convincing 8-0 victory. Leading the charge were David Bartoš and Richard Jarůšek with 4 points each and Tomáš Komínek with 3. Kacetl rebounded from a shaky first game to post a 21-save shutout.

Photo: Rostislav Pfeffer,
In a decisive third game on Wednesday night, Znojmo continued its dominance by jumping out to a 3-0 first-period lead. As the contest started to become out of reach in the second, frustration began to show on the side of Karlovy Vary, leading way to a wild melée late in the period. Two players for Karlovy Vary and one for Znojmo were kicked out for fighting. By the third period, the outcome was clear and the home crowd of 1,914 began celebrating. The final score was 7-2, and the Znojmo players poured over the boards as the game ended.

"I don't know. We try to play attacking hockey," said Znojmo captain Jan Tojan about the barrage of goals, 27 in three games, in the final series. "Really, the superb fans here in Znojmo supported us and drove us forward. And because of that it challenged us to score."

Of the nine players in the Junior Extraliga playoffs to score 7 or more points, seven were Znojmo players. Leading the way were Komínek with 12 points and Rachůnak with 10. Czech World Junior defenceman Martin Pláněk led all rearguards with 8 points in 8 games.

Třinec forces game 7

On Wednesday night at O2 Arena in Prague, Slavia Praha and Oceláři Třinec met in the sixth game of their semifinal series with, as the saying goes, Slavia looking to end it and Třinec looking to extend it. Třinec had already fought off one match point on home ice on Monday, and were looking to take the series back to their barn for a decisive seventh game on Friday.

The two teams traded goals early on, and then midway through the first period Slavia found themselves with an extended five-on-three advantage. They blew a similar opportunity on Monday and weren't about to again, and Tomáš Svoboda took advantage of a fortuitous bounce when the puck was kicked onto his stick and he buried it to give Slavia the lead. In the second, Svoboda scored his second of the game when he came out from the corner and fired a perfect backhander off the far post and in to really put Slavia in the driver's seat.

But things turned around quickly.

Just over a minute after Svoboda's second goal, Lukáš Krajiček's point shot deflected off a Slavia defender attempting to block the shot and fluttered past goaltender Miroslav Kopřiva to make it a one-goal game. With less than three minutes to play in the middle frame, defenceman Josef Hrabal tied it with a bullet from the point that went top corner. And then, with only 1:24 left, Martin Růžička's weak-angle shot beat Kopřiva between the legs to give Třinec its first lead of the game.

Slavia's Jiří Vašíček (left) and Třinec's Václav Varaďa duke it out
late in game 6. Neither is likely to face suspension for game 7.
In the third period, Slavia made several strong pushes to tie the game, but were unable to generate much sustained pressure. After an empty-net goal in the last minute put the game away, tempers boiled over and some players traded punches in the dying seconds. Generously, the referees dished out nothing more than minors and misconducts, so it's unlikely any player will miss the seventh game due to suspension.

While Třinec may seem to be in a favourable position, it should be remembered that Slavia also squandered a 3-1 lead in games against Liberec in the quarterfinals and then won the seventh game on the road. "Certainly, we haven't won," said Martin Růžička after the game.

After scoring 4 goals on Monday, Růžička's goal and 2 assists Wednesday lifted his playoff total to 25, setting a new Extraliga record for a single playoff year. "For us, what's really important is how the team plays and if we're winning. I don't care too much about individuals, it's tricky. We have to play as a team, win as a team, and if someone sets a record, it is only secondary. I'm really not thinking about it."

"It's good to know that we can handle these games against opponents that are better on paper, so we believe it now," Slavia's Tomáš Svoboda told the team's website. "We're definitely going to Třinec to win." 

Game 7 will be played Friday, starting at 18:10. It will be televised and webcasted by ČT4.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Růžička scores 4 and Třinec stays alive with convincing win

After compiling a regular-season record of 26-5-8-13 and then winning the first round and the first game of the semifinal, Oceláři Třinec lost 3 games in a row to Slavia Praha and found themselves needing to do the same in order to advance.

Martin Růžička acknowledges the crowd after his 4-goal
performance helped Třinec stave off elimination. Photo: Marian
They took the first step toward that goal with a dominant 6-1 victory on home ice on Monday night. They were led by 4 goals from Martin Růžička, who now has 13 goals and 22 points in 11 playoff games, making him the runaway leader in both categories.

Růžička scored once in the first and twice more in a 1:13 span in the second period to complete his natural hattrick before the game's midpoint. Slavia's best chance to get into the game was early in the second when, trailing 1-0, they had a two-man advantage for 1:17. Not only did they fail to score, but the best chance belonged to Třinec, when Martin Adamský intercepted a pass and got a short-handed breakaway, only to be denied by Miroslav Kopřiva.

Otherwise, it was not Kopřiva's night, however, as he was beaten for 5 goals on 20 shots, before being lifted in favour of Dominik Furch after Růžička scored his fourth of the night at 12:28 of the middle frame.

At the opposite end of the ice Peter Hamerlík was seeking his second shutout of the playoffs until he was beaten by a perfect shot by Slavia's Lukáš Endál with 3:31 remaining.

25-year-old Růžička played two seasons in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips and Lethbridge Hurricanes, but recorded only 16 and 10 points, respectively, and was never drafted. His first four years in the Czech Extraliga with Sparta Praha and Orli Znojmo were equally unproductive, though he was part of a championship team with Sparta in 2007. The last two seasons he has really blossomed into a top scorer, recording 47 and 50 points, respectively. He led Třinec this year in scoring with 24 goals and 26 assists, and was fifth overall in the league. 

"I'm obviously pleased about the goals. This time they went in for me. It was very nice, but the main thing is that we won," Růžička said of his performance in the do-or-die game.

"We knew that we could succeed if we got back to playing the way we did before when we won. Now we have a second key game. But we have a lot of energy, there is nothing to save it for. Let's go to Prague and lay it all out there and win."

The series continues Wednesday night at Prague's O2 Arena. The game begins at 18:10 and will be televised live on ČT4. If necessary, a seventh game will be back in Třinec on Friday night. 

Operation: Extract Petr Klíma

by Jennifer Conway

Diary of a Mad Sports Historian

When Petr Klíma walked away from the Czechoslovakian national team in Nussdorf, West Germany  on August 18, 1985, he made history as the first Czech player to defect directly to an NHL team.

That night he was to meet Detroit Red Wings executive vice-president Jim Lites and assistant coach Nick Polano in the woods near the hotel. When Klíma didn’t appear, Lites and Polano went to the hotel. The Czechoslovak police knew Polano, so Lites and their interpreter had to look for Klíma on their own. They couldn’t find him.

Suddenly, Klíma appeared, walking towards their car. He  told them he wouldn’t leave unless the Red Wings agreed to help get his girlfriend out of Czechoslovakia as well. Lites agreed instantly and told Klíma to get in the car.

But Klíma still wouldn’t leave, insisting on going back into the hotel for some personal effects. Five minutes later, he reappeared, got into the car, and they all sped off, eager to put as much distance between Klíma and the hotel as they could before the team’s 11 pm bed check.

Klíma was now officially a defector.

“How fast does this car go?” he asked anxiously. Their rented Mercedes’ top speed was 200 kilometres per hour; fast enough to relieve everyone’s anxiety about being followed. “I feared that one of these times, on one of these defections, the Czechs were going to make an example with guns, if necessary,” Polano later said.

Their first stop was the American consulate in Stuttgart. Polano hadn’t actually believed the escape plan would work, so the Red Wings front office hadn’t even bothered to contact the consulate in advance. Nor had they envisioned the difficulties they’d encounter with the Czechoslovak authorities: Klíma’s passport had been confiscated upon the team’s arrival in West Germany, and without any identifying papers, it was going to be nearly impossible for Polano and Lites to prove who their teenaged charge was.

Klíma and Polano moved from city to city in West Germany while waiting for the visa to clear the red tape, sometimes pushing the Mercedes to its mechanical limits in order to avoid the Czechoslovak police. “We didn’t want to take any chances. We just kept moving from city to city,” Polano said.

Polano and Lites also made Klíma wait a whole week before contacting his parents back home in Chomutov. As it turned out, Klíma’s defection was big news in Czechoslovakia, and the Detroit execs had been correct in assuming they’d be actively pursued.

Still, they didn’t want their newest asset to feel like a prisoner. With a Red Wings exec following him like a shadow, Klíma played a little tennis and did some sight-seeing. They only let him loose on his own once, with disastrous results:

“We let him take the Mercedes for a ride, and he wrecked it,” Polano recalled. “It’s a good thing it was a Mercedes, a really heavy car. He did some pretty good damage to it, but wasn’t scratched himself. We pushed that thing into the Hertz garage and got the hell out of there as fast as we could.”

After five weeks of hiding and waiting, Klíma finally made it to the U.S. on September 22, 1985 with the help of U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese and Assistant A.G. Lowell Jensen. Polano didn’t accompany him; instead he went to Vienna to meet with Klíma’s girlfriend and personally escort her to Germany for visa processing.

When Polano finally returned to the U.S. there was no fanfare. Instead, he found a note from American Express, politely inquiring about the $35,000 charged by the team during Operation Extract Klíma.

Follow Jennifer Conway at Diary of a Mad Sports Historian or on Twitter @NHLhistorygirl.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vítkovice advances to finals, Slavia 1 win away

There will be a new champion of the Czech Extraliga in 2011, as defending champion Eaton Pardubice was eliminated in the semifinals. On Sunday, Vítkovice Steel became the first team to qualify for this year's final with a 3-2 shootout victory to win the series, four games to one.

Vítkovice played early on like they wanted to finish the series and scored in the early going, but the goal was negated after a lengthy video review determined that the net was slightly ajar. Undaunted, the home team kept the pressure on and quickly got a pair of goals 45 seconds from Petr Vrána and Viktor Ujčík apart for a 2-0 lead. The score stayed that way into the third period when Pardubice got a quick pair of its own. Petr Koukal finally solved Roman Málek on a power-play and then Aleš Píša tied the game 45 seconds later. After no goals were scored in 10 minutes of overtime or in the first five rounds of the shootout, Jiří Burger beat Martin Růžička in round six for the series-winning goal. Ružička relieved Adam Svoboda in the Pardubice net, who stopped 40 shots in 70 minutes of hockey.

"For me, personally, that we finished so quickly," began Ujčík, regarding the importance of finishing off the series in 5 games. "Of course, (age) 39 is around the corner and we won four games to one, so that's perfect. I can rest a bit, definitely mentally and physically."

"I don't ever want to wish to play anybody," he continued, when asked who he wanted to face in the final. "But if I have to say who I really want this time, it would be Slavia," said the ex-Slavia and Třinec forward.

They could find out their opponent as early as Monday night, as Slavia Praha travels to Třinec to try to wrap up that series; they currently lead it 3-1. Třinec, who were the league's top team during the regular season, won the first game but have now lost three in a row, including two in Prague on Friday and Saturday.

Miroslav Kopřiva turned away everything he faced on Saturday
night. Photo: Pavel Vrtiška,
On Friday night, Slavia's Vladimír Roth opened the scoring in the first period and then finished it with a goal in overtime, as Slavia won 4-3 to take the lead in the series. The following night, goaltender Miroslav Kopřiva was the hero, as he stopped all 37 shots he faced in a 4-0 victory. The game was played before a crowd of 13,052, the largest of the Extraliga playoffs so far, but a number sure to be eclipsed if Slavia advances to the final.

Game 5 goes Monday at 18:10 in Třinec, and will be televised live on ČT4.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Znojmo-Karlovy Vary in Jr Extraliga finals

After dropping the first games of their best-of-three series on the road, both Prague-based teams in the Junior Extraliga semifinals needed to sweep two games at home to advance to the finals. Neither was successful.

Tomáš Klíma was the hero for Karlovy Vary in their Junior
Extraliga semifinal versus Sparta. Photo: Jan Beneš,
On Wednesday, Energie Karlovy Vary went into Tesla Arena and defeated Sparta Praha 3-2 in a shootout, knocking out the league's first-overall team in the regular season. After scoring twice in game 1, Karlovy Vary's Tomáš Klíma added 2 more goals in game 2, including the shootout winner, and an assist. 20-year-old Slovak-native Klíma played most of the year in the professional Extraliga and, after the team lost to Slavia in the first round of the playoffs, joined the junior team for its playoff run.

On Thursday, Orli Znojmo had its first chance to join Karlovy Vary in the finals, but met a Slavia Praha team firing on all cylinders. Michal Hellar scored twice as Slavia built up a 5-0 lead midway through the game before Znojmo battled back with a pair of scores to make it a 5-2 final. Znojmo was very upset with the work of referee Štěpán Souček, who awarded Slavia with 8 power-plays compared to 3 for Znojmo, and felt there were several infractions not called against Slavia. In the final minute of play, coach Martin Stloukal was ejected from the game.

In Friday's rubber match, Slavia built up a 2-1 lead halfway through the first period, but after that Znojmo played a very sound defensive game, surrendering very few quality scoring chances, even while penalty killing. Adam Havlík and Richard Jarůšek scored in the second period, and they held on the rest of the way.

Both games at Eden were well-attended by a large contingent of Znojmo supporters, who even outnumbered the Slavia fans on Friday, likely due to the early start time and the fact that most Slavia fans were more concerned with the Extraliga playoff game in the evening.

The Junior Extraliga finals start on Sunday in Karlovy Vary at 17:30. The series then shifts to Znojmo for games Tuesday and, if necessary, Wednesday.

Defending champs Pardubice on the brink

After winning eight consecutive playoff games at home, Eaton Pardubice dropped back-to-back games against Vítkovice Steel on Wednesday and Thursday, and now find themselves in a very difficult situation.

After earning a split on the road to start the series, Pardubice looked to be in a good position heading to the friendly confines of (their) ČEZ Arena. However, they were stymied by Vítkovice goaltender Roman Málek in game 3, who stopped all 34 shots he faced, and lost 3-0, creating a nearly-must-win situation in game 4. They turned in a solid performance and, on the strength of second-period goals by Tomáš Zohorna and Jan Starý, were three minutes away from evening the series. However, Petr Vrána tied the score with 2:47 remaining in regulation time and then struck again in overtime to capture the game for Vítkovice, giving them a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Pardubice will have to get more traffic in front of Vítkovice goalie
Roman Málek of they hope to prolong their title defence. Photo:
Jan Jedlička,
The defending champions now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to win three games in a row, two of which would be on the road. Their biggest challenge seems to be a way to solve Málek in the Vítkovice goal, who has been nearly unbeatable.

"More traffic in front of the net, shooting more and going hard at Málek for loose pucks," was Starý's suggestion for what they have to do better. "Continue working hard, but especially around the net, not letting up there."

The series resumes on Sunday at Ostrava's ČEZ Arena, where Vítkovice will try to advance to the finals.

On Friday and Saturday, the other semifinal series resumes in Prague, with Slavia hosting Oceláři Třinec in games 3 and 4. The series is tied 1-1.

Friday is a busy day for die-hard Slavia hockey fans. The U20 team can advance to the Junior Extraliga finals with a win over Orli Znojmo at Eden. That game begins at 15:30. Fans then will quckly have to travel from Kubánské náměstí to Českomoravská to catch the opening faceoff at O2 Arena at 18:10.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Slavia evens series with shootout win in Třinec

After a poor showing in the first game of their Extraliga semifinal series in Třinec, Slavia Praha bounced back on Tuesday to win in a shootout and earn a split on the road.

Třinec's David Květon lays the body against Slavia. Photo:
Marian Ježowicz,
Monday night, Oceláři jumped out to a commanding 4-0 lead after two periods, led by a goal and 2 assists from Martin Růžička. In the third, Slavia made a game of it by scoring three times in under seven minutes, before David Květon iced it with an empty netter.

On Tuesday, Slavia got a much better start, holding leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before Josef Hrabal tied the game with only 25 seconds remaining in regulation time to force overtime. After a scoreless 10-minute period, the game was decided in a shootout. Tomáš Pospíšil scored on Slavia's second attempt, meaning that Květon had to score on Třinec's third attempt to prolong the game. However, he was stopped by Miroslav Kopřiva, who made 39 saves in 70 minutes of hockey and three more in the shootout.

"If on Monday we had missed the beginning of the game, today we played pretty well," said Slavia assistant coach Jiří Čelanský after the game. "The first period we had the upper hand, unfortunately we didn't score the penalty shot. The whole game we were playing the game we want to play. Active and a lot of forechecking. We deserved to win."

The series resumes on Friday and Saturday at Prague's O2 Arena.

On Wednesday, the other semifinal series, which is also tied 1-1, between Eaton Pardubice and Vítkovice Steel resumes in Pardubice. They play game 3 at 18:10 and then game 4 at the same time on Thursday. Both games will be televised live on ČT4 Sport.

Prague junior teams face elimination at home

Sparta Praha and Slavia Praha, both the higher-ranked teams in their best-of-three Junior Extraliga semifinal series, each dropped the first games on the road, and now must sweep at home to advance to the finals.

Karlovy Vary's Vladislav Habal making one of 47 saves on
Tuesday against Sparta. Photo: Jan Čech, Karlovarský deník.
Both first games were played on Tuesday. In Karlovy Vary, the Engergie junior team beat Sparta 3-2 in overtime, when Tomáš Klíma scored his second goal of the game. As he has done the entire season, goaltender Vladislav Habal was the team's saviour, stopping 47 of 49 shots. Meanwhile, in Znojmo, the hometown Eagles beat Slavia 5-2 before an enthusiastic gathering of 817 fans. Orli was totally dominant in the game, outshooting the visitors 54-26.

Both Prague teams will now try to get back on track at home.

Sparta and Karlovy Vary play the second game of their series on Wednesday night, due to the unavailability of Tesla Arena on Thursday. The game starts at 19:00, and is actually the second half of a double-header, as Sparta's U18 team hosts Olomouc in an Extraliga Starší Dorost playoff game at 15:30. If Sparta wins the junior game, the third and decisive game of that series will be played Friday afternoon at 13:45.

Slavia and Znojmo play their second game at Zimní stadion Eden Thursday night at 18:00. If Slavia wins, a decisive third game will be played Friday at 15:30.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pardubice earns split in Vítkovice, Ujčík sets playoff goal mark

Víktovice Steel and Eaton Pardubice split the first two games of their Extraliga semifinal series on the weekend and a Víktovice veteran established the new career playoff goals record.

In the first game, Jiří Burger opened the scoring in the last minute of the first period and closed the scoring late in the third, as Vítkovice drew first blood with a 4-0 home-ice victory. Roman Málek made 30 saves for the shutout.

Vítkovice's Viktor Ujčík (visible at the side of the net) scores to
become the Extraliga's all-time playoff goal-scoring leader, as
Pardubice's František Kaberle watches helplessly. Photo: Petr
On Sunday, it was Pardubice's turn to open the scoring in the last minute of the first period, with Petr Koukal doing the honours. Midway through the third, Koukal assisted on Jan Starý's eventual game-winner, as the visitors withstood some late pressure and escaped with a narrow 3-2 victory to even the series. Martin Růžička stopped 34 of 36 shots.

Viktor Ujčík scored both of Vítkovice's goals in the second game, the latter with only 27 seconds remaining. He now has 53 career playoff goals in the Czech Extraliga, making him the league's all-time playoff goal-scoring leader.

"Well, I've been playing hockey for about 40 years, so it's something that's eventually going to happen. I guess I got a merit award," he said dismissively about the historic event. "And the two goals today? The first one was beautifully set up by Jiří Burger. It was impossible to miss. And the other one, I tried to put it from the side into the goalie and it deflected between his legs and into the net. Unfortunately for us, it wasn't enough."

The 38-year-old veteran has played 16 seasons at the top level of Czechoslovak and Czech hockey. Teams include Dukla Jihlava, Slavia Praha, Oceláři Třinec, Keramika Plzeň, Sparta Praha, and Vítkovice, with whom he's spent the last 4 years. He also played 3 seasons in the Finnish SM-liiga for Karpat Oulu. He represented the Czech Repbulic at the 2001 and 2002 World Championships, getting 13 points in 16 games combined and winning a gold medal in '01. He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2001 as a 29 year old, but has never played in a North American league.

The series resumes in Pardubice on Wednesday and Thursday. Regardless of what happens there, it will surely return to Ostrava for a fifth game on Sunday.

The other semifinal series between Oceláři Třinec and Slavia Praha begins on Monday. The game begins at 17:00 and will be available live on the internet at, but the television broadcast will be tape-delayed until 19:30. The second game, on Tuesday, will be televised live at 18:10. The series will then shift to Prague for games 3 and 4 on Friday and Saturday.

Also starting monday is the final series of the First National League. The series, which is between Slovan Ústečtí Lvi and KLH Chomutov, will determine who has the right to challenge BK Mladá Boleslav for a position in the Extraliga next season.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wild finish to Jr Extraliga quarterfinals

After the weekend's events, the eight remaining teams in the Junior Extraliga have been reduced to four. Sparta Praha, Slavia Praha, and Energie Karlovy Vary all completed sweeps of their best-of-three quarterfinal series on Saturday. Meanwhile, Orli Znojmo beat out PSG Zlín in a series where the road team won each game, despite the efforts of Zlín star Petr Holík, who gave Bill Mosienko's hat-trick record a challenge.

After needing overtime to beat Oceláři Třinec in game 1, Slavia was completely dominant at home in game 2, winning easily 9-3. The Slavia junior team possesses an impressive group of 17-year-old players on its roster, many of whom will be seen at next month's U18 World Championships, and the most impressive of them all is Dmitrij Jaškin. Despite his age, he truly looked like a man among boys on the ice at Eden Arena on Saturday. Tomáš Hertl and Pavel Klhůfek both notched 4 points. For Třinec, 17-year-old defenceman Filip Pavlík is their most noticeable player, quarterbacking the power-play, killing penalties, and seemingly always on the ice.

At the north end of the city, in Holešovice, Sparta needed overtime to eliminate Benzina Litvínov 2-1. Litvínov actually led a fast-paced game 1-0 until Daniel Přibyl tied the score with 4:07 left in regulation time. In the first minute of overtime, Tomáš Rubeš finished off a goalmouth scramble by shovelling in the loose puck. Přibyl and Rubeš assisted on each other's goals, and the 18 year olds are both candidates to play in next year's World Junior Championships.

In the surprise of the first round, seventh-ranked Karlovy Vary finished off a two-game sweep of second-ranked Vítkovice Steel on Saturday. Vítkovice had a 2-0 lead on home ice and was 20 minutes away from extending the series, but they were outscored 4-1 in the third period and lost 4-3. Michal Vachovec scored the winning goal with 5:34 remaining, to go along with 2 assists.

Wild scramble in front of the Znojmo (red) goal. Photo: Petr
Sagner, Zlín Press,
In the most interesting series of the Junior Extraliga quarterfinals, Zlín won the opening game in Znojmo and went home with a chance to wrap up the series. With game 2 tied 2-2 with 8 minutes remaining in regulation time, Znojmo scored 3 times in 4:29 to seemingly wrap up the game. At that point, Petr Holík took matters into his own hand and produced a natural hat trick on one shift, 51 seconds to be exact, and tied the score to send it to overtime. However, in overtime, Znojmo's Martin Plánek scored his second of the game to force a third and decisive game on Sunday.

On Sunday, Znojmo scored twice in the second and held that lead until late in the third, when Holík scored for Zlín with 2:11 left in regulation time. In the dying seconds, there was a wild goalmouth scramble in which Holík and Jakub Šlahař both took whacks at the puck and it eventually ended up in the net, a fraction of a second after the expiration of time. Ondřej Kacetl kept the puck out of the net long enough to preserve the victory for Znojmo, and send them into the semifinals.

The semifinals begin Tuesday, with Sparta at Karlovy Vary and Slavia at Znojmo. Both series return to Prague on Thursday and then Friday, if necessary. Times are yet to be announced.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Action-packed Saturday in Czech hockey

For hockey fans in the Czech Republic, Saturday is a busy day. In particular, for the cities of Prague and Ostrava, which each host two big games.

Of Prague's two Extraliga clubs, one is long gone and the other is waiting to begin its semifinal series on Monday. However, the Junior Extraliga counterparts of those clubs are at home on Saturday, hosting big playoff games.

Zlín goaltender Libor Kašík kicks away a shot in Znojmo
Thursday in Junior Extraliga playoff action. Photo:
At 16:00, Slavia Praha hosts Oceláři Třinec at Zimní stadion Eden, and they can advance to the semifinals with a win Saturday or on Sunday. The series opened Thursday in Třinec, where Slavia won 4-3 in overtime, with Michal Barák scoring the winning goal with 24 seconds to play in the period. The biggest surprise was the presence of Dmitrij Jaškin in Slavia's lineup, after he had played game 7 in Liberec for Slavia's pro team the night before. He scored a goal and added 2 assists. Presumably, Jaškin will be in the lineup again at home Saturday, before re-joining the pro club in Třinec on Monday, so hockey fans in Prague who want a chance to see the possible first-round NHL draft pick in action for free should head to Eden.

At 19:00, Sparta Praha hosts Benzina Litvínov at Tesla Arena. Top-ranked Sparta can also earn a spot in the semifinals with a win, thanks to a 4-1 road victory on Thursday. Like Slavia, Sparta's lineup was bolstered by the presence of a pro. David Tůma, who played in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, played in the game, though he recorded no points. Sparta was led by 2 goals from Daniel Přibyl, both assisted by Tomáš Rubeš.

For real hockey junkies in Prague, there are a variety of public transportation options that could take a fan from Kubánské náměstí to Výstaviště (tram stops for the respective arenas) in 35 to 40 minutes. Check for details.

Slavia and Sparta weren't the only junior clubs that received reinforcements from the big league. Dalibor Řežniček and Petr Holík, both WJC participants and regulars in the professional Extraliga, skated for PSG Zlín's junior squad and contributed to their 3-1 victory in Znojmo. Řežniček assisted on a goal by Holík in the last minute of the first period. The addition of these two players greatly improves fourth-ranked Zlín's chances, and makes them a serious contender for the junior national championship. Saturday's game gets underway at 12:30.

Game 1 action between Karlovy Vary (white) and Vítkovice (blue)
in the Junior Extraliga quarterfinals. Photo: Jan Čech, Karlovarský
Ostrava's ČEZ Arena will be the site of two playoff games on Saturday. At 13:00, the junior Vítkovice Steel club will host Energie Karlovy Vary. Unlike the other three teams that are hosting Junior Extraliga quarterfinal games on Saturday, Vítkovice dropped its first game, so it will be looking to even the series on home ice. Martin Rohan led Karlovy Vary with 2 goals.

Hockey fans in Ostrava don't have to worry about transportation. Later on Saturday, ČEZ Arena will host the main event, as the professional Extraliga's semifinals get underway. Vítkovice hosts Eaton Pardubice at 17:00. The game can be viewed live online at or, but the television broadcast on ČT4 Sport will be tape-delayed until 19:30, following the AC Sparta Praha-FC Zbrojovka Brno football match. Game 2 will be televised live on Sunday at 18:10.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Slavia wins in OT, semifinals schedule set

Just when it seemed like the magic had run out for Slavia Praha and the tied had turned completely in favour of Bílí Tygři Liberec, along came Tomáš Svoboda to rescue them.

Slavia celebrates the game- and series-winning goal. Photo:
Jiří Částka,
After 4 games in the series, underdog Slavia led 3-1 and looked poised for an upset. But Liberec made a goaltending change, going with Tomáš Vošvrda in game 5, who shut out Slavia at home and then backstopped them to a 3-2 shootout victory in Prague in game 6, setting the stage for Wednesday's seventh game.

And for 55 minutes, it looked like the home team, urged on by their rabid fans clad all in white, was in total control. They were ahead 2-0 after 40 minutes and 3-1 with just 5 minutes to play in regulation time. Jakub Sklenář scored with 4:25 on the clock to give Slavia some hope. Suddenly, the team that had seemed dead came back to life, and started putting on all kinds of pressure, setting the home team back on its heels. With 1:06 left, Svoboda chipped the puck past Vošvrda to tie the score, and let the air out of the building.

According to Extraliga rules, any playoff game that ends tied after 60 minutes, prior to the league finals, follows the IIHF standard of 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime, followed by the dreaded shootout. Not in a seventh game, however. If a game 7 goes to overtime, the teams continue to play until somebody scores. That was the scenario the teams faced in Liberec on Wednesday night. Slavia actually got 2 power-play opportunities in extra time, but failed to generate any really good scoring chance. In the first 10 minutes, the best chance belonged to Liberec's Lukáš Vantuch, but he failed to beat Miroslav Kopřiva in the Slavia goal.

Finally, at the 13:05 mark, Svoboda struck again, sending Slavia into the semifinals and ending Liberec's season. Where does Svoboda rank the goal?

"It was the greatest goal of my life," he said after the game, barely able to control his enthusiasm. "I would rank it in first place, maybe along with a goal from the World Junior Championships (in 2007), but because it moved us on (to the next round), it's a great feeling."

Petr Nedvěd, showing scars from what might have been his final
series. Photo: Jiří Částka,
"It's a shame that we didn't play that way from the beginning," said Liberec captain Petr Nedvěd, who had 10 points in the series, in reference to the 1-3 hole they had to fight out of. "We entered into the series half-heartedly, and it cost us victory." 

The 39-year old, who has played professional hockey for 21 years now, was asked by Jan Vacek of if he had decided if he would be back for another year

"I don't know, there have been more important things on my mind, I haven't really thought about it. Now I have a lot of time to think, give it some time. I'll see how I feel." 

With the four quarterfinal series now over, the semifinal schedule has been released. The match-ups are Oceláři Třinec against Slavia, and Vítkovice Steel against Eaton Pardubice. Things get underway Saturday at 18:10, with Vítkovice hosting Pardubice.

Following is the semifinal schedule, according to It should be noted that times could be changed to accommodate television coverage. The TV schedule hasn't been announced, but it is likely that every game will be televised by ČT4 Sport and be available online at

Saturday, March 19 - game 1:
17:00 HC Vítkovice Steel - HC Eaton Pardubice

Sunday, March  20 - game 2:
18:10 HC Vítkovice Steel - HC Eaton Pardubice

Monday, March 21 - game 1:
17:00 HC Oceláři Třinec - HC Slavia Praha

Tuesday, March 22 - game 2:
18:10 HC Oceláři Třinec - HC Slavia Praha

Wednesday, March 23 - game 3:
18:10 HC Eaton Pardubice - HC Vítkovice Steel

Thursday, March 24 - game 4:
18:10 HC Eaton Pardubice - HC Vítkovice Steel

Friday, March 25 - game 3:
18:10 HC Slavia Praha - HC Oceláři Třinec

Saturday, March 26 - game 4:
17:40 HC Slavia Praha - HC Oceláři Třinec

Sunday, March 27 - game 5 (if necessary):
18:10 HC Vítkovice Steel - HC Eaton Pardubice

Monday, March 28  - game 5 (if necessary):
18:10 HC Oceláři Třinec - HC Slavia Praha

Tuesday, March 29 - game 6 (if necessary):
18:10 HC Eaton Pardubice - HC Vítkovice Steel

Wednesday, March 30 - game 6 (if necessary):
18:10 HC Slavia Praha - HC Oceláři Třinec

Thursday, March 31 - game 7 (if necessary):
18:10 HC Vítkovice Steel - HC Eaton Pardubice

Friday, April 1 - game 7 (if necessary):
18:10 HC Oceláři Třinec - HC Slavia Praha

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Junior Extraliga playoffs get underway

On Wednesday, the main event of the Czech hockey world will be the seventh game of the Extraliga quarterfinal series between Bílí Tygři Liberec and Slavia Praha. On Thursday, the professional circuit takes the day off, while its U20 counterpart, the Junior Extraliga, takes centre stage.

Třinec's Jakub Herman and Sparta's Jakub Kolář in Junior Extraliga
action at Prague's Tesla Arena. Photo: Jan Beneš,
It's unusual for junior hockey to ever get much attention in the Czech Republic, or anywhere else in Europe, for that matter. This was one of the biggest differences I noticed in hockey culture when I first arrived from Canada, where, particularly in small towns, a player on the local junior team is often a local celebrity. The top junior teams in the Czech Republic play at a level that is roughly similar to Canadian Junior "A" hockey (or tier-two junior, as it is sometimes called), but get much less attention from the general public. Whereas it is normal in Canada for 2,000 people to pay $10 to watch Junior "A" hockey, admittance to Junior Extraliga games is free, and yet usually draw only friends and family to watch. This is despite the fact that there are often numerous prospects playing.

The problem is, because it gets so little attention, a good portion of the public is totally unaware that there is good-quality hockey to be seen for free. I thought I would try to help raise that awareness a bit, with the playoffs upon us, to provide some basic information about when and where some of these games can be seen, and which players to watch for.

Karlovy Vary's Jaromír Kverka. Photo: Jan Čech, Karlovarský
There are eight teams in the Junior Extraliga playoffs. Ranked in order of regular season finish, they are Sparta Praha, Vítkovice Steel, Slavia Praha, PSG Zlín, Orli Znojmo, Oceláři Třinec, Energie Karlovy Vary, and Benzina Litvínov. In the quarterfinal round, they are paired in the normal highest versus lowest way, and teams are then re-seeded in the semifinals. All three rounds consist of best-of-three series.

The quarterfinal round begins on Thursday, with second and third games going Saturday and Sunday. The winners of those series advance to the semifinals, which will be played Tuesday the 22nd, Thursday the 24th, and Friday the 25th. The finals then go Sunday the 27th, Tuesday the 29th, and Wednesday the 30th. In all cases, the series begins at the home of the lower-seeded team, with the second and third games at the home of the higher-seeded team. Of course, in all cases, the third games will only be played if the first two are split.

Even at the junior level, the Slavia-Sparta rivalry is a fierce one.
Photo: Jan Beneš,
With the exception of Slavia Praha, all of the teams play in the same homes as their senior counterparts. Slavia plays at Zimní stadion Eden in Prague's Vršovice district, rather than the cavernous O2 Arena, for obvious reasons. Eden was home to Slavia's Extraliga club until 2004, and still houses their youth programs and training facilities. For Prague residents who have never been there, it is within walking distance of tram stop Kubanské náměstí, accessible via trams 6, 7, 18, and 22.

Here are the following quarterfinal match-ups, with players to watch for and the series schedule. In the case of some players, I am not totally sure they will be playing, as they have moved between the Junior Extraliga and other levels, including the professional Extraliga, throughout the season. Except where noted, all players mentioned represented the Czech Republic at an international event at some level this season.

(1) Sparta Praha vs (8) Benzina Litvínov

Sparta's lineup includes a quartet of players who are hopefuls for next year's World Junior team: fowards Tomáš Rubeš and Daniel Přibyl and defencemen Dušan Žovinec and Jakub Kolář. It's uncertain whether World Junior goaltender Filip Novotný or forward David Tůma will drop down from the pro club to play in the Junior Extraliga playoffs. Litvínov, who is a heavy underdog in this series, counters with a couple hopefuls of their own: forward Pavel Smolka and defenceman Vladimír Eminger. As well, 17 year olds Jakub Matai and Jakub Šrámek both played for the Czech Republic at the U18 tournament in Hradec Králové in February and are hopefuls for the U18 World Championships in April.

Thu, 17 @ Litvínov, 17:30
Sat, 19 @ Sparta, 19:00
Sun, 20 @ Sparta, 16:00 (if necessary)

(2) Vítkovice Steel vs (7) Energie Karlovy Vary

This strong Víktovice team is led by a trio of prospects. At forward is Adam Řehák, a cut from this year's World Junior team who is considered a strong candidate to make it next year. On defence, 17-year-old Tomáš Pavelka was one of the top defencemen for the U18 team in Hradec Králové and is expected to be on the World Championship team in April. Joining him in Germany at the U18 tournament will likely be goaltender Patrik Bartošák, who finished second in the Junior Extraliga with 3 shutouts. It's not currently known whether 16-year-old Australian Nathan Walker will play in the Junior Extraliga playoffs or not. He split the majority of the season between Vítkovice's junior and starší dorost (major midget) teams. He made a memorable impression in the Junior Extraliga when he scored 6 goals in a single game back on December 11.

Karlovy Vary is led in goal by Vladislav Habal, who turns 20 in April. Though he hasn't represented the Czech Republic since the U17 level, he may have rescued a lost career this year with a phenomenal season. He appeared in 46 of Karlovy Vary's 50 games, leading the league in goals-against average (1.97) and shutouts (5). He may have to continue that play in a series against a Vítkovice club with a lot of firepower. Otherwise, forwards Jaromír Kverka and Michal Vachovec are in the hunt for World Junior spots next year and Petr Koblasa will likely be seen at the World U18 Championships.

Thu, 17 @ Karlovy Vary, 17:30
Sat, 19 @ Vítkovice,13:00
Sun, 20 @ Vítkovice, 17:00 (if necessary)

(3) Slavia Praha vs (6) Oceláři Třinec

Top prospects for Slavia up front include Tomáš Hertl and Jan Müller. 17-year-old Hertl is looking to make the U18 team next month, while 18-year-old Müller might receive an invite to try out for next year's World Junior team. On defence, Štěpán Jeník is expected to be one of the Czechs' top defencemen at the upcoming U18 tournament. 17 year olds Tomáš Moravec, and Antonín Růžička (son of Vladimír Růžička) both played for the U18 team in Hradec Králové, but might be playing the playoffs at the starší dorost level. If their pro team loses in Liberec on Wednesday, they could be joined by 17-year-old sensation Dmitrij Jaškin, although that may be wishful thinking, since Jaškin didn't play a single game at the Junior level all season. For Třinec, defenceman Filip Pavlík and forward Jakub Herman are both candidates for next year's World Junior squad, and 17-year-old Radek Faksa could be playing the playoffs at either the junior or starší dorost levels.

Thu, 17 @ Třinec, 17:00
Sat, 19 @ Slavia, 16:00
Sun, 20 @ Slavia, 15:15 (if necessary)

(4) PSG Zlín vs (5) Orli Znojmo

Zlín's biggest edge may come from their elimination from the professional Extraliga, which frees up defenceman Dalibor Řežniček and forward Petr Holík. Both played in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo this season, as well as significant time in the pro circuit. Both names have been mentioned in connection with the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Režniček is in his last year of junior eligibility, but Holík still has another year. He's a lock to make the Czech World Junior team, and forward Tomáš Fořt and defencemen Tomáš Valenta and Petr Zámorský are also candidates. For Znojmo, defenceman Martin Pláněk and forward Tomáš Rachůnek spent most of the year with Znojmo's First League team, but since they're out of the playoffs, they may be sent in to reinforce the junior team.

Thu, 17 @ Znojmo, 17:30
Sat, 19 @ Zlín,12:30
Sun, 20 @ Zlín, 12:30 (if necessary)

For a complete schedule and summaries of completed games, click here.

Třinec knocks off Litvínov, Liberec and Slavia go to game 7

The semifinal picture in the Czech Extraliga got a little bit clearer on Monday night, as now three of the four teams are set. The one remaining spot will be decided in a seventh game.

Oceláři Třinec beat Benzina Litvínov 4-1 to become the first road team to win in the series, and simultaneously wrapped up the series 4 games to 2. After they allowed Litvínov to even the series with two wins on home ice, the regular season champions showed what they were made of with two convincing victories to advance to the semifinals.

"Even when we took the first two games, we weren't totally in top form. There was still a lot of tension on the team," explained Třinec coach Pavel Marek. "The games here in Litvinov opened our eyes, but fortunately we woke up at home. In today's game, we went with it, that we are here to grab it at all costs, not to struggle for everything. The series is over, I would like to thank my team, how they came to play today."

Tomáš Vak scores the shootout winner to force game 7.
Photo: Petr Zbranek,
Meanwhile, after trailing in the series 3-1, Bílí Tygři Liberec has battled back to force a seventh game against Slavia Praha. They managed with a 2-0 win at home on Saturday followed by a 3-2 shootout victory in Prague on Monday. Petr Nedvěd and Tomáš Vak both scored for Liberec in the shootout, while Tomáš Vošvrda stopped both shots he faced in the shootout. Vošvrda has won 2 games for Liberec this series, including a shutout, after taking over from Marek Pinc.

Wednesday's game begins at 18:10 and will be televised by ČT4 and webcast at

If Liberec wins, they will open the semifinals at home on Friday and Saturday against Vítkovice, while Pardubice would play in Třinec on Saturday and Sunday. If Slavia manages to bounce back from back-to-back losses to win on the road, they would open in Třinec on Monday, while Pardubice would visit Vítkovice on Saturday.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vítkovice knocks off Budějovice

Two of the four semifinalists in the 2011 Czech Extraliga playoffs have now been established. First, Eaton Pardubice swept PSG Zlín, and on Sunday they were joined by Vítkovice Steel, who completed a six-game victory over Mountfield České Budějovice.

After getting first period goals from Lubomír Vosátko and Marek Malík, Vítkovice weathered the storm the rest of the way in enemy territory, earning a game 6 victory at Budvar Arena to finish off the series.

"For us, it was very important that we survived those five penalties in the first period and we still scored two goals," said Vítkovice coach Zdeněk Moták. "From our perspective, it was an excellent period. From that point on, it was a very close game, just like the whole series. We are very pleased we got the last win today and have more time and space for rest and recuperation from injuries."

The remaining semifinalists could be revealed on Monday, as the last two quarterfinal series play potentially series-ending sixth games. Slavia Praha will try to finish off Bílí Tygři Liberec on home ice at 18:10 on ČT4 television and Oceláři Třinec will make the trek into Litvínov and try to end that series.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Slavia and Litvínov succeed at home

The two survivors of the play-in round, Slavia Praha and Benzina Litvínov, opened their quarterfinal series on the road with limited success. While Slavia managed a split in Liberec, Litvínov fell into an 0-2 hole in Třinec. On Wednesday and Thursday, both won games 3 and 4 on home ice.

It's been a tough week for Liberec's Petr Nedvěd. Photo: Pavel
For Slavia, the two wins put them in the enviable position of leading 3-1, needing only a single victory to advance to the semis. For Bílí Tygři Liberec, they now must win three in a row to avoid elimination. The presence of captain Petr Nedvěd in the lineup didn't help them in Prague, as the home side took 5-2 and 4-3 victories. Nedvěd was considered doubtful for game 3 after he took a knee late in the second game from Slavia's Jiří Doležal. However, he played and picked up a point in each game, but he also turned over the puck on a power-play in game 4, which led to a Michal Vondrka's short-handed goal late in the first, which gave Slavia a 3-1 lead.

"That was me, definitely my fault," the veteran of 14 NHL seasons told Václav Jachím of "I tried to play the puck, but it jumped over my stick."

To add injury to injury, Nedvěd also had his cheek cut open by the errant stick of Doležal, freshly back from his one-game suspension, in the first period. Despite their situation, Nedvěd, who won a silver medal with Canada at the 1994 Olympics, still thinks his team has a reasonable shot to advance.

"We can't look ahead too far. If we had it in our heads that we need to win three times, it would be very difficult. We only need to think about the next game, preferably only the first period."

As for Benzina Litvínov, their two victories on home ice have given the series with Oceláři Třinec a whole new look. They won 5-3 on Wednesday and 4-2 on Thursday. The teams will return to Třinec for game 5 on Saturday before returning to Litvínov for a sixth game on Monday.

Saturday's game, which starts at 18:10, will be televised by ČT4, to be joined in progress at 19:30. However, the game will be available in its entirety online at Presumably, Monday's game will be as well if Slavia finishes off Liberec on Saturday. If not, the sixth game of that series will be shown. Additionally, most games can be viewed online at

From, here is the schedule for the remainder of the quarterfinal round (all times Central European - UTC+1):

Friday, March 11 - 5th game:
18:10 HC Vítkovice Steel - HC Mountfield České Budějovice (ČT4 Sport)  

Saturday, March 12 - 5th games:
18:10 HC Oceláři Třinec - HC Benzina Litvínov (ČT4 Sport, JIP @ 19:30)
18:30 Bílí Tygři Liberec - HC Slavia Praha

Sunday, March 13 - 6th game:
18:10 HC Mountfield České Budějovice - HC Vítkovice Steel (ČT4 Sport)

Monday, March 14 - 6th games:
17:30 HC Benzina Litvínov - HC Oceláři Třinec
18:15 HC Slavia Praha - Bílí Tygři Liberec (if necessary)

Tuesday, March 15 - 7th game:
17:30 HC Vítkovice Steel - HC Mountfield České Budějovice (if necessary)

Wednesday, March 16 - 7th games:
17:00 HC Oceláři Třinec - HC Benzina Litvínov (if necessary)
18:30 Bílí Tygři Liberec - HC Slavia Praha (if necessary)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Václav Nedomanský: International Man of Mystery

by Joe Pelletier

One of the most under-appreciated and even unknown early greats of international hockey would have to the big Czecho-Slovak star Václav Nedomanský.

Nedomanský, who was born in Hodonín to Slovak parents, starred for over a decade with Slovan Bratislava. He also represented Czechoslovakia at 9 world championships and 2 Olympics (winning silver in 1968 and bronze in 1972).

The fact that Big Ned never got long lasting respect is a bit of a surprise, given that he finished his career in North America. He defected to Canada in 1974 and played in the WHA with the Toronto Toros and then the Birmingham Bulls when the franchise relocated there. He later joined the Detroit Red Wings for several seasons before bouncing around the league in his NHL days.

There are 20 relics of Nedomanský's career up for bids at including:

Check out Greatest Hockey Legends' full bio on Václav Nedomanský here. 

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Nedvěd and Kalous fined, Doležal sits 1 game

    The Association of Professional Clubs (APK) has made its ruling on the incident in the third period of Sunday's Liberec-Slavia game that included a knee, a fight, a coach walking onto the ice, and a thrown water bottle.

    Jiří Doležal catches Petr Nedvěd with a knee in game 2. Both are
    expected to miss game 3. Photo: Petr Zbranek,
    At the 7:38 mark of the third period, Slavia Praha's Jiří Doležal caught Bílí Tygři Liberec's Petr Nedvěd with a knee, two minutes after Nedvěd had scored to give Liberec a 4-0 lead. Doležal then fought with Andrej Podkonický. Incensed, Liberec coach Jiří Kalous stepped onto the ice, apparently wanting to confront Dolezal, although that didn't happen. As he left the ice, an angry Nedvěd threw a water bottle at the Slavia bench before going to the dressing room.

    Doležal and Podkonický were both ejected from the game. Because he received two game misconducts, one for kneeing and one for fighting, Doležal is automatically suspended for one game. Nedvěd didn't return to the game and was taken to the hospital for examination. His status for Wednesday's game is doubtful. The referees took no action against Kalous.

    After the game, both teams were screaming for disciplinary action against members of the opposition. Liberec didn't think that one game for Doležal was enough, while Slavia felt the behaviour of Nedvěd and Kalous should be punished. Ultimately, Slavia seemed to get the justice they were seeking, while Liberec was left unhappy with the outcome.

    For throwing a water bottle at the Slavia bench, Nedvěd was fined CZK 10,000 (approximately EUR 400). Kalous' fine was double, at CZK 20,000 "for illegal entry to the ice rink," Karel Holý, Chairman of the APK's Disciplinary Committee, told news agency ČTK.

    "Dolezal will not be punished further, as the penalty awarded in the game of five minutes and a game misconduct shall be deemed sufficient."

    After the announcement of the penalties, Liberec General Manager Ctibor Jech stated, "We accept the decision of the Disciplinary Committee, even though we continue to believe that Doležal deserved, and we expected he would receive, an additional penalty. Petr Nedvěd was off the ice for two days and playing the next game is unlikely.

    The APK also had a look at the check to the head by Benzina Litvínov's Peter Janský on Oceláři Třinec's Josef Hrabal and determined that the automatic one game, resulting from the match penalty called, was sufficient punishment.

    Both series resume on Wednesday and Thursday, with Litvínov hosting Třinec at 17:30 and Slavia hosting Liberec at 18:15. ČT4 Sport will televise Wednesday's game from Litvínov and Thursday's game from Prague.

    Pardubice sweeps Zlín, 16 straight playoff wins

    Pardubice celebrates its 16th straight playoff win and third
    straight sweep. Photo: Jan Jedlička,
    The winning streak for HC Eaton Pardubice continued on Wednesday night, when they defeated PSG Zlín 6-2 to complete a four-game sweep of their quarterfinal series. For Pardubice, it was their sixteenth straight playoff win and third straight series sweep, dating back to last season. However, the players are best not to get caught up in this significant run, instead concentrating on what lies ahead of them.

    "At this point we've won four," team captain Petr Koukal said on the team's website, when asked of the significance of 16 straight wins. "As our coach tells us, what happened last year is simply in the past. It's a nice lead, we won four games, but in the next series it won't do us any good . . .  We start the semifinals 0-0." 

    The 6-2 score is somewhat misleading, as it was 2-2 at the game's midway point and still only 3-2 with six minutes to play, before Pardubice scored 3 late goals to ice the series. Jan Starý had 2 assists in the game and finished the series with 7 points, which makes him the overall playoff leader. With a goals-against average of 1.86 in the series, Martin Růžička is more than filling the shoes left by the departure of Dominik Hašek, who backstopped them to last year's championship.

    "He didn't allow a cheap goal the entire series, which certainly a confidence-booster," Koukal said of his goaltender. "Any team that wants to succeed has to have a good goalie, they always say."

    Pardubice will now have at least 10 days off before the start of the semi-finals, with their opponent still obviously unknown.

    In other quarter-final action, the Vítkovice-České Budějovice series doesn't show any signs of ending soon, as Mountfield won a must-win game to knot the series at 2 wins apeice. It didn't come easy, though.

    Goals by Michal Kolarz and František Ptáček gave the visitors a 2-0 lead through 2 periods, but Vítkovice applied incredible pressure in the third.

    Lukáš Klimek cut the lead in half at 10:49 and then, just 26 seconds later, it appeared that they might have tied the game when a shot came close to the goal as Mountfield defenceman Jakub Šulc dislodged it. Video replay determined that it was no goal, but Šulc was assessed a delay-of-game penalty. Vítkovice had a 35-second two-man advantage when Jiří Vykoukal was sent off for hooking, but they couldn't convert. An empty-netter made it a 3-1 final.

    The series will now certainly return to Budějovice for a sixth game on Sunday, after they play a fifth game Friday. As the Zlín-Pardubice series is now finished, it will be the only game each night, so it is expected that both games will be televised by ČT4 Sport television and

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Pardubice on the verge of advancing to semis

    Eaton Pardubice has become the first team in the Czech Extraliga to move within a game of advancing to the league semi-finals with a shootout win on home ice over PSG Zlín. They now lead the series 3-0, while Vitkovice leads 2-1 over České Budějovice. Třinec leads Litvínov 2-0 and Liberec and Slavia are tied 1-1, with third games in each series going Wednesday night.

    Eaton Pardubice 2-1 PSG Zlín (shootout)
    (Pardubice leads best-of-seven series 3-0.)

    Pardubice's Martin Bartek scoring the shootout winner in game 3.
    Photo: Jan Jedlička,
    It hasn't been as easy for Pardubice as the series score suggests, with two of their three victories so far coming in extra time. They won game 1 in overtime and then game 3 in a shootout. They have a chance to wrap up the series on home ice on Tuesday.

    Tomáš Duba has done all he can to keep Zlín in the games, but it hasn't been enough to get them a victory. On Tuesday, he stopped 49 of 50 shots in 70 minutes of hockey, then stopped 2 shootout attempts before being beaten for the game-winning shot by Martin Bartek on Pardubice's third attempt. Bartek also scored the overtime winner in game 1.

    Pardubice has now won 15 consecutive playoff games, dating back to last year's quarterfinals, and have a chance for their third-straight series sweep on Tuesday night. The game begins in Pardubice at 18:10.

    Vítkovice Steel 3-0 Mountfield České Budějovice
    (Vítkovice leads best-of-seven series 2-1.)

    Viktor Ujčík scored a goal and an assist and Roman Málek stopped all 21 shots he faced as Vítkovice went up 2-1 in its series with České Budějovice. Due to the bizzare series format that was caused by the Davis Cup invading Víktovice's home arena, they now have the next two games at home, and appear to be in a favourable position.

    Game 4 goes Tuesday night at 17:40 on ČT4 television and online at The teams will then get two days off before playing the fifth game on Friday.

    Oceláři Třinec 3-2 Benzina Litvínov
    (Třinec leads best-of-seven series 2-0.)

    Linesmen attempt to separate Třinec's David Květon (top) and
    Litvínov's Karel Kubát in a rough game 3. Photo: Marian Ježowicz,
    In other series, Oceláři Třinec is in the driver's seat against Benzina Litvínov, winning each of its two games at home. The first game was a 6-0 white-washing, in which Peter Hamerlík added to his league-leading 6 shutouts during the season with one in his first playoff game. It looked like Litvínov might turn the tables in game 2, jumping out to a 2-0 first-period lead, but Třinec came back to win 3-2. Radek Bonk scored 2 goals and added an assist.

    Less than 3 minutes after he scored to give Litvínov a 2-0 lead, Peter Janský was thrown out of the game when he knocked out Třinec's Josef Hrabal with a vicious check to the head. The match penalty he incurred means an automatic one-game suspension, with further disciplinary action yet to be announced. Bonk scored his first of two goals on the ensuing power-play, which was actually a two-man adavantage.

    Bílí Tygři Liberec 5-1 Slavia Praha
    (Best-of-seven series tied 1-1.)

    Bílí Tygři Liberec blew a 4-2 lead in game 1, losing 5-4 as Lukáš Endál scored the game winner for Slavia Praha with 3:35 left in regulation time. The home side bounced back with a strong performance in game 2, winning 5-1.

    Disciplinary action is the talk of this series as well, as Slavia's Jiří Dolezal kneed Liberec's Petr Nedvěd in the third period, which was followed by a fight between Dolezal and Andrej Podkonický. Incensed, Liberec coach Jiří Kalous stepped onto the ice in an apparent effort to confront Dolezal, though he didn't get near him. Nedvěd, who threw a water bottle at the Slavia bench in anger as he left the ice, was taken to hospital after the game and his status for Wednesday's game is unknown. Both sides are requesting disciplinary action against opposing players for the incident.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Road teams successful; 2 new series begin Saturday

    In the first two days of the Extraliga's quarterfinals, the road teams have been successful, and both of them have a chance to close out their series at home. Eaton Pardubice has run its playoff winning streak to 14 by taking both games in Zlín, and now find themselves in the enviable position of going home up 2-0. Meanwhile, Vítkovice Steel earned a split in České Budějovice, and now can look forward to three home games in a row.

    (4) PSG Zlín vs (5) Eaton Pardubice 

    Game 1 - Zlín 3-4 Pardubice (overtime)
    Game 2 - Zlín 2-4 Pardubice
    (Pardubice leads best-of-seven series 2-0.)

    Tempers flare late in game 2 between Zlín (yellow) and Pardubice.
    Photo: Petr Sagner, Zlín Press/
    Pardubice won the first game, 4-3 in overtime on Martin Bartek's power-play goal. They then got off to an early 2-0 lead in game 2 and preserved that margin of victory to the end, escaping with a 4-2 victory and a 2-0 series lead. They were led by 3 points from Jan Starý. The third period of the second game got rough, particularly after Zlín's Michal Důras ran Pardubice goaltender Martin Ružička, which touched off a three-on-three altercation involving North Smithfield, RI's Jeff Jillson. The bad blood may foreshadow what is to come when the series resumes in Pardubice on Monday night.

    The defending champions are now clearly in the driver's seat of the series, and will look to complete their third consecutive playoff sweep, thereby avoiding a return to East Moravia.

    (3) Vítkovice Steel vs (6) Mountfield České Budějovice

    Game 1 - České Budějovice 1-3 Vítkovice
    Game 2 - České Budějovice 5-0 Vítkovice
    (Best-of-seven series tied 1-1.)

    Vítkovice applying goalmouth pressure in České Budějovice. Photo:
    František Panec,
    Both games featured scoreless first periods. In the first game, it was Vítkovice who broke the goose egg with two goals in the second period, then held off a late charge for a 3-1 win.

    In Game 2, the home team was determined not to fall into an 0-2 hole, out-shooting Vítkovice 49-21 and winning 5-0. They got on the board with two goals 1:16 apart in the second by Jiří Šimanek and captain František Ptaček. Ptaček one-timed a laser over Roman Málek's left shoulder after the goaltender had gone down early. At the other end, Jakub Kovář picked up the shutout.

    Despite being the higher seed, Vítkovice was forced out of their home rink for the first two games of the series due to the Davis Cup tennis series in Ostrava this weekend. Therefore, they now have 3 straight games at home and could close out the series without having to return to South Bohemia.

    (2) Bílí Tigři Liberec vs (7) Slavia Praha

    After winning a five-game play-in series against Karlovy Vary, Slavia advances to play Liberec, who has been idle since finishing the regular season on February 20. Slavia's best chance for a victory is to grab an early lead against the White Tigers, who may have to shake off some cobwebs.

    Despite finishing points behind Liberec, Slavia did win the season series 8 points to 4, so an upset isn't out of the realm of possibility. However, they will have to solve their scoring woes and also hold off Liberec's powerful offence, led by veteran Petr Nedvěd. 38-year-old Nedvěd was third in the league with 55 points this season. They will also have to contend with Liberec's fans, who will undoubtedly fill Tipsport Arena to capacity dressed all in white, and probably show up to the games in Prague in significant numbers as well.

    Saturday's series-opening game begins at 18:30 (UTC +1). However ČT4 will join the game in progress, beginning its television coverage after the conclusion of Davis Cup tennis, at approximately 19:30. The game will be available in its entirety, however, online at the station's website

    (1) Oceláři Třinec vs (8) Benzina Litvínov

    Some people might think that Benzina Litvínov has absolutely no chance in this series. However, it should be remembered that they just knocked off a Plzeň team that would have tied Oceláři Třinec for first place had they not been penalized 19 points by the league. The team has had a different attitude since a late-season coaching change. Like Slavia, they will also be looking to get off to a good start against an opponent that has had an extended layoff of 12 days.

    But to bet against Třinec might be hasty. They had, by far, the best offence in the league, scoring 178 goals in 52 games for a 3.42 average. Leading their charge was Martin Růžička (no relation to the Pardubice goaltender of the same name) and Radek Bonk. They placed six scorers in the top 22 in the league, giving them good scoring depth. Their checking line is centred by Bryan McGregor of Niagra Falls, ON, and at the back end, they are led by Lukáš Zíb and Lukáš Krajiček. In goal, Peter Hamerlík led the league with 6 shutouts in only 34 games.

    Litvínov will hope to get Martin Ručinský back into the lineup this series, but not at the start and there are no guarantees it will happen at all.

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    The Scary Story of Jaroslav Otevřel

    From Greatest Hockey

    by Joe Pelletier

    When one looks back at the early drafting trends of the expansion San Jose Sharks, one will notice a couple of things: giant players and Europeans.

    Photo: Topps.
    One player who definitely fit that trend was Jaroslav Otevřel. Otevřel was San Jose's 8th pick, 133rd overall, in the 1991 Entry Draft. Otevřel had just finished excelling in the Czechoslovakian First League with TJ Zlín where he scored 24 goals and 50 points in 49 games, plus an unusually high 105 PIM.

    Otevřel played one more year in the Zlín before coming to North America in 1992-93. Jaroslav did play in 7 games with the Sharks that year, collecting 2 assists, but played most of the year with the Sharks IHL affiliate, scoring 17 goals and 44 points in 62 games.

    A long shot to make the NHL, Otevřel was returned to the IHL for more seasoning in 1993-94. Despite his size he was playing relatively soft for the North American game and the Sharks felt he just wasn't ready for the NHL yet. Otevřel played in another 62 games for Kansas City, scoring 20 goals and 53 points this go around. The Sharks gave Otevřel a nice Christmas gift though. They recalled the left winger exactly one week before Christmas and kept him around until mid-January. In the process Otevřel played in 9 games and did his best to make a name for himself - scoring 3 goals and 2 assists.

    The Sharks continued to swim in the lowest depths of the NHL waters (in other words: they sucked) and they were often criticized for taking too many Europeans who just weren't panning out. The Sharks' philosophy changed a bit in the summer of 1994 as they started taking more North Americans in the draft.

    To make room for the North American prospects they had to clean out a few existing prospects. One of those players was Otevřel. It is unclear if the Sharks offered Otevřel a contract, but if they did it wasn't as intriguing as an offer made by Ässät Pori of the Finnish League. Otevřel jumped at the opportunity to return to Europe.

    Otevřel played 2 seasons with Assat Pori before a shocking incident happened in 1996. A seemingly harmless collision left Otevřel in a crumpled heap on the ice. As it turned out Otevřel had badly injured his neck resulting in paralysis below the waist. Needless to say his career was over, but more important Jaroslav Otevřel's life changed dramatically.

    Click here to see more stories about hockey players from the Czech Republic and other countries, courtesy Greatest Hockey Legends.