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.

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