Sunday, April 17, 2011

Czech U18s dodge a bullet against Norway

The Czech U18 team entered their game against Norway on Sunday knowing that they could have a spot in the quarterfinals secured by the time the day was over. A win combined with a Finnish victory over Sweden in the evening would accomplish that result.

Beating the 0-2 Norwegians, however, proved to be easier said than done.

The Czechs seemed disorganized off the bat, and surrendered a goal in the third minute to Andreas Heier. "We have to be better prepared at the start of the game," Czech defenceman David Musil would say later.

For the rest of the first, the Czechs dominated, but goaltender Steffen Soberg turned away all 15 shots that he faced, and the Norwegians led 1-0 after a period.

Martin Frk equalized the game 18 seconds into the second period, as he one-timed a nifty pass from Tomáš Hyka on a rush into the zone. Afterward, the Czechs seemed to start playing with greater confidence, and made Soberg come up with some of his best stops of the night. However, with under seven minutes remaining in the middle frame, Norway's Jorgen Karterud picked off a pass and went in alone on Marek Machovský. He buried it to give the lead back to Norway. Tomáš Rousek then tied the game back up late in the period.

The Czechs came at the Norwegians in waves in the third period, with full knowledge that not getting the full 3 points would do serious damage to their chances of advancing. Frk had some of their best chances, getting stopped by Soberg in close and later firing a backhander off the goalpost. In the game, the Czech Republic outshot Norway 51-18, but as the game grew later, the score remained tied.

Finally, with 2:32 to play, the linesman blew down the play in front of the Norwegian bench and signalled that they were guilty of too many players. The Norwegians were not happy with the call, as neither player had played the puck. Nonetheless, the Czechs went to the power play and, in the midst of a scramble in front of the goal, Dmitrij Jaškin grabbed control of the loose puck and shot the puck into a wide open net. With 1:48 remaining, the Czechs had taken their first lead of the game and their players and fans went wild.

Norway never seriously threatened after that, and the Czech Republic got the 3 points they desperately needed.

After winning their game, the Czechs could have clinched a berth in the Playoff round if Finland had beaten Sweden. "Of course we're interested but we can't worry too much about that," said Musil. "We still have another game (against Finland), not tomorrow but the next day, so we have to make sure we're ready for that one."

They will have to be ready for that one, indeed, because Sweden beat Finland 5-2. The Czechs are 3 points ahead of Finland, meaning a single point in what will be each team's last game of the group stage will be enough for the Czechs to advance. If they lose in regulation, they will head to the Relegation Round, as they will have lost the head-to-head game against Finland and would come out on the short end of any three-way tie scenario involving Canada or Sweden

The Czechs play Finland on Wednesday at 15:30 CET (UTC +1). Following that is Canada against Sweden at 19:30, with first place in the group at stake.

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