The word on this year's Czech U18 team is they are not the deepest team and may have some problems scoring goals, but they are hard working and play a strong defensive game as a team. Based on the team's first game of the IIHF U18 World Championship against Sweden, that forecast seems accurate.
It was also stated that the players added to the team's roster since the Five Nations Tournament in Hradec Králové in February would help improve some of the team's shortcomings. Boy, is that ever true.
In the Czech Republic's 2-1 win over Sweden, two of the biggest stories were goaltender Matěj Machovský of the Brampton Battalion and right winger Dmitrij Jaškin of Slavia Praha. Neither played in Hradec Králové.
In the first period, Sweden, who has one of the deepest rosters in the tournament and is projected as a medal favourite, had the Czechs back on their heels for most of the time. The 15-6 edge in shots was indicative of the play, with Machovský stopping 14 of them. It seemed like they would play well enough to keep the score low, but might not generate enough offense to win.
The second period was more wide open, but the flow still heavily favoured Sweden. Marachovský and Niklas Lundstrom were both perfect, and the score remained 1-0 Sweden.
The Swedes didn't help themselves by taking six straight penalties, though. Early in the third, the Czechs finally converted on one. A couple of CHL imports, David Hrbas of the Edmonton Oil Kings and Martin Frk of the Halifax Mooseheads set up Tomáš Kvapil of Swedish club Lulea, whose point shot beat Lundstrom to tie the score. A couple of fouls later, Frk and Hrabas again teamed up to feed Jaškin, who gave the Czechs their first lead of the game with 8:27 remaining.
A physical presence as well as a goal scorer, Jaškin was a bit overzealous at times, and took a couple of penalties, including one for holding with 2:33 remaining. The Swedes were unable to convert, however, and the Czech Republic held on for the win.
The win against a team expected to be at or near the top of the group does wonders for the Czech team's chances of advancing to the quarterfinals. If they can manage another win on Friday against Canada, or even at least a point, it would all but assure them a spot in the top three. Friday's game begins at 19:30 CET (UTC +1). Games against Norway on Sunday and Finland on Tuesday follow. All games in the group are played in Dresden.
For my preview of the IIHF U18 World Championship tournament, check out: