Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Czechs win big in WJC opener

It was a game they had to win if they wanted to consider themselves realistic contenders for the quarterfinals, and the Czech Republic did so in convincing fashion. In their opening game of the 2012 World Junior Championships, they hammered Denmark 7-0.

Tomáš Hertl (left) and Petr Zamorský celebrate the Czechs'
second goal on Tuesday.
After giving the USA a good game for one period in their opener, some entertained the notion that this game was Denmark's best chance to grab some points in the group stage. The Czechs, however, came out strong, and outshot the Danes 16-2 in the opening period. They got only one goal in the opening 20, a power-play marker by Tomáš Hertl, the first of three goals for the Czechs with the man advantage on four attempts during the game.

Hertl added a second goal early in the second to make it 2-0 when his shot from the goal line went off the skate of goaltender Sebastian Feuk and in. For Feuk, who did all he could to keep his team in this game, it was his only real miscue of the night. Early in the first period, he stopped a short-handed breakaway by Petr Straka, and overall stopped 37 of 44 shots to earn Denmark's player-of-the-game award.

For the Czechs, it was Hertl who won the award. The 17-year-old, who has had a standout Extraliga rookie season with Slavia Praha, inherits the title of top draft-eligible Czech in this tournament after Martin Frk bowed out due to the lingering effects of a concussion.

"I’m very pleased to score my first two goals in the World Junior Championship, and I’m very happy that I could help my team," Hertl told after the game. "We knew we had to win and that’s what we did."

The Czech team's other 17-year-old, Radek Faksa of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, scored the the third goal on a deflection on a power play midway through the second. The team's third power-play marker was another deflection in the third period by Dmitrij Jaškin to make it 6-0, as the Danish penalty killers were unable to cope with the size of the Czech forwards. 

With three assists, Jakub Culek was the team's top scorer in the game. As expected, he was a big presence on the Czech power play. They also got two points each from Petr Zamorský, Jiří Říha and Tomáš Hyka. In goal, Petr Mrázek was never seriously tested in his 12-save shutout, but that's expected to change in the team's next game.

Canada looms on the horizon on Wednesday night. The Czechs should be pleased with their dominant performance against Denmark, but in this next game they will find out where they really stand. To put things in perspective: Finland, the team that the Czechs are figured to have to beat out if they want to advance, lost 8-1 to Canada in the tournament opener. 

"We have to really take the body, be quick and put pucks on the net," Culek told, when asked about the upcoming game. "Mainly, however, we must not be afraid. Our team looks pretty good. The crowd will play a role in Canada's favour, but it should not affect us. If we concentrate and are ready, we have a chance."

Wednesday's game begins at 6pm in Edmonton, 2am Thursday in the Czech Republic. In Canada, it can be seen on TSN and In the Czech Republic, it is on ČT4 and

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