Friday, April 13, 2012

Cinderella Kometa two wins away

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Who would have predicted this two months ago? Kometa Brno, the eighth-place team in the Czech Extraliga, is now just two wins from its first title in 46 years.

The hungry Brno fans, who have faithfully filled their home arena for years to watch subpar teams in subpar leagues, finally got to see their team on the big stage tonight. They didn’t disappoint and they weren’t disappointed. Far from it.

There was a buzz in the air on the streets of Brno leading to Kajot Arena on a warm spring afternoon before the game. Once inside, the atmosphere was electric, even before the drop of the puck. Once the game started, just watching the crowd was entertaining enough at times.

The game itself was cautiously played for the better part of two periods, in contrast with the loosely-played contests in Pardubice, with neither team wanting to be too reckless in such a pivotal swing game. Jiří Tvaj and Martin Růžička were perfect when they had to be in the first period, and the game was almost half over before the game saw its first goal, the only one of the night for the visiting Pardubice squad.

Kometa fell down two men when first Tomáš Žižka was called for slashing and then, 22 seconds later, Jiří Vašiček cleared the puck over the glass. After over a minute of sustained pressure, Radovan Somík, who had been denied by Trvaj just moments earlier, finally put the puck in when he converted a pass from the side of the net.

As the third period began, the Brno fans continued to keep the building alive, despite the fact that their team had yet to score, or even get many good chances. In the game’s 47th minute, they were finally rewarded. Vašiček nicely set up Jakub Svoboda, whose backhander slid under Růžička for the tying goal, turning Kajot Arena into a madhouse.

Suddenly, Kometa began coming at Pardubice in waves, pushing the visitors back on their heels and forcing Růžička to come up big a few times. But it didn’t take long for them to penetrate once more. With 10:33 left in regulation time, Růžička made the initial save on Jakub Koreis, but was down and out as Hynek Zohorna picked up the loose puck and stuffed it inside the post for the go-ahead tally.

Minutes later, Kometa was penalised for the third time in the game for shooting the puck out of play; this time the puck went into the bench, which unlike elsewhere is a penalty in the Czech Republic. Pardubice generated chances, both on the power play and afterward, but they couldn’t finish them off, as the Kometa defence did a good job of keeping the front of the net clear.

The crowd rose in unison with two minutes remaining and remained standing the rest of the game, with the visitors now desperately trying to tie it. When Pardubice went offside with 8.8 seconds left, the game was effectively over, and the celebration began.

The two teams go right back at it in less than 24 hours, as game four goes Saturday night back in Brno, where Pardubice will try to win back home ice advantage and Kometa will try to move to the brink of a championship.

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