Friday, December 20, 2013

Kovář out-duels Koskinen, leads Czechs to victory at home

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On home ice, the Czech Republic prevailed 2-0 over Finland in the opening game for both teams in the Channel One Cup. In a duel between Finn Mikko Koskinen and Czech Jakub Kovář, veteran Petr Nedvěd was the only player to beat either one of them, with a power-play marker late in the second period.

Petr Nedvěd was the only player to score on one of the two
goalies at O2 Arena on Thursday. Photo:
"We had some opportunities early in the game but we didn't play the power play well," Nedvěd began, referring to the fact that his team had the first three power plays of the game -- including a two-man advantage for 1:04 in the first three minutes of the game -- but it remained scoreless. 

"For a goalie, that's a good way to start," said Koskinen, who got into the game early with several shots, but nothing too difficult. "I saw most of the shots -- it was pretty easy that way."

Exactly how many shots Koskinen or Kovář faced remains a mystery, as no totals were announced in the arena or published anywhere officially afterward -- quite possibly they weren't counted -- but the Czechs had a clear advantage in the first period, less so in the second period as the Finns got some chances, and then the final period was all Finland -- and Kovář.

After going 0 for 3 on first period power plays, the Czechs got their one and only advantage of the second period late, when Mikko Mäenpää went off for holding -- a call he wasn't impressed with on the ice but showed restraint when questioned about it afterward.

"It's the kind of play that happens 25 times in a game and I got a penalty for it," he sighed. "I can't really say anything about it. They scored a nice goal. That's what happens. There's nothing we can do about it anymore."

Nedvěd and Roman Červenka, two of the more talented forwards on this Czech team who showed great chemistry together all night, were finally able to manufacture a goal with some nice passing and an absolute rocket of a wrist shot from Nedvěd from the hash marks near the right-wing boards that beat Koskinen high to the glove side.

"I got to the spot where I like it and it was a wrist shot," Nedvěd described. "(Koskinen)'s a big goalie and he played really well today. He stopped a lot of the high shots but this one I held it, held it and he went down a little bit and I fired it upstairs."

Koskinen's description is similar, in that he made the first move which gave Nedvěd the opening: "It was a good shot but I didn't give myself the best chance to save it so I'm a little pissed off at myself right now."

Whereas the Czechs got the bulk of the power play in first two periods, the tables turned in the third. Finland had all three power plays in the third period, including a two-man advantage for 1:12 in the early going. Like the Czechs, they didn't cash in, but they came oh-so-close.

The third period belonged to Kovář, and with his team down two men he put his exclamation point on the game. The Finns moved the puck around the perimeter, and defencemen Petteri Nummelin and Anssi Salmela both shot from the point. After the second one, the Czech goalie was down and out with Janne Pesonen on the doorstep staring at a yawning cage, but out came Kovář's left pad to make a save that must have seemed like an optical ellusion to a lot of the 13 096 in attendance. Even Pesonen stood there with a dumbfounded look on his face. He had had the tying goal on his stick.

"Every goalie feels better when he gets lots of shots," a jovial Kovář said afterward, echoing the sentiments of Koskinen, but doing his best to deflect credit away from himself.

Head coach Alois Hadamczik was less restrained in his praise, though: "He was as clutch as Hašek in Nagano," raved the coach who will ultimately decide who to take to these upcoming Olympics. 

"We had lots of chances and I've gotta say that their goalie played a pretty good game," said Mäenpää, who was on the point a lot in the third period on the power play, and got a few shots through to Kovář. "I don't know, when you get those kinds of chances, you just have to have more of a killer instinct and get in there when the chances come. Maybe we were too soft today, but again, I have to give credit to their goalie."

With about eight minutes to play, there was another flurry in Kovář's crease, but he stopped the first shot, then the rebound while down on the ice. 

"When it was 1-0, we had some good scoring chances, especially five-on-three, but we just couldn't score," said Finnish coach Erkka Westerlund, who couldn't find much fault in his team's game, despite the loss. "I think the offence and defence were quite even between the two teams and both goalies were very, very good." 

Westerlund called his timeout with 1:43 left and pulled Koskinen for a sixth attacker, but that allowed Jaroslav Hlinka to fire a shot from right in front of his own net, all the way down into the unguarded net to make it a 2-0 final.

The buzz around the arena at the end of the game was that Kovář had played his way onto the Olympic roster, if his spot there wasn't already assured. But what about others?

"Everyone on the team would like to go to the Olympics," concluded Nedvěd, who won a silver medal with Canada in 1994. "There isn't enough room for everybody here, though. We all know that most of the players will come from the NHL, but some players from Europe will go, for sure. That'll be the coaches' decision."

In the meantime, both teams now head to Sochi, where they will play Sweden and Russia this weekend. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Czech national junior team named, heads to Malmö

The 25-man roster has been set by Miroslav Přerost and his coaching staff -- 17 European-based players and eight from the CHL make up the Czech team that will head to the World Junior Championship, which starts December 26 in Malmö, Sweden.

Victoriaville Tigres captain Petr Šidlík will fulfill the same role for
Team Czech Republic at the upcoming World Junior
Championship. Photo:
The high percentage of European-based players on the team compared to recent years has surprised many people, and leads some to believe that there may be a resurgence of home-grown Czech talent. Přerost explained to that his decisions were made based on the players' performances at a recently-completed training camp in Rokycany.

"We had all the players for five or six days in camp, and the performance of the players from overseas were comparable with those of the local clubs. In certain respects, maybe even a little worse. It turns out that many players have made progress playing in the Czech Extraliga, so we decided to give them priority over before those from the Canadian junior leagues."

Furthermore, he explained: "The World Championship will be played on European-sized ice, and that also factored into our decision."

Here is the 25-man roster:

Goaltenders: Daniel Dolejš (HC Vítkovice Steel), Marek Langhamer (Medicine Hat, WHL), Dominik Hrachovina (Tappara Tampere, Finland).
Defencemen: Jan Štencel (HC Vítkovice Steel), Libor Šulák (Piráti Chomutov), Ronald Knot (HC Slavia Praha), Patrik Marcel (HC Škoda Plzeň), Jan Košťálek (Rimouski, QMJHL), Michal Plutnar (Tri-City, WHL), Petr Šidlík (Victoriaville, QMJHL), David Němeček (Saskatoon, WHL).
Forwards: Dominik Simon, Martin Procházka (both HC Sparta Praha), Ondřej Kaše, David Kämpf (both Piráti Chomutov), David Pastrňák (Södertälje, Sweden), Jakub Vrána (Linköping, Sweden), Pavel Zacha (Bílí Tygři Liberec), Richard Nejezchleb (Brandon, WHL), Dominik Volek (Red Deer, WHL), Radek Faksa (Kitchener, OHL), Vojtěch Tomeček, Jiří Fronk (both HC Energie Karlovy Vary), Patrik Machač (Rytíři Kladno), Pavel Sedláček (PSG Zlín).
The captain of the team is defenceman Petr Šidlík, one of five returnees from last year's squad in Ufa. Šidlík has played on Czech national teams for years and has really developed his physical game over the past few seasons. When asked about his style of leadership, he explained, "I'm not the type that storms into the dressing room and yells and screams. I want to lead by example on the ice."

"This year we don't have players like Hertl, Dima Jaškin, Sedlák and others that we had last year, but I believe that we can do well," he said, when asked of the team he will be leading. "We have to play as a team, and our hockey should be based on character and hard work." has compiled a list of which players have represented the Czech Republic at recent U20 and U18 World Championships, with Radek Faksa of the Kitchener Rangers being the only one to return to the World Juniors for a third go around:

U20 2013: Šidlík, Štencel, Vrána, Faksa, Tomeček
U20 2012: Faksa
U18 2013: Košťálek, Štencel, Němeček, Zacha, Pastrňák, Vrána, Kämpf, Kaše, Zdráhal
U18 2012: Langhamer, Hrachovina, Šidlík, Košťálek, Knot, Šulák, Štencel, Machač, Volek, Sedláček, Vrána, Procházka, Simon, Tomeček.
U18 2011: Šidlík, Faksa 
The team travels to southern Sweden today, and will play a pair of pre-tournament games before things begin for real next Thursday.

Pre-tournament schedule leading up to the World Junior Championship:
Dec 21: exhibition game vs Switzerland (Lund, 6pm)
Dec 23: exhibition game vs Norway (Landskrona, 6pm)
Group stage schedule at the World Junior Championship (all games in Malmö):
Dec 26: vs USA (5:30pm, ČT Sport)
Dec 28: vs Canada (5:30pm, ČT Sport)
Dec 30: vs Germany (1:30pm
, ČT Sport)Dec 31: vs Slovakia (1:30pm, ČT Sport)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

25 Czech Olympic hopefuls hit the ice in Prague Thursday, then on to Sochi

Along with players from the nine other European countries that will be sending team's to the men's hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics, this weekend's international break represents the last chance Czechs based in Europe will have a chance to play together for Alois Hadamczik and his national team coaching staff and try to earn a coveted roster spot.

Roman Červenka is looking to make a return
trip to the Winter Olympics.
What makes this weekend's Channel One Cup so competitive for the Czechs and the other three countries there is that they are not only competing against each other, but also against numerous players who are currently in the NHL. How many spots are available to European-based players is tough to say, but they will be limited.

"There are a lot of quality players, both here in Europe and overseas," Jiří Novotný  told's Karolina Antošová. An experienced international player who has twice captained the Czech team at the World Championships, Novotný was asked his chances of making the Olympic squad, to which he responded: "I think everyone on the roster has a chance. Maybe I'll know more after this tournament."

The roster of 25 players, which Novotný was referring to, contains a lot of familiar names:

Goaltenders: Alexandr Salák (St Petersburg, KHL), Jakub Kovář (Yekaterinburg, KHL). 
Defencemen: Petr Čáslava (Cherepovets, KHL), Ondřej Němec, Martin Ševc (both Lev Praha, KHL), Tomáš Kaberle (Rytíři Kladno), Lukáš Krajíček (Dinamo Minsk, KHL), Tomáš Mojžíš (Slovan Bratislava, KHL), Michal Barinka (HC Vítkovice Steel), Petr Zámorský (PSG Zlín). 
Forwards: Roman Červenka (St Petersburg, KHL), Jan Kovář (Magnitogorsk, KHL), Tomáš Vincour (Kazan, KHL), Jiří Novotný, Jiří Sekáč (both Lev Praha, KHL), Zbyněk Irgl (Dinamo Minsk, KHL), Michal Vondrka (Slovan Bratislava, KHL), Petr Nedvěd (Bílí Tygři Liberec), Jaroslav Hlinka, Jan Buchtele (both HC Sparta Praha), Jiří Šimánek (Mountfield Hradec Králové), Robert Kousal, Tomáš Nosek, Lukáš Radil (all HC ČSOB Pojišťovna Pardubice).
There's an abundance of international experience on that list, but only three have Olympic experience. Tomáš Kaberle has played twice -- 2002 in Salt Lake City and 2006 in Turin, and two others have played once: Roman Červenka played for the Czechs in Vancouver four years ago and, incredibly, Petr Nedvěd played for Canada in Lillehammer 20 years ago.

Of the three, Červenka probably has the best chance of returning. In 2010 he was a 24-year-old centre in the midst of scoring 30 goals in 50 Czech Extraliga games. Four years later, following a couple of productive years in the KHL and a brief stint in the NHL before a return to the wider KHL ice, where he has more success, he has 29 points in 37 games as a play-making winger. His flexibility should work to his advantage.

"Over the last four years I have played various roles, so it won't be major problem," Červenka said to, when the topic about where he could fit in with the team was brought up. As with most players, though, he wanted to talk more about this weekend. "Everyone knows that the team will be named soon, but if you start thinking that if you don't play well in this tournament you're not going to Sochi, you can really mess yourself up."

Like the Olympic tournament itself, the majority of the Channel One Cup will be played in Sochi, Russia, but one game between the Czech Republic and Finland will be played at O2 Arena in Prague, which will give Czech hockey fans a chance to see Olympic hopefuls from the two countries. 

"A lot of people will come to Prague to watch us, and we want to win for them," Červenka added.

The Czechs will go with three forward lines and seven defencemen for Thursday's game against Finland, with Jakub Kovař starting in goal. Both he and Alexandr Salák are expected to get in games this weekend. While Ondřej Pavelec is expected to be the Czech starting goalie in the Olympics, the door is open for one of these two, or possibly both, to make the roster as a number two or number three. Kovař isn't admitting to any pressure, though. 

"From my own experience, I know that too much does not depend on one game," Thursday's starting goalie coolly explained. "I've been on the national team a few times before. The Olympics are obviously something else, but one game or one goal against won't decide it for me. I'll wait til I'm notified by the coaches." 

Winger Zbyněk Irgl will not play on Thursday due to a lower-body injury, but might play on the weekend in Sochi. Kaberle will only play in Prague, then fly overseas to be with his family. According to, the Czech Republic's roster on Thursday will be the following:

Jakub Kovář, Salák - Kaberle, Ševc, Krajíček, Barinka, Němec, Čáslava, Zámorský, Mojžíš - Nedvěd, Hlinka, Červenka - Sekáč, Jan Kovář, Vondrka - Vincour, Novotný, Šimánek - Buchtele, Kousal, Nosek.
Schedule for the 2013 Channel One Cup:
Thursday, December 19:
16:00 Russia - Sweden (Sochi)
18:30 Czech Republic - Finland (O2 Arena, Prague)
Saturday, December 21:
11:00 Russia - Finland (Sochi)
16:00 Czech Republic - Sweden (Sochi) 
Sunday, December 22:
11:00 Russia - Czech Republic (Sochi)
16:00 Finland - Sweden (Sochi)
All times Central European. Live play-by-play commentary of all games will be available at