PREROV, Czech Republic – It is said one should strike while the iron is hot. Fresh from winning a surprise bronze at the U18 Women's World Championship, the next generation of Czech players wasted no time to continue making their mark - this time at senior level. During their opening tie against France at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Prerov, it was the players born 1996 who led the way.
Aneta Tejralova broke the deadlock with her opening goal on the power play with 51 seconds left on the clock in the second period before Vendula Pribylova and Dominika Laskova added goals in the final frame. Meanwhile at the back, Klara Peslarova celebrated her first senior World Championship match between the pipes with a shutout as the Czech's recorded a 3-0 victory.
Two weeks after Czech Republic had won a surprise U18 bronze in Budapest, seven players from that team had shown little sign of fatigue as they suited up for the senior national team during the Division IA where the Czechs rolled to the gold medals with five straight wins which now sets them up for a play-off series against Japan for a place at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship in Malmö, Sweden.
"Although we have played a lot of games recently, we are in great shape," said Peslarova about her teammates who are doubling up as national team players on both U18 and senior level. "And since we have played together as a team for a long time now, we know where we are going to be out on the ice," she continued.
The 17-year-old can look back at a fine couple of weeks where she also won two individual awards as the Best Goalkeeper at World Championships in the space of just two weeks. While she was expected to play a key-role for the U18 team in Budapest, the award on senior level came as a major surprise as she got the nod in goal by head coach Jiri Vozak much thanks to her display in Budapest, which has demoted veteran goalie Radka Hlotska to the bench.
"I had not expected to been the number-one goalie, so I got very surprised when I was picked to start," said Peslarova."I just wanted to do the best I could and compared to the junior level, the speed is different and I have to think about covering every angle," she said of her performances at Women's Division IA level where she conceded just two goals in four matches and recorded a 97.47 save percentage.
But while Peslarova is still a rookie in these senior environs, many of her teenage teammates are already mainstays. One such player is 18-year-old Tejralova. Having already featured in three senior World Championships, she first stepped up to score the bronze winning goal against Russia for the U18 team in Budapest against Russia, while during Division I play in Prerov she has been the top defensive pairing of the senior team together with another teenager, Laskova.
"For me it is the same to play for the U18 as for the senior team," said Tejralova. "It is in many ways the same group of people and we are friends since a long time back."
Tejralova, who together with the captain of the Czech national team, Alena Polenska, blazed the trail this season becoming the first two Czech female players to play professionally in Russia for Dynamo St. Petersburg, now hopes for more players to follow in their footsteps.
"If you can deal with the long travels, the Russian league is very competitive and the quality is high, so I hope to be there again for next season and it would be good for more Czech players to come and play there too," said Tejralova.
With the Sochi Winter Olympics meaning no World Championship at the top division played this year, a place at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship played in Malmö, Sweden will be contested between Czech Republic, winners of the Division I Group A and Japan, who finished in last place in Sochi. The Czechs as the better ranked team in the 2014 IIHF Women’s World Ranking will have home advantage in a best-of-three promotion/relegation round which is to be contested before mid-November.
HENRIK MANNINEN Final Ranking of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Division I Group A:
1. Czech Republic 15 (play-off for promotion against Japan)
2. Norway 9
3. Denmark 8
4. France 6
5. Austria 6
6. Slovakia 1 (relegated)Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Klara Peslarova, Czech Republic
Best Defenceman: Silje Holøs, Norway
Best Forward: Andrea Dalen, NorwayClick here for scores, stats and photos.