Czechs hand hosts first loss

U18: Vrana scores shootout winner versus Finland


Jakub Vrana (center) has five points in three games at the U18 World CHampionship. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images

LAPPEENRANTA – Finland came back twice in the third period to tie the game, but ended up falling to the Czech Republic 4-3 in the shootout. Jakub Vrana had two goals including the game winner.

The result adds more uncertainty to an already volatile Group B, with the top three teams separated by one point with one more preliminary round game remaining for each.

Throughout the game the Finns had trouble dealing with an aggressive Czech team that forced the tournament hosts into committing costly turnovers.

“We talked to each other about it before the game, that we needed to go aggressively to the net and do a lot of forechecking,” said Vrana. “I think we did a good job in the end, though we stopped playing as hard in the third and we gave up a few unlucky goals.”

Finland came out of the second intermission down 2-1 but was not ready to concede defeat to the Czechs.

A great passing play by the Finns early on ended with an even better pad save by Czech goaltender Vitek Vanecek on Joel Kirivanta. But a turnover behind the Czech net gave Finland the tying goal, as forward Mikko Rantanen won the battle for the puck against two Czech defenders and got it in front to Juho Lammikko waiting in the slot.

But the Finns didn’t make it easy on themselves, committing yet another turnover in their own zone. This time a poor passing attempt by defenceman Sebastian Moberg was blocked by Vaclav Karabacek, who had a clear route to the net and made no mistake on the shot to put his team back up by a goal with under four minutes left in the game.

With two minutes left to go Finland's Sebastian Aho made a great effort to get inside the Czech zone and pass the puck down to Antti Kalapudas behind the net, who served up to defenceman Sami Niku waiting in front of the net for the tying goal with just over a minute left in the game.

A slashing penalty on Aho with two seconds left in the third put the Czechs on a man advantage to start overtime, but neither team was able to find the back of the net and the game went to a shootout. There Vrana beat Kahkonen high glove side, and David Pastrnak followed up with a similar shot while Vanecek shut down both Finnish shooters.

“I can’t do what (Vrana) does because I don’t have a shot like him (laughs),” said Pastrnak. “I saw the goalie was pretty tight in the net so I tried to shoot high and it went in and we got the two points.”

Finland came into its third preliminary round with a perfect record, while the Czechs have had an up and down tournament but played much better than in their second game against the USA.

The Finns broke the ice at 16:01 of the second period when Kalapudas came down the right wing and fired a shot that beat Vitek Vanecek low. But following the goal the Finns got sloppy and made mistakes in their own end that allowed the Czechs to jump ahead. First David Kase broke up a breakout attempt by the Finns in the middle of the ice, and the puck came to Czech top scorer Vrana, who went to the net and shot past the glove of Kahkonen to tie the game.

Then just 37 seconds later a shot from the point by forward Jiri Smejkal found its way to the back to the net to put the Czechs up by a goal before the Finns could blink.

Despite his team’s shaky play on defence, Finland head coach Rauli Umara commended his players for its resilience in the third period, coming back twice from a goal down to tie the game and force overtime.

“The Czechs played better today, they skated well and made nices passes,” said Umara. “But the third period was good for us, the two comebacks showed character.”

Despite the loss the Finns do get a point out of the game, and now sit atop Group B with seven points. But their hold on top seed is tenous at best, with a game coming up against No.2 USA tomorrow. The Czechs, who are shaping up to be a dangerous team at this championship, will face Switzerland.

“Everybody likes each other here and we got a good group this year,” said Pastrnak, playing in his second U18 tournament. “If we keep playing together as a group we have a big chance to get a gold.”

Russia – Germany 5-2 (3-2, 0-0, 2-0)

Russia put away Germany with two goals in the last period in its third game of the 2014 IIHF U18 World Championship preliminary round.

Yevgeni Svechnikov had two goals and an assist, and Ivan Nikolishin’s three points earned him the Best Player nod for the Russians.

Russia jumped out to a two-goal lead early in the third period, only to see the Germans come back thanks to two goals coming off a pair of two-man advantages.

A late power play goal from Kiril Pilipenko gave Russia the one-goal lead with four minutes left in the first period. Then Russia put the game away in the third with goals from Svechnikov and Nikolishin coming within three minutes of each other.

With the win Russia has six points and will play Canada in its preliminary round finale. A win in regulation time will give the Russians the top seed and the right to face the fourth-seeded team in Group B. Germany, winless in three, could be destined for the preliminary round barring some help from Slovakia and a upset of the Swedes.

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