NIAGARA – Tomas Rachunek’s goal midway through the second period and Antonin Honejsek's goal in the third provided the Czechs with the necessary offence to beat Norway, 2-0, in Preliminary Round action of Group B in the 2011 World U20 Championship.
This marked the first meeting between these nations since December 26, 1990, when the old Czechoslovakia hammered the Norwegians 11-3 on the opening day of the round-robin event in tiny Rosetown, Saskatchewan. That Czechoslovak team was led by goalies Milan Hnilicka and Roman Cechmanek, and skaters Zigmund Palffy, Jiri Slegr, and Jozef Stümpel.
The 2011 Czechs must now wake up and prepare to play Canada in Buffalo on Tuesday while the Norwegians’ next game is also against Canada on Wednesday night.
"It's always tough playing the first game of a tournament and tough to play Norway," noted Czech forward Tomas Rachunek. "You have to score the first goal against them, or the game becomes much more difficult to win."
The first period was a tame and even period on the small ice of Dwyer Arena. The Czechs neutralized by tenacious Norwegian forecheckers who kept the Czechs to the outside. Both teams had one power play and only a handful of decent scoring chances between them, and the Czechs were as surprisingly ineffective as their opponents were determined. This certainly didn’t look like a Norway team that had been slapped with a 7-1 loss by Sweden a day earlier.
"The coach just told us not to panic after the first period," Rachunek said. "We knew we were playing well, but it was frustrating not to score."
The first period ended still looking for the game’s first goal, and shots were a meagre 7-6 in favour of the Czechs. The Czechs, though, dominated the second period. The impressive checking of Norway simply couldn’t handle the increased speed and north-south attack of the Czechs who had the only two power plays of the period. They didn’t capitalize with the extra man, but they did get on the scoreboard, finally, at 13:55.
Antonin Honejsek won a faceoff to the right of goalie Steffen Søberg by snapping the puck toward the goal. The puck came to the far side of the crease where Tomas Rachunek drilled the puck into the open side. The relief on the Czech bench was palpable.
Shots in the period were 17-6 for the Czechs and well reflected the increased intensity of their efforts over a middling opening period.
Far from conceding the result, though, Norway came out hitting and skating, if not taking play to the Czechs then at least keeping up with them shift by shift. Things looked even better when Adam Sedlak received a minor and ten-minute misconduct for a hit to the head, but no sooner had the power play started than Honejsek raced down the ice and beat Søberg short-handed to make it a 2-0 game.
"That was really a killer for us," Norway captain Andreas Stene admitted. "That was a good chance to get back in the game, but it's tough for us because we don't score a lot of goals."
Moments later, Sondre Olden took a penalty to negate the power play and put the game further out of reach. The great start to the period had passed. The game ended 2-0, but both teams still have plenty of work to do during the Preliminary Round.
"Our goal stays the same," Stene said. "We want to remain in the top pool. This was a big loss for us, but we have to forget about it and prepare for the next one."
Said Rachunek: "We want to surprise some teams. There are a lot of good teams in our group – Canada, Russia, Sweden – but we think we have a pretty good team also."