BRECLAV/PIESTANY— It hasn’t happened lately that the hosting teams have been the talk of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial, but that’s what the Czechs are right now. Their U18 national team has reached the semi-final after an impressive 3-2 win against Russia on Wednesday.
The Czech Republic will play Canada in Friday’s late semi-final at 19.00 in Breclav, while Sweden and Finland will square off at 17:30 in Piestany.
The two last-placed teams in each group, Slovakia (the other hosting nation) and USA, will play in the game for 7th place at 14:00 in Piestany, while third-placed Russia and Switzerland meet at 15:30 in Breclav for 5th place. All games are on Friday.
Finland and the Czech Republic topped Group A in Breclav while Canada (9 points) and Sweden (6 points) finished 1 and 2 in Group B in Piestany.
In other games on Wednesday; Both Sweden and Canada were 2-0 down against Switzerland and Slovakia respectively, but both managed to stage comebacks. Sweden won 8-4, while Canada needed three goals in the last five minutes including Sam Reinhart’s winner with just 53 seconds left to eke out a 3-2 win.
In the remaining game in the Breclav group, Felix Westermarck scored three goals as Finland ousted USA from the medal round with an 8-6 win.
The Czech Republic’s second place in their group (but equal with group winner Finland on points, 6) and the ensuing semi-final spot is somewhat of a surprise, considering the lean results produced by the Czech junior teams in the last years.
Their U18 national team’s last medal at the IIHF World Championship came in 2006 (bronze), while the last U20 World Junior medal was won in 2005, also a bronze. The Czech team reached the semi-final at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial two years ago, but lost to Canada 6-2 and finished fourth.
So the country’s junior program is starving for some success as of late, and it seems like this class of players born in 1995 is able to deliver. There was an early sign of this before the event bagen, when the Czechs defeated Canada 6-4 in an exhibition game.
Despite losing the tournament opener to Finland 2-1 on Monday, the team has bounced back with very impressive wins against the USA 5-2 and Russia 3-2. It was the loss against Finland on opening day which gave the Finns the head-to-head win against the Czech Republic in the group.
Ondrej Kase, David Kämpf and Petr Ceslik scored the Czech goals in the key game against Russia and Ceslik’s game winner was scored already midway through the game. It was by all means an impressive victory as Russia previously had defeated the U.S. 2-1 and in their second game walked all over Finland 6-1.
The Czech coach Ludek Bukac Jr. (the son of the IIHF Hall of Fame coach with the same name) was all smiles after the emotional win.
“The Russians brought everything they had, but we displayed our best performance in the tournament,” said Bukac. “Throughout the game we played at a very high level and there was a feeling of euphoria.”
“Some of our players have really risen to the occasion and increased their level of play,” said Bukac who credited the team’s summer camp for the results so far. “I don’t think that we would have been able to compete the way we do against such opposition had we had this camp.”
Prior to Friday’s semi-final against Canada, Bukac has all the reasons to be optimistic. “Certainly we have chance, anything can happen.”
One very encouraging thing for the Czech junior program, which has suffered from mass migration of young players to the Canadian junior leagues, is that almost all players in this 1995 class play in domestic clubs. Forwards Ondrej Kovaru plays for Lukko Rauma in Finland, while Dan Nadrazsky is with Swiss HC Davos.
The core of this team will represent the Czech Republic at the 2013 IIHF World U18 Championship in Sochi, Russia, 18-28 April.
Canada has won seven out of the eight last Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournaments, with Sweden breaking the streak in 2007.
Ivan Hlinka Memorial
Group A in Breclav (CZE): Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, USA
Group B in Piestany (SVK): Canada, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland
Schedule & Scores:
Monday, 13 August 2012
In Piestany (14:00): Switzerland vs. Canada 1-4
In Breclav (15:30): USA vs. Russia 1-2 SO
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Sweden 3-7
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Finland 1-2
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
In Piestany (14:00): Canada vs. Sweden 7-5
In Breclav (15:30): Russia vs. Finland 6-1
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Switzerland 0-4
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. USA 5-2
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
In Piestany (14:00): Sweden vs. Switzerland 8-4
In Breclav (15:30): Finland vs. USA 8-6
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Canada 2-3
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Russia 3-2
Friday, 17 August 2012
In Piestany, 7th-place game (14:00): Slovakia-USA
In Breclav, 5th-place game (15:30): Russia-Switzerland
In Piestany, Semi-final 1 (17.30): Sweden-Finland
in Breclav, Semi-final 2 (19:00): Czech Republic-Canada
Saturday, 18 August 2012
Bronze medal game
Gold medal game