QUEBEC CITY ó Often coaches tell the media that their game plan against a strong opponent is based on getting an early lead and then defending it. Wouldnít it be better to get the lead as late as possible so that thereíd be as little time as possible to defend it?
Thatís what it looked like in the World Championship opening game between Denmark and the Czech Republic. Denmark got the best possible start, scoring on Milan Hnilicka on their first attack, on the first shot of the game, after just 31 seconds when Stefan Lassenís slapshot from the blueline found its way to the back of the net on Hlinickaís glove side.
"We had a bad start to the game, getting scored on the first shift. But we didnít want to panic. We have a good team and we knew we could turn it around," said Radim Vrbata.
While the Czech lion didnít excactly come roaring after that, it sure was awake.
About halfway through the first period, the Czechs had killed a Danish powerplay, and went on attack. Martin Hanzal got the puck behind the net, and sent it - between his legs - to Radim Vrbata who beat veteran goalie Peter Hirsch who is guarding the Danish goal in his ninth World Championship.
Five minutes later, Ales Kotalik stole the puck by the boards, drove to the net and beat the left-handed Hirsch on his glove side to give the Czechs the lead for the first time.
And then the Czechs went back to sleep mode.
One bad bounce off the boards was enough to give Denmark a break: Jannik Hansen took the puck, pulled a fast one on a Czech defenseman, then drove to net with all the confidence of a 22-year-old thatís already in his third World Championship, and beat Hnilicka on the glove side again.
"We got off to a really good start with that early goal. Maybe we shocked them a little bit. They got their first two goals with the man advantage--I believe the first one was a 6-on-5 and the second one was a 5-on-4," Hansen said.
"We wanted to stay out of the box, keep it simple, and put away our chances. If weíd put away a few more chances, it would have been a closer game than 5-2," Hansen added.
In the second period, the Czechs simply outplayed the Danes, converted their chances, scoring two goals - Vrbata, Irgl - and put the game away making the third period more or less a formality.
The Danish players had no trouble embracing the old adage of the name in the front of the sweater being more important than the one on the back, since the team was playing in retro sweaters that had no names on the back, evoking memories from the 1970s to mind, but, today, a good team effort just wasnít enough against the Czechs who are the best in the world at rising to the occasion and playing just well enough to win.
"The main thing is that we got two points. Thatís what we came for. We know thereíll be tougher games later on. Weíll get ready for Russia on Sunday. Itís going to be a very tough test, they're a team thatís going to contend for gold, and we want to do the same," Vrbata said.
As for Denmark, they have their sights on an important Sunday game as well.
"Weíve made a few adjustments to our game to fit the smaller ice surface. For a lot of the guys who havenít played on it before, itís a challenge. Hopefully, we can be at our best [on Sunday] when Italy comes," Hansen said.