Czechs shoot down battling Brits
by Andy Potts|14 MAY 2022
Czechia's Tomas Hertl with a scoring chance against Great Britain goalkeeper Ben Bowns.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
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It took some time, but Czechia delivered the expected victory over Great Britain in its opening game. After a goalless first period that could have seen GB edge in front, Matej Blumel and Jakub Flek opened a two-goal lead in the middle frame. David Jiricek added a third early in the final stanza, and Blumel had another goal and an assist as the scoreboard ran away in the closing stages. Ben Lake got the British consolation effort in a 5-1 verdict.

David Krejci, an experienced head on a young Czech team, admitted that the first intermission was vital. "We have lots of new guys, lots of young guys, so obviously nerves were a factor in the first period," he said. "But we calmed ourselves down in the dressing room and in the second period we were a different team.

"We put the game away in the second period and continued into the third. We know it’s going to be a little different tomorrow [against Sweden] but we wanted to start the tournament on the right foot with a win and we did that."

Great Britain battled bravely, inspired by another eye-catching display from goalie Ben Bowns, but ultimately fell to the superior attacking quality that the Czechs could call upon in a hard-fought encounter.

"I liked our game, I thought we competed really high," said young forward Josh Waller. "They play at such a high pace, it's non-stop pressure, but we were able to compete with them and go back and forth.

"I think we had some grade A chances as well."

Czechia’s head coach Kari Jalonen, appointed after the Olympics, handed 21-year-old goalie Lukas Dostal his World Championship debut. Dostal is no stranger to Tampere, where he played 54 times for Ilves before joining the Ducks organization last season and he enjoyed his return to Finland.

"It was really fun," he said. "The crowd was awesome. I didn’t expect that we’d have so many fans over here, they were pretty loud cheering for us and I enjoyed it. I wasn’t nervous. It is a childhood dream so I just had fun." 

Crowd noise notwithstanding, Dostal might have anticipated a quieter start to his international career against the lowest-ranked nation here. Instead, he saw British rookie Waller, 22, fizz a shot a fraction wide on an early turnover chance. The Brits were not interested in merely making up the numbers in this game.

"I blocked a shot and then I saw a spill out there and it was a foot race for the puck," Waller said. "I got it, and I had an idea of what I wanted to do but unfortunately it just didn’t come off my stick right."

That set the tone for an absorbing first period. Czechia looked more composed in possession, and was better able to build sustained spells of pressure around Ben Bowns’ net. However, the Brits were spirited, terrier-like on the D, disciplined all over the ice and unafraid to look for a quick breakaway when the opportunity presented itself.

As usual, goaltender Bowns was a reassuring presence at the back. His first big save came in the 10th minute when a line change almost opened up the defence. Tomas Hertl was poised to take advantage, but down went Bowns’ pad to shut the door on the San Jose forward. But Dostal also had work to do, with Lake and another British debutant, Cade Neilson, getting presentable looks.
Czechia vs Great Britain - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
It took some time, but Czechia delivered the expected victory over Great Britain in its opening game. After a goalless first period that could have seen GB edge in front, Matej Blumel and Jakub Flek opened a two-goal lead in the middle frame in a 5-1 verdict.
CZE GBR 14 MAY 2022
After the intermission, though, the Czech offence found another gear. If the first period was a fierce contest, the second often resembled an attack versus defence exercise.The first Czech power play of the game saw David Krejci shoot off the inside of the post and along the goalline. Petr Vrana had the goal at his mercy but Josh Batch made a huge block to deny him. The pressure kept on piling up: Krejci set up Vrana for a shot into Bowns’ pads, then the same pair combined only to be foiled by the piping again.

If Britain was to survive this onslaught, it would be making a miracle in line with the slogan for this year’s tournament. Czechia, though, had other ideas. After all, this is a roster with more than 3,000 NHL games, up against a nation that has yet to produce an NHL player. Eventually, the gap in class told and a moment of defence-splitting quality from Stanley Cup winner Krejci looped up a pass that evaded Batch’s stretching stick and dropped for Matej Blumel. The 21-year-old from Pardubice lacks the stellar CV of many of his team-mates, but two deft touches from him were enough to solve Bowns at last.

Blumel's finish earned praise from senior partner Krejci: "He’s a very smart kid and a really good hockey player too. He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s reckless, and he complimented our line pretty well tonight, so hopefully we can keep that going."

That finish was not a surprise for Waller either , who encountered Blumel as an opponent in his junior days with Pisek and Dukla Jihlava.

"I know Matej, I played against him over there," Waller added. "I got a chance to speak with him here and it was cool to play against him again."

GB struggled to generate offence of its own in the middle frame, but almost snatched a tying goal when Neilson’s deflected shot clipped the top of the bar on a rare foray into Czech territory.

At the other end, though, another strong Czech power play ended with a pile-up on the crease. Dave Phillips was penalized for closing his hand on the puck in that scrimmage, but Roman Cervenka’s penalty shot bounced off the inside of both posts before Bowns swatted it off the goal line.

The reprieve was short-lived. The next play saw Czechia win the face-off and set up a point shot for Jan Scotka. That effort fizzed menacingly through traffic and flew into the net off Jakub Flek’s skate to double the lead.

Late in the frame, Britain’s first power play produced a good chance for Evan Mosey, but he was unable to steer Waller’s deflected feed away from a relieved Dostal.

Early in the third, a Czech power play showed how to do it: Jiricek arrived at the top of the circle to rifle home Cervenka’s feed just 14 seconds after Neilson went to the box for delaying the game.

Britain did not abandon its search for a deserved goal, but it was hard for Pete Russell’s men to rediscover the energy levels of the early stages. A kinder bounce might have presented Mosey with a rebound from a Ben Lake effort, Robert Dowd attempted an audacious solo rush through the defence but ended up trading blows with Radim Simek rather than celebrating a memorable marker. Belated reward came midway through the third when Scott Conway’s slide-rule released Lake, who won his duel with Dostal to end his team’s three-game scoring drought in its warm-up action.

"It didn't go our way tonight, but we can be proud of our performance," Lake said. "After that first period we were pretty confident but we were under quite a lot of pressure the whole game. They're a skilled team."

By the time Lake scored, though, the game was long gone. The Czechs had already added two further tallies through Jiri Cernoch and Blumel. Later, Jiri Spacek hit the piping once again and Cernoch saw an effort ruled out for use of the hand, but Czechia could not add to its five-goal haul.

Head coach Jalonen was encouraged by his team's response to an anxious start. "I liked the way we played the second and third periods," he said. "That is how we wanted to play.

"Dostal did a good job, he gave us a chance to win, and the young guys Blumel and Jiricek scored their first goals. They'll remember this night all their lives." 
Czechia vs Great Britain - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship