In his first game of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, David Pastrnak had a goal and an assist in the first period as Czechia defeated Latvia 5-1. Linemates David Krejci and Roman Cervenka, as well as Tomas Hertl and Hynek Zohorna, also had two points each. Cervenka has now retaken the tournament scoring lead with nine points in four games.
“It’s a hard tournament. We won’t have an easy opponent here,” said the man they call Pasta. “In the first two games (the Czechs) played really well and they ended up only with three points. Austria plays defence as a very well-structured team and sometimes games like that happen. Today we knew we had to come up big and we had a great first period.”
The win moves Czechia back into the top four teams of Group B with seven points. The Latvians would have been fourth with six points had they won, but are instead stuck on three, with the loss dealing a serious blow to their quarter-final chances.
“Czechia is a really good hockey team,” said Arturs Kulda, who scored Latvia’s lone goal in the third period. “They moved the puck well, they were confident with the puck. They just looked amazing in the first period and we couldn’t keep up. We should have done a better job.”
Morale was low in the Czech camp following Tuesday’s historic 2-1 shootout loss to Austria, but the arrival of Pastrnak provided an infusion of energy into the team. Czechia ran roughshod over the Latvians in the opening 20 minutes, outshooting them 17-3 and outscoring them 5-0.
Zohorna opened the scoring four minutes in, grabbing a rebound and using his long reach to beat the outstretched pad of Merzlikins on the forehand. Just 56 seconds later, it was 2-0 as the Czechs cashed in on the power play. Krejci and Pastrnak teamed up to serve Cervenka for the backdoor one-timer.
The Czechs kept coming and it was 3-0 less than seven minutes in, with Michael Spacek beating Merzlikins through the five-hole on the backhand.
“It helps for sure when you can score a goal as soon as possible,” said Spacek. “It gives you confidence for sure. We were controlling the game pretty much, apart from some moments in the third.
“Everybody knows what type of player (Pastrnak) is, and what type of person. He’s a great guy and it’s really good to have him on our team.”
The 4-0 goal took a bit of time to confirm, as Hertl’s shot from in close went off Merzlikins’ blocker and up into the air, where it initially looked like it hit the stick of Matej Blumel above the crossbar and went into the net. However, video replay showed that the puck missed Blumel’s stick and hit the glove of a Latvian defender instead. Good goal. For Hertl, who was expected to be an offensive leader on this Czech team after a 64-point season in San Jose, it was his first goal of the tournament.
“I’ve been trying my best but they just haven’t been going in, but sometimes you need a break like that to get the ball rolling,” said Hertl, who acknowledged the affect of Pastrnak’s arrival on the whole team. “Without a doubt. Just the fact that he’s here means I have a guy like Blumel on my line now, and he’s been playing so well, so it affects everybody in a positive way.”
The revamped top line made it 5-0 with just over a minute left in the period, with Krejci finding Pastrnak for the backdoor play, just like they used to do in Boston.
“We love playing together,” said Pastrnak. “I know what to expect from him and he knows the same. It was easy for us. He’s a great player. It’s very easy to play with him. Today was a long day with the jetlag and waking up early and the game was pretty tough. Now we rest up for tomorrow and prepare for the next game.”
Immediately upon the sounding of the horn to end the first period, a clearly unhappy Merzlikins made a beeline for the gate at the Latvia bench and quickly disappeared down the tunnel, done for the night.
Making his World Championship debut, 21-year-old Arturs Silovs was perfect the rest of the way in the Latvian net, although he only faced 11 shots as the Czechs mainly focused on defence as they protected their lead.
“I’m always ready to play,” said Silovs. “They dominated us in the first period, it was 5-0 and the coach said, ‘You’re going to play second period,’ so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to play.’ It’s an opportunity for me to show what I can do and I’m glad that I took it. I think the guys already knew that they didn’t play to their full potential in the first period. They were ready to play the second and third and they showed that.”
Latvia came out with more energy in the second period, outshot the Czechs 8-4 and tested Karel Vejmelka a few times.
Latvia finally broke through early in the third period when Rihards Bukarts circled the Czech net and shot on goal. Vejmelka stopped it but Kulda got to the rebound and beat the Czech goalie under the arm.
Latvia then had a chance on the power play to cut into the deficit a bit more but couldn’t convert. In the end, that’s all they got.
“Right now this game is over and the preparation for the next game is starting,” said Kulda. “We need to get some rest, a meal and nice sleep and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Latvians are back in action tomorrow against Austria, while the Czechs get a day off before facing Norway on Saturday.
“It's a long tournament and sometimes you lose a game you should win, but we bounced back from the loss against Austria,” said Czech defenceman Jan Scotka. “This is a really important win for us and hopefully it's the kicker for us too.”