In the wake Czechia’s come-from-behind 8-4 win over the USA to claim the bronze medal at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, captain Roman Cervenka appeared drained when facing reporters. His face expressed more relief than euphoria. And his voice was barely audible.
“Look, I can’t even talk,” he said, barely above a whisper. “This is a great feeling, you don't experience it every year. But it’s also a huge relief. These last three weeks have been stressful enough.”
The Czechs entered the third period trailing 3-2 but the game turned on its head in the first 3:37 minutes of the third period. And Cervenka’s reaction to all of them made his voice hoarse.
“It was the goals. We started screaming every 20 seconds,” he explained with a smile creeping onto his face. “It’s the best way to let your emotions out. You celebrate with the whole team. You need to enjoy it.”
The 3-3 and 5-3 goals were scored by David Pastrnak, playing with Tomas Hertl and Hynek Zohorna as head coach Kari Jalonen juggled the lines to try to get some offence. Cervenka was back playing with David Krejci and Matej Blumel – the trio that started the tournament on fire – and they scored the go-ahead goal in the middle. It came right off a faceoff – Krejci winning the draw right back to Cervenka, who let go a one-timer that beat U.S. goalie Jeremy Swayman.
“We’ve played together a fair bit over the years, and we played well together at this tournament and also at the Olympics a few months ago,” the Czech captain said.
Cervenka also assisted on Pastrnak’s hat-trick goal on the power play with just 37 seconds remaining. The bronze medal was already well in hand at that point but it gave the Czech captain one more point. He finishes with a tournament-leading 17 – three ahead of Canada's Drake Batherson – on five goals and 12 assists. That total is also the most in a World Championship by any player on the independent Czech national team since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993.
Cervenka was also named to the Media All-Star Team.
“That’s nice, but you can’t win anything by yourself,” Cervenka said. “It’s all about the team, not winning the scoring. I’m just glad I was able to help in some way.
“Before the World Championship, our goal was to win a medal. That’s easy to say, but we knew that the path wouldn’t be easy.”
Cervenka might be the lesser known of the two veteran Czech forwards, perhaps owing to Krejci's lengthy NHL career with the Boston Bruins. Cervenka only played 39 games for the Calgary Flames in 2012/13 but has otherwise spent his career in Czechia, Russia and Switzerland – where he currently plays for the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers – putting up big offensive numbers wherever he goes.
He was first named captain of the Czech national team for the 2018 World Championship, and also carried that title at this year's Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Czechia finished third in Group B and beat Germany 4-1 in the quarter-finals before facing Canada in the semis. Somewhere along the way, it’s not clear exactly when, Cervenka said that he went to church, explaining with a smile, “I felt it was necessary.”
The semi-final game started alright, with Cervenka setting up Krejci for an early power-play goal for a 1-0 Czech lead before Canada stormed back to win 6-1.
“It wasn’t easy to get the Canada game out of our minds, and today didn’t really start out the way we wanted,” said Cervenka.
Trailing 2-1 late in the last minute of the first period in the bronze medal game, Cervenka went onto the ice with Krejci and Pastrnak for a power play. But instead of a power-play goal or at least some momentum to carry over into the next period, a turnover let to a Karson Kuhlman shorthanded goal with 13.9 seconds left.
That could have been a back-breaker. But Marek Langhamer replaced started Karel Vejmelka in goal and shut the door in the second period, while Jiri Smejkal scored to cut the deficit to 3-2.
As the team headed onto the ice for period three, Cervenka said: “We knew it was the last 20 minutes of the season, so we just left everything out there. Pasta scored early, that got it started and then one goal came after another and we took control of the game.”
As the final seconds ticked away, the Czech players on the bench locked arms in anticipation of a celebration. After the last faceoff a centre ice with only a few seconds on the clock, they all poured onto the ice to celebrate, receive their medals, and sing their anthem with the many Czechs who had travelled to Tampere, hoping for this kind of moment again.
“This was a nice tournament, it was fun,” Cervenka said. “I'm happy for all the guys, and our success deserves a good party. We’ve been together for quite some time.”
Apparently, Cervenka and the others aren’t too tired to celebrate.
“We will definitely enjoy it,” he assured everybody. “After so many years without a medal, we needed this.”