On the world’s biggest stage, the Czechs are having the time of their life. The team gives off a zeal for the game and sense of joyfulness that feels contagious – and sure, winning like the Czechs have been certainly helps with this, but this attitude is purposeful, and something they are aspiring to have regardless of the results.
“We’re at the World Championships, where else would we want to be? And if you can’t enjoy this, why are you in the game?” said Czechia head coach Carla MacLeod. “At the end of the day you have to enjoy it.”
The Czechs have scored 21 goals through the preliminary round, meaning that they have danced to "Bzum-bzum breke-keke" 21 times. Perhaps one of the catchiest goal songs in the tournament, it's always accompanied by the entre Czech bench moving their arms in sync to the beat.
“I feel like we are having so much fun right now,” said Vendula Pribylova. “The goal song we literally came up with on the bus ride here, and the whole team was on board with it. We’re having so much fun, obviously scoring and then hearing that song and dancing to it. It really helps to build that team spirit.”
“We have this Czech mentality, we turn everything into fun,” said forward Katerina Erbanova. “We don’t really stay a very long time in some sorrow, we just go joke around all the time. We always come with a new energy when we have some downhill.”
MacLeod, who won two Olympic golds and four World Championship medals in her career as a defender for Team Canada, has worked with the team to build upon this mentality.
“I’ve been at this event a long time in a lot of different capacities, and I know when I enjoyed it the most, it was giving me the best results,” said MacLeod. “At the end of the day, these women are working so hard. If you come here and you get worried and nervous and stressed, I don’t know why you worked so hard when we’re not here. This is the opportunity to show where we’re at. We’re going to make mistakes: no problem, let’s fix them, we’ll keep going. And I think, if I had my athlete hat on, I know I’d appreciate that style as well. It goes hand in hand, if you’re going to build confidence, you’ve got to enjoy doing it along the way.”
Confidence – that’s another word that comes up a lot in regards to the Czech team. While MacLeod has worked with her players on little details, like getting to the front of the net to score goals, she says that one thing that is making the biggest difference is instilling confidence in her players.
“Maybe one of the most important pieces for us was maximizing our players and building their personal confidence,” said MacLeod. "I just think we’re trying to build the confidence of our players to believe in [the game plan] and to believe in themselves. That’s actually what sets teams apart at this level and that’s kind of what we’ve been working for in the last month.”
“She’s keeping us very confident in what we do. She believes in us and she trusts the process,” said Natalie Mlynkova. “It always helps players to play for a coach who is trusting you on the bench. When you make a mistake, it’s not that big of a deal, you just fix it.”
Earlier this year, Czechia competed in the their first ever Olympic Games, finishing seventh. The team has maintained their momentum over the last year, and is looking poised to put up a fight against Finland. In Frederikshavn, Czechia copied last year’s perfect preliminary record and improved upon 2021’s 16 goals for and three goals against, scoring 21 goals and only allowing two, picking up two shutouts along the way.
While causing an upset in the semi-finals may be the ultimate goal, MacLeod is keeping her team focused on the process and on the little details.
“Any time you’re at a World Championship or a short term competition, when you look at it as a whole, it can be cumbersome and overwhelming. So like anything else you want to break it down into steps,” said MacLeod.
Outside the team’s dressing room is a sign titled “7 steps to earn it, every game”. These seven steps are listed in a table, with check marks and crosses indicating whether or not the team accomplished them in each game.
“We have seven measurables that are pretty black and white – we get 30 shots on net or not, little things like that – that keep us focused on the small details that we believe that will generate the result we’re looking for," said MacLeod. "So instead of being result-oriented it’s process-oriented. And I think it’s helped kind of ground our group, it’s been sort of our core mechanism to make sure we stay together and on the same page.”
It’s a concept that MacLeod has used successfully with other teams, and that she says was crucial to helping bring the team together in a short amount of time.
"I think for our group it really did sort of align us. We didn’t have a long time together prior to getting here, so we needed to kind of find common ground as quick as possible, and that activity I think served a really important purpose.”
Could the Czechs make history and book a ticket to their first ever top division semi-final? Time will tell, but regardless, they'll be singing and dancing the whole way along.