Czechia back in 1st place
by Andrew Podnieks|20 MAY 2023
Czechia defeated Norway this afternoon to move back into first place in Group B.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Czechia scored two goals in the first and rode the lead to a 2-0 victory this afternoon in Riga. The win vaults Czechia into first place in Group B with 13 points, one more than Switzerland and two clear of Canada. Those teams play next, so the standings will change again by dinner time.

Norway's record drops to 1-0-1-3, and their four points puts them in 7th place. Their playoff hopes hang by the thinnest thread as Latvia, cureently in fourth and final QF spot, have eight points. Both teams have two games remaining.

Karel Vejmelka stopped 27 shots for the shutout and his second win in as many starts this year. 

"We played really hard, especially in the second period," Vejmelka said. "We had to kill a lot of penalties, but we did a good job. This is a big win for us. The team played really well defensively in front of me, and I was just trying to see the puck. That’s my job."

"I think we should be happy with the points," added teammate Michal Jordan. "I think we’re getting better and better each game heading into two big games against Switzerland and Canada."

"I think we played pretty well; everyone was working hard," offered Norway captain Ken Andre Olimb. "We knew we needed some lucky bounces against Czechia and we didn’t get them. We had enough chances to score, so it’s a little disappointing."

Norway has defeated Czechia only once in 22 games all time, that back in 2010.

"I think we played pretty well against a really good team, but we need to shoot more if we want to score goals," added Emil Lilleberg. "We took too many penalties. We’ve talked about that. That’s one of the big reasons we lost the game."

The teams played to their place in the standings, the Czechs coming out and dominating the opening period thanks to good puck movement and, fortuitously, a two-man advantage for 1:46. They opened the scoring with that 5-on-3 when Dominik Kubalik blasted a shot from the slot that beat Henrik Haukeland cleanly at 12:33. It was his tournament-leading 7th goal and 11th point.

At the other end, the Norwegians showed why they have scored just five goals in five games, the lowest of the 16 teams. Ole Einar Engeland Andersen got the puck in a great position at the top of the circle…and shot wide.

The Czechs opened a two-goal gulf late in the frame off a sensational torpedo pass form Michal Kempny. He hit Jakub Flek in full stride at the Norway blue line, and Flek went in alone and converted the chance at 18:43.

To say the Czechs ran into penalty trouble in the second would be an understatement. They incurred three minors, one major, and a game misconduct, and were short-handed for eleven of the 20 minutes. And yet, the two best chances of the period belonged to them as their penalty killing stood tall. The game might have changed early on when Daniel Vozenilek took a major for boarding, but it was the Czechs who nearly scored.

First, they had a two-on-the-goalie with Vladimir Sobokta and Jiri Smejkal, but Sobotka waited too long to pass and Haukeland made the save on a Smejkal re-direct. Moments later, Flek had a breakaway and fired wide. The rest of the period was an exercise in frustration for Norway, which couldn’t penetrate or establish much of a presence in the attacking end despite having the extra skater for so long.

Norway was forced to practise its own penalty kill early in the third when Ludvig Hoff took a higk-sticking double minor, but the PK did a masterful job to keep the score within striking distance. Indeed, they incurred all four minors of the final period and were letter perfect, but they weren't able to solve the Vejmelka puzzle either.