Czechs look for revenge
by Andrew Podnieks|04 JAN 2023
Sweden edged Czechia, 3-2 in overtime in the preliminary round. Can they win again in the semi-finals?
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
There’s a lot going on in the European semi-finals between Czechia and Sweden at the World Juniors in Halifax. 

There is the history. Czechia has not won a medal of any flavour since 2005 (bronze), and has not won gold since 2001. Sweden has won medals in five of the last ten U20s but has won only two gold ever (1981, 2012). 

There is head-to-head. Sweden has an 18-1-4 advantage over the Czechs in U20 play, last losing to them on New Year’s Eve 2002, more than two decades ago.

There is memory. Although the Czechs have been impressive here in Halifax, the only game they have lost was to Sweden, 3-2 in overtime, in the preliminary round.

There is momentum. Czechia has been a dominant force much of the tournament, while Sweden got to the semis by the very narrowest hair on their chinny-chin-chin. By rights, Finland should have won their quarter-finals game, but guess what? They didn’t. The Swedes pulled a miracle out of a hat and made it through.

In that 3-2 game on 29 December, the Czechs took a 1-0 lead early in the second after a chess match kind of opening 20 minutes. But with that goal the Swedes came to life and scored two quickies to take the lead. Czechia tied it in the third, but Ludvig Jansson scored early in the OT to give Sweden the W. 

The goalies in that game were Carl Lindbom and Tomas Suchanek, and both will start in the semis on Wednesday. They have played every minute for their respective teams and are arguably the best in the tournament. Advantage to neither team here.

Czechia has the decided advantage on the power play, scoring five times on 17 chances while Sweden is a skimpy 2-for-19. And on the PK, these are the two best teams, both having conceded only one goal all tournament. Interestingly, the have both incurred 21 minor penalties, so their discipline is also a wash. 

There are two areas where Czechia can claim distinct advantage. First, scoring. The Czechs have 33 goals in five games, the same as Canada for highest total so far. Sweden, however, has only 19, nearly three goals a game fewer. And, a significant part of Czechia’s offence comes from the back end. Their d-men have accounted for ten goals and 28 points. Sweden, on the other hand, has just five goals and 13 points from the blue line. Czechia’s blueliners are led by Stanislav Svozil, with eight points, and David Spacek, with six. Sweden’s Jansson is in the middle with three goals and four assists.

Style-wise, you couldn’t ask for more different teams. The Swedes are happy to play a tight, tie game, and if they get the lead they will bore their opponents into the concrete pad under the ice. Czechia has demonstrated tremendous creativity around the goal, moving the puck smartly and finishing with confidence. They are definitely the more dangerous team and have the ability to put the Swedes on their heels. But the Swedes can counter-punch, as they demonstrated in their preliminary-round game, and as the Finns know only too well from their quarter-finals ending.

This will be a game of strategy if the Swedes have their way, and a game of goals if the Czechs can gain the upper hand. For now, advantage Czechia.