Czechs pull away from Danes
by Lucas AYKROYD|15 MAY 2024
The Czech bench celebrates after a late first-period goal by defenceman Jan Rutta (#44) in a 7-4 victory over Denmark at the 2024 Worlds in Prague.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
Urged on by their exuberant fans, the Czechs outlasted Denmark 7-4 for their second regulation-time win at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. After the Danes fought back to make it 3-3, the host nation pulled away with four third-period goals.

Czechia couldn't crow about playing great defence, but certainly got a balanced attack with seven different goal-scorers: Jan Rutta, Jakub Flek, Lukas Sedlak, Tomas Kundratek, Dominik Kubalik, Matej Stransky, and Ondrej Palat.

"Not a bad game," said Palat, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning who is seeking his first IIHF medal. "There’s room for improvement, but we’re happy with the three points."

Jockeying for playoff position in Group A, the Czechs have generated optimism by earning points in all four of their games so far, including a 1-0 shootout win over Finland and a 2-1 shootout loss to Switzerland. They last won the gold medal in 2010, and their last medal of any shade was bronze in 2022.

Christian Wesje, Patrick Russell, Oscar Moelgaard, and Mathias From replied for Denmark, whose never-say-die spirit was undercut by their failure to match the Czechs' pace. The Danes were outshot 39-18.

Rookie national team coach Mikael Gath's troops have lost three consecutive games since debuting with a 5-1 win over Austria. The Danes cannot squander points against pointless Great Britain on Friday.

"We're going in for the win for sure," said Danish defenceman Matias Lassen. "I don't know how the standings look, but we play every game to win. Maybe we'll get some help from other teams. But we'll do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance. We play for the honour of this country."

Affirming the tournament’s “Heart of the Game” slogan, the arena was packed with chanting, cheering, drum-beating Czech fans. Attendance was 17,413. Never mind the gorgeous 24 C weather and the 16:00 Wednesday start time – Prague’s focus was squarely on the ice.

The game began cautiously, both sides striving to keep opponents on the perimeter and chances hard to come by. Dichow was there with the right pad when Czech captain Roman Cervenka tested him in tight, and Czech goalie Dostal said no when From cut in front with a backhand attempt.

The Czechs got an extended 5-on-3 power play when Danish captain Jesper Jensen Aabo and Oscar Moelgaard took minors 10 seconds apart. But there were none of the crafty tic-tac-toe plays Czech teams routinely pulled off during the "golden generation" of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Wesje quieted the home crowd when he scored at 18:54 on Denmark’s first power play. From the left faceoff circle, Joachim Blichfeld skimmed a hard pass to the 25-year-old Fischtown Pinguins forward to convert on the doorstep.

The Czech party was right back on when, with just 0:08 left in the opening stanza, Rutta sailed a point shot past a screened Dichow.

"They scored on a lot of shots with traffic," Lassen noted. "We've got to block some more shots, be stronger in front."

In the second period, the host nation kept coming. There was no pity in Flek's eyes when he got the puck from Jachym Kondelek with speed in the neutral zone, burned Jensen Aabo to the outside, and zapped the go-ahead goal past Dichow's blocker at 2:50.

Less than two minutes later, the Czechs beat out an icing call to make it 3-1. Ondrej Kase won the race and centered the puck from behind the goal line to Sedlak, whose backhander went in.

Both netminders did their part. Dichow kept battling, denying Sedlak in close with a fine glove save moments later. Nearing the 13-minute mark, the Czech goalie made a fantastic lunging stick save on Mikkel Aagaard that had the fans chanting: "Lukas Dostal!"

Russell's 3-2 goal with just 24 seconds left in the middle frame proved the old adage, "Go to the net and good things happen." Veteran blueliner Nicklas B. Jensen fired the puck from the blue line and it deflected in off the Danish assistant captain's midsection at the crease.

In the third period, the Danes tied it up at 4:43. Coming late down the middle, Moelgaard took a feed from Markus Lauridsen and whipped it underneath Dostal's right arm. Moelgaard, a 19-year-old HV71 forward, was drafted last year in the second round by the Seattle Kraken.

Lassen praised Moelgaard: "It's a good goal. Three or four passes in a row, off the rush. Nice to see him get that goal. He deserves it. He's a good player and has a bright future."

At 6:16, Kundratek restored the Czech lead at 4-3, following up his first blocked shot attempt from the right faceoff circle and beating Dichow.

Then the scoring came fast and furious. Stransky and Kubalik added goals 20 seconds apart to give the host team some breathing room. But 21 seconds later, From cut the deficit to 6-4. That became moot when Palat scored through traffic at 13:08 to round out the scoring.

"We were talking about staying confident on the bench and we did," said Palat. "We played our game, played our system, and eventually the goals came."

The Czech-Danish Worlds rivalry consists of two distinct phases. The Czechs convincingly won four straight meetings from 2008 to 2012, including three shutouts in a row. But each of the four subsequent games went to a penalty shootout. Czechia won 2-1 in 2013 and 2021, while Denmark won 4-3 in 2014 and 2-1 in 2016.

The Danes also made history by opening their first Olympic tournament in 2022 with a 2-1 win over the Czechs. But at least for now, after Wednesday's encounter, bragging rights swing back to Czechia.
Czechia vs Denmark - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship