Czechs halt Sweden, advance to SF
by Andy Potts|11 JAN 2024
Czechia's players celebrate a goal in their Women's U18 World Championship Quarterfinal win over Sweden.
Team Czechia is on its way to the medal round for the first time since 2015 after beating Sweden in Thursday’s first quarterfinal. The Swedes, silver medallists last year, drop into the placement round at the weekend, just as they did after their previous run to the final in 2018.

Before this game, Sweden earmarked the partnership between Tereza Plosova and Adela Sapovalivova as the key threat from the Czechs. However, identifying a problem is not the same as solving it: that pair combined for three goals to send the Czechs into the last four. Sweden’s Isabella Leijonhielm had a goal and an assist in reply, but finished on the losing side.

"It's the best feeling ever," Plosova said. "The only better feeling would be to win a medal. We were prepared for the game and we did everything we wanted to do. It was a really good game."

Swedish goalscorer Ella Hellman reflected on a tough loss. "We had a lot of chances but we just couldn't get the pucks in," she said. "They didn't give us any time or space, they put really hard pressure on us."

An entertaining and hard-fought first period exploded into life in the 15th minute. First, Leijonhielm carried Ebba Hedqvist’s pass over halfway and found the ice opening in front of her. She kept going, left Klaudia Slavickova in a spin and flipped a backhand shot past Aneta Senkova to open the scoring.

That triggered an instant response from the Czechs. Within a minute, Czechia was level and Sapovalivova, who plays her club hockey in Sweden with MoDo, had her sixth goal of the tournament. It started with Plosova surging down the right wing and releasing a shot that rattled goalie Maja Helge and ended with the Czech captain rifling home in a goalmouth scramble.

Then Plosova put her team in front on 17:47. Once again, Czech persistence in front of the net paid off: Adela Fromova’s point shot was padded away, but the forwards swarmed into the danger zone and prevented Sweden from clearing its lines. Anezka Cabelova regained possession, bore down on goal and dished off a pass to present Plosova with a straightforward finish over the sprawling Herge. That took the Djurgardens IF forward to 6 (1+5) points in Zug.

The Czech top line has powered its team through this tournament, as head coach Dusan Andrasovsky acknowledged. "If you want to win something big, you have to have players like them," he said. "They have experience from our senior team, which is important, and they put it into our game today."

The second period continued in similar fashion, with chances at both ends. Helge made a big save when Karolina Skorepova found space in a central position; the Swedish goalie slid across her crease to get behind the shot. At the other end, Hilda Svensson had a similar opportunity but her attempt suffered a similar fate as Senkova gobbled up a glove save.

Both teams had their first power play opportunities in the middle frame, and both sides produced impressive penalty kills to protect their respective goalies.

The Czechs had seen a winning position evaporate earlier in this tournament, blowing a 2-0 lead against Finland in its opening game. There was a sense of déjà vu when Sweden raised the tempo in the third and drew level. Leijonhielm was the architect with a delicious defence-splitting diagonal pass through centre ice. That sent Ella Hellman clean through on Senkova’s net and the forward showed great composure to pick her spot in the top corner.

At that point, the game could have gone either way, as Leijonhielm reflected afterwards. "It was a fun game to play, so many emotions and feelings," she said. "But we lost, so it's tough right now.

"It just wasn't our day. We made mistakes and they scored on the turnovers."

Soon after Hellman's goal the game reached a pivotal moment as Senkova made a big save to deny Sweden’s leading scorer, Hilda Svensson, from point blank range. Moments later, the Czechs regained the lead. Plosova again fed Sapovalivova and she circled into the zone before roasting her shot past Helge. 

"It was a good breakout," Sapovalivova said. "My linemate passed to me and took one D. I just skated into the middle and shot through the D and it was a goal. I was so happy!"

And there was more joy for Czechia with five minutes left to play when Linda Vocetkova collected a drop pass from Tereza Gildainova to make it 4-2. Vocetkova also plays for Djurgarden; each of the Czech goals came from a player currently based in Sweden.

On 56:47, Sweden called Herje to the bench in favour of an extra skater. However, when Hedqvist was denied by another big save from Senkova, her team's hopes were effectively over while Czechia celebrated a memorable win.
Sweden vs Czechia - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship