Czechs win hearts in Sarajevo
by Henrik Manninen|15 FEB 2019
The Czech U17 national team celebrates after winning the ice hockey tournament of the 2019 European Youth Olympic Festival.
photo: EYOF Media
The Olympic spirit was revived on a night when the Czech U17 national team won gold at the ice hockey tournament of the 14th European Youth Olympic Festival hosted in Sarajevo and East Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Having fallen behind against Belarus in the winner takes is all encounter, the Czechs then turned up the heat to score three unanswered final-frame goals to deservedly win the contest 3-1. 

Broadcasted live on national television in Bosnia & Herzegovina and played in front of a great turnout estimated to be up towards 5,000 inside the Olympic Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch (aka Zetra Olympic Hall), the game is set to live on for long for those who were present when hockey won hearts in Sarajevo on Valentine's day.

”This was a big experience, perhaps the biggest experience in my entire life to play such a game in front of so many people. We are champions and it is unbelievable,” said 16-year-old Czech netminder Jan Bednar of Karlovy Vary, who in his fledgling career aspires to one day reach the lofty heights of his role models, Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby.
Up to 5,000 fans came to the venue of the 1984 Olympics to watch the ice hockey tournament’s final game of the 2019 European Youth Olympic Festival.
photo: EYOF Media
Yegor Klavdiev had put Belarus in front with their the lone marker early in the second period with a power-play goal at 3:43. The Czechs then piled on the pressure with Michal Gut and Tomas Chlubna both hitting the crossbar before the middle frame had come to an end.

Tobias Handl finally settled Czech nerves when he reacted quickest on a Jan Cikhart shot to draw them level at 1:44 of the third period. With 3:12 left in regulation time, the jovial Czech contingent of fans got to their feet when Pavel Matej put them ahead. Their top goalscorer, Pavel Novak then settled matters with an empty netter 79 seconds before the end.

Earlier in the tournament the Czech Republic had edged Russia 2-1 before brushing Switzerland aside 3-0 on their way to the final. Having only conceded two goals en route to gold, the Czech defensive rearguard led by netminder Bednar and blueliner Ondrej Balaz particularly caught the eye.

Belarus, who clinched their second consecutive silver medal at the hockey tournament of the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF), can take great credit for their showings in Sarajevo. Succumbing to Slovakia 2-1 after overtime, they then rose to the occasion to beat Finland 4-2 to secure their ticket for the final showdown.

Finland finished third, with Anssi Laine's crop of youngsters saving their best game of the tournament for last, toppling Russia 3-1 to secure the bronze medals. Slovakia beat Switzerland 4-1 for fifth place.

The hockey tournament at EYOF was played 35 years after Yugoslavia had competed at the very same venue during the ice hockey tournament of the 1984 Olympic Winter Games. Bosnia & Herzegovina, then part of Yugoslavia, was then to experience a boom in ice hockey following their fine display at the Zetra Olympic Hall.

Following the return of the Olympic spirit to Bosnia & Herzegovina, the challenge will now be to try and capture the interest shown for hockey during the EYOF, which impressed onlookers from the European Olympics Committee (EOC).

”For EYOF standards there has been a lot of people at all the games. Even during the afternoon games we have seen full sections. Many kids have been attending, so hopefully, this will lead to more athletes in the future for Bosnia & Herzegovina in the future,” said Peter Brull, Games Operations Manager for the EOC during the 2019 EYOF.

”This has been a really big experience for all of us, which I think will be the biggest benefit from this tournament. We have shown that we are capable of organizing World Championships or preparation tournaments that the big hockey nations play before the World Championships," said Mirzet Hodzic, manager of the hockey tournament during the 2019 EYOF.

The 15th edition of the European Youth Olympic Festival will be hosted by Finland's Vuokatti in 2021. It will also for the first time see the introduction of a hockey tournament for girls being added to the program.   

Final Ranking 
1. Czech Republic
2. Belarus
3. Finland
4. Russia
5. Slovakia
6. Switzerland

Individual Awards
Best Goaltender: Jan Bednar, Czech Republic
Best Defenceman: Ondrej Balaz, Czech Republic
Best Forward: Brad Lambert, Finland