After two straight losses against the top teams in Group B to finish the preliminary round at the World Junior Championships. The host Czech Republic prepared for a win or go home quarterfinal matchup against Group A winners Sweden at Ostravar Arena.
Anaheim Ducks prospect Lukas Dostal returned between the pipes for the Czech Republic, and he would be called upon against the high-powered Swedish offense. Dostal would come up big for the hosts as they killed a five against three Swedish power-play midway through the first period. But once again the hosts would see themselves go shorthanded for the third time in the first twelve minutes of the period, and Vancouver Canucks prospect Nils Hoglander finally cashed in on the power-play to put Sweden up 1-0. The Czechs got the break they needed when Sweden was called for slashing late in the first, but Hugo Gustafsson scored shorthanded when he stole the puck from Dostal behind the Czech net and put the puck in the open net to make it 2-0 for Sweden just nine seconds into the Czech power-play and under five minutes left in the period. The last minutes of the period would pass quietly both on and off the ice as the Czech faithful hoped for more to cheer about heading into the second frame.
Entering the second period the Czechs looked to turn the tables on Sweden, but Nils Hoglander’s second goal of the game in the first minute of the period would increase the stakes for the hosts. The Czechs got some looks on net but couldn’t break through the high rated Swedish defense, as everyone in red sweaters were kept to the boards or blue line for their shots allowing Hugo Alnefelt to keep the Czech Republic off the scoreboard yet again.
Sweden added onto their lead once again early in the third period when Arizona Coyotes prospect Victor Soderstrom beat Dostal on a shot four minutes into the period to give Sweden a 4-0 lead. Once again the infamous penalty music came over the speakers of the Ostravar Arena as Czech defenseman Martin Has went to the penalty box, and Sweden’s strong special teams play made quick work on the man advantage as David Gustafsson scored to make it 5-0 with nine minutes remaining. The Czech penalty trouble that has been constant throughout the tournament continued for the Czechs as they were handed a major for slashing penalty with five minutes left in the third. Despite the score the Czech faithful were as loud as ever with time winding down as they saluted their home team for the final time at this year’s tournament and Sweden moved on to the semifinals.
Despite continuing their streak of finishing without a medal there were some big bright spots for the hosts in this year’s tournament, as Simon Kubicek, Libor Zabransky, Michal Temply were named as the three best players of the tournament for the team.The Czech defense had the most questions surrounding it going into the tournament and SImon Kubicek was one of the players that was expected at to provide a boost for the hosts blueline. Kubicek who plays with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League and is one of the many young men who will hear their name called at the 2020 NHL Draft took the opportunity and ran with it this year as he was one the Czechs t op three defenders along with fellow player of the tournament Libor Zabransky, and Washington Capitals prospect Martin Hugo Has. Zabransky was a force to be reckoned with on the blueline, he scored four goals for the Czechs providing an offensive spark in a year where the team lost two of it’s best forwards to injury. Zabransky’s two goals against the USA were crucial for the Czechs in that game where they forced overtime to secure a point and avoid the relegation bracket. Chicago Blackhawks draft pick and Winnipeg Ice product Michal Temply finished the tournament with five assists and was a spark for the Czech offense this year, he was held off the scoresheet for his goal but had some good opportunities for the Czechs. The Czechs will have twelve players available from this year’s roster to come back at next year’s tournament in Canada as they look to continue their quest for the team’s first medal since 2005.
Photo Credit: Team Czech Republic (Twitter)