A capacity crowd filled the Ostravar Arena for the World Junior Championship opener, cheers for the Czech Republic echoed through the building, as the hosts kicked off their Group B schedule looking for an early upset against Russia.
It was not a start the Czechs, and more importantly forward Jakub Lauko wanted as the Bruins prospect collided with Russian skater Dmitri Varonkov and stayed on the ice before being helped off to the locker room and he would not return. The Czech Republic would be undeterred seeing one of their top forwards exit the game early, Simon Kubicek of the Seattle Thunderbirds got the hosts on the board two and a half minutes into the game on the power-play and subsequently lifted the roof off the Ostravar Arena. 2002 born forward Jan Mysak found the back of the net near the midway point of the period on a two on one break giving the Czechs a 2-0 lead on their first 4 shots. It would be just about ten minutes until Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov would see another shot as penalty trouble for Czechs late in the opening period allowed Russia to control the game. Yegor Zemula put Russia on the scoreboard cutting the Czech lead to 2-1 just after a Russian power-play and 2019 first round draft pick and Vancouver Canucks prospect Vasili Podkolzin followed to tie the game for the Russians on another late power-play and end the scoring for the first period.
Entering the middle period, the Czechs got the offense going again as Matej Blumel fired a harmless shot on net and beat Askarov to give the host nation a 3-2 lead with just over fourteen minutes remaining in the period. The early lead wouldn’t last long as Russia stormed right back beating Czech goaltender Lukas Dostal, with Yegor Zemula scoring his second goal of the game. Dostal was relied upon inside the Czech net once again with Russia playing the majority of the period around his net. With 2:39 left in the period the Czechs would head to a five on three power-play and Hamilton Bulldogs product Jan Jenik put the hosts on top 4-3 only four seconds into the start of the two-man advantage. The Russian parade to the penalty box continued and the Czech Republic generated multiple scoring chances but the period came to a close with the hosts leading 4-3.
Russia head coach Valeri Bragin hasn’t been shy to change his goaltenders in the past, and that trend held true today with Amir Miftakhov taking over the duties in the Russian net for seventeen year old Yaroslav Askarov to open the third period. Once again the Czechs found themselves pressured defensively throughout the period, but goaltender Lukas Dostal shined for the host nation leading the “bend but don’t break” defense down to the last four minutes before the Czech Republic went to the power play. The Russians added another man to the box with just under three and a half minutes left to play after getting called for a boarding penalty which spelled the end of the game for Russian defenseman Danila Galenyuk. A last-minute push by Russia with the extra attacker wouldn’t be enough and the crowd at Ostrava Arena once again lifted the roof off the building as the hosts celebrated on home ice as they defeated the 2019 bronze medal winners.
The Czech Republic answered a lot of questions in their first game. Lukas Dostal continued his solid performance in net from last year’s World Junior Championships stopping 33 of 36 Russian shots. Despite giving a 2-0 and 3-2 lead at various points in the game, the young Czech defense was at it’s best when it needed to be in the 3rd period. The hosts also got notable performances as predicted offensively, Jan Mysak generated numerous scoring chances throughout the game, scoring the second goal of the game for the Czechs. Winnipeg Ice product Michal Temply finished the game with 3 assists, and Jan Jenik who scored the game winner also tallied an assist and was a spark on offense for the Czechs from start to finish. However, with all the positives surrounding the win for the team, the status of Jakub Lauko is concerning. The forward from the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League was looking to rejuvenate his season at this year’s tournament, but his time in this game was cut to just 53 seconds after he was injured in a collision at center ice. He was later shown sitting off to the side of the Czech Republic bench with a brace around his leg and knee, while the Czechs have other firepower up front as they showed us today, Lauko is still a key piece for their offense in what still is a tough pool with games against Germany, USA, and Canada ahead.
After celebrating today’s 4-3 victory, the Czech Republic will turn their attention to Germany on Saturday as the two face-off at 9:00AM EST.
Photo Credit: Aleš Krecl