On Tuesday, the Czech hockey team faced a key challenge at the Ice Hockey World Championship: either defeat Norway or head home early. Aided by talented reinforcements from the NHL, the Czechs did the former: they won and they did so with style.
Ahead of Tuesday, the Czech hockey team had largely struggled at this year’s Worlds, even against “minnows” like Slovenia and Denmark, and the points amassed in the first round almost weren’t enough. On Tuesday, it all came down to a final group match the Czechs needed to win or face going home early.
Thankfully, it was an altogether more fluid team that showed up, one buoyed by Montreal Canadiens’ forward Tomáš Plekanec, starting goalie Ondřej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets, Marek Židlický and others. It didn’t take long for the Czechs to get on the scoreboard: on the evening they clinched seven unanswered goals – three in the first period alone. Former national team coach Josef Augusta had this to say about the match:
“I had assumed we would beat Norway. Their team was built around their goaltender and in the first period he stopped very little. The Czech team also got a boost from Plekanec and Židlický... both showed their quality. Plekanec assisted on the three goals in the first period and that had an impact on the overall direction of the match.”
The win put the Czechs back in the driver’s seat and the team can put off any summer trips to the golf course for now. The question is: how will the squad tackle Switzerland, the only unbeaten team in the tournament so far? The Swiss won their first encounter with the Czech Republic decisively but some, like former team coach Josef Augusta, are confident things will be different the second time around.
“When we lost against the Swiss it was the beginning of the tournament; it was only their third game. Now they will be playing their eighth and we have a completely different team. Pavelec is in goal, we have Židlický in defence... I am optimistic and I don’t believe they can beat us twice in ten days.”
Understandably, nobody on the team is cheering yet. Forward Tomáš Plekanec, who was named player of the match on Tuesday, made clear it is important not to underestimate the opponent, nor to take lightly the task ahead.
“Euphoria after defeating Norway 7:0 is uncalled for. We all know the upcoming match will be very tough; the Swiss have been enjoying the best tournament in their history. I saw how they played against the guys in the first match and they have been playing really well. We know it will be very tough.”
The Czech team faces Switzerland on Thursday afternoon; the winner will face either the United States or Russia in the semis.
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