SURPRISING SWEDEN DEFEATS CZECH REPUBLIC
By Joe Fries | Box Score
A mostly silky-smooth Swedish squad came out with guns a-blazing and surprised the Czech Republic, handing them a 3-2 loss Wednesday night in Kamloops.
The Swedes were coming off a 5-1 loss at the hands of the Russians the night before, while the Czechs had enjoyed a one-day rest after beating the Latvians 5-1.
Sebastian Karlsson, Johannes Salmonsson and Oscar Hedman scored for Sweden, while Vladimir Sobotka and Tomas Kana replied the Czech Republic.
First-period shot totals for each team provided a good early barometer of play, with the Swedes outshooting the Czechs 14-2 and dominating play. Sebastian Karlsson got Tre Kronor on the board at 2:08 when he took a nifty behind-the-back pass from Erik Andersson and then put the puck up and over a down-and-out Marek Schwarz.
Less than two minutes later, Johannes Salmonsson took a lateral pass from Johan Ryno and skated in alone to snap a wrist shot over Schwarz’s shoulder. The Czechs seemed rattled by their wretched start and a steady parade to the penalty box ensued.
The Swedes couldn’t score on any of their six power play chances but did come close. They flung the puck around the Czech perimeter, seemingly at will, but seemed hesitant to shoot. Sweden took a 2-1 lead into the dressing room.
The Swedes began the second period on the power play and continued their assault on the Czech goal. A point shot deflected off Oscar Hedman’s skate, beating Schwarz just 52 seconds in. Salmonsson collected a helper on the goal, giving him two points on the night.
After the next face-off, Schwarz was replaced by Radek Fiala, who looked confident when pressed into service, and was later named the Czech Player of the Game after stopping all 10 shots he faced. A dejected-looking Schwarz spent the rest of the period sitting in the tunnel leading to his team’s dressing room. The decision to pull Schwarz, said Assistant Coach Jan Potruba, was intended to serve as a wake-up call to his team.
Potruba said: “The score was 3-0. I don’t think Marek Schwarz was bad, but as a coach you have to do something. After that we came back and seemed to play much better.”
The Czechs’ more inspired play after the first period may have been a result of an intermission pep talk Head Coach Radim Rulik gave his players.
“Before the second, the coach motivated [us] to play more positionally and with grit and passion,” said Vladimir Sobotka, through a translator. The key to beating the Swedes, he said, would have been to play well defensively and wait for scoring opportunities to come, and that approach seemed to work--for a while, at least.
Midway through the second period, the Czechs seemed to come alive on a power play, but were robbed several times point-blank by Swedish goaltender Daniel Larsson, who stopped 17 of 19 shots on the night.
The Czechs finally got on the board at 16:25 with the man advantage. Vladimir Sobotka peeled off the sideboards and snapped a shot from the high-slot, beating Larsson up high. The Czechs held a 13-6 edge in shots in the middle frame, but still trailed 3-1 heading into the third.
The teams traded chances in the first half of the third period until Thomas Kana, from an impossible angle at the side of the net, bounced a shot off Larsson’s pads and in, cutting the gap to 3-2. The power play marker came at 12:48 and seemed to lift his team’s spirits. The celebration didn’t last for long, though.
Sobotka was handed a five-minute major for boarding at 13:43, and that all but sealed the Czechs’ fate. They came close but weren’t able to beat Larsson, even with Fiala on the bench for the final minute of the game.
“We were disappointed after the game against Russia,” said Johannes Salmonsson. “We were a little too passive in the first game, we were forcing a little more tonight. If we could play like we did in the first period and keep it up, we’ll be perfect.”
“I think the whole team wanted to win this game so bad,” said Swedish Head Coach Torgny Bendelin. “We stopped playing after the first period it seemed, [but] we came back strong in the third period. In the end, the last few minutes, we had full control.”
Potruba agreed. “Simply put, Sweden was better than [us],” he said. The Swedes outshot the Czechs 25-19 in front of 5,323 fans at the Kamloops Arena. The two teams both have records of one win and one loss in Round Robin play now.
The Czechs move on to Kelowna where they face Slovakia on Friday, while Sweden faces Latvia in Kamloops that day.
PREVIEW: CZECH REPUBLIC - SWEDEN
By Joe Fries
Sweden: Coming off a 5-1 loss in their opening game of the tournament, the Swedes will try to rebound Wednesday versus the Czech Republic. The Swedish roster is comprised mainly of 19-year-olds, and that experience could help them versus the slightly younger Czechs. Only four members of Team Sweden play in North America, though, so the Swedes may be in tough against a Czech side that features 11 skaters playing overseas this year. Up front, watch for Nicklas Bergfors. The 19-year-old New Jersey Devils draft pick has Sweden’s only goal of the tournament. Bergfors had 6 shots versus the Russians, so it may be only a matter of time before he explodes offensively. Since the Swedes outshot the Russians 32-29, a hot goaltender could be to blame for their scoring woes. Forwards Frederik Pettersson and Johannes Salmonsson both play in the WHL and will need to contribute offensively tonight, something they didn’t do versus Russia. Alexander Edler of the Kelowna Rockets will anchor the Swedish blue-line. The 6-4, 201-pound Edler has 27 points with the Rockets this year and will be expected to help bolster the Swedish offence tonight. Tre Kronor went 1-for-9 on the power play in their first game, a figure they will look to improve upon tonight. Daniel Larsson will replace Magnus Akerlund as the starting goaltender tonight. If Sweden loses this game, it will need to be extra-vigilant in its remaining games versus Latvia and Slovakia, or face a humiliating trip to the Relegation Round.
Czech Republic: Like Sweden, the Czechs ran into a hot goalie in their first outing and their game ended with a 5-1 score too. The Czechs, however, were victorious, outshooting Team Latvia 39-20. The game could have easily turned into a blowout had it not been for the outstanding goaltending of Latvia’s Ugis Avotins. Forward Petr Pohl netted two goals for the Czechs and David Krejci added two assists, so another strong outing from these two could contribute to their team’s success tonight. Seventeen-year-old Michael Frolik has yet to score a point in the tournament, but the highly regarded prospect could also figure into the scoring for the Czech Republic if they can stay out of the penalty box. Defencemen Roman Polak and Ladislav Smid each had an assist versus the Latvians and will be counted on offensively again tonight. Assistant Coach Jan Votruba pointed out after Monday night’s game that he spent eight years in Sweden, so he’s familiar with their systems and will try to get his team to take advantage of that knowledge. The teams have played before in pre-tournament action, added Votruba, so they’re familiar with each other. Marek Schwarz will get his second start in net for the Czechs. Though not extremely busy versus the Latvians, Schwarz was solid when tested. The Czechs are expected by many to take home a medal of some colour from these World Juniors. If they stay out of the penalty box and look after their own end, they should be able to handle the Swedes.