United States 2 - Czech Republic 1
USA EDGES CZECHS, ADVANCES TO SEMIS WITH RUSSIA
By John Kurucz | Box Score
Phil Kessel’s two-point performance paced Team USA to a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic at GM Place Monday night, a victory that cements a date for the American side in the tournament’s semi-finals versus Russia January 3 (8 pm PT, TSN/RDS).
Team USA’s game-winning goal came from Chris Bourque at 11:08 of the first, his seventh of the tournament. American netminder Cory Schneider earned his team’s Player of the Game honours for stopping 30 of 31 shots.
“I want to give a lot of credit to the Czech team and their coaching staff,” said USA Head Coach Walt Kyle. “It was a very difficult game to play in, and it certainly could have gone either way. It was a hard-fought effort, and I’m very proud of the effort the kids put in. Hopefully this game will make us better prepared for the difficulties that lie ahead.”
The Czechs, whose lone goal came from Ladislav Smid at 12:17 of the first period, will battle it out for fifth place with Team Sweden January 4. Still, they took pride in their efforts.
“I think we were unlucky,” said Smid, the Czech captain. “I think we were a better team than the USA. We had a lot of chances but their goalie was pretty good.”
“I believe we played a great game against the USA, and we had hard pressure from them,” said Czech Assistant Coach Jan Votruba. “They scored two easy goals, but from the second period on, we applied pressure. We had many penalties and we had many chances.”
Goalie Marek Schwarz made 29 saves on 31 shots for the Czechs.
The Czechs kicked off the game with a definite purpose, as both Karel Hromas and Petr Pohl tested Schneider with consecutive shots from close range.
But David Krejci was sent off for holding at 2:39, and the Americans made the Czechs pay less than a minute later. Kessel capitalized on a broken play in the high slot, firing a perfectly placed snapshot into the lower left corner to give the Americans a 1-0 lead at 3:23. Heading into this contest, the University of Minnesota product had been tied with Russia’s Evgeni Malkin for the tournament lead in points (8), but had failed to score a goal in four previous outings.
The Americans nearly doubled their lead on the power play at 7:35, as TJ Oshie fired a high wrist shot from the slot that rang off both posts.
Bourque then gave the Americans a 2-0 lead at 11:08, as the Washington Capitals prospect fired home a Kessel rebound from just outside the crease.
Ladislav Smid answered right back for the Czechs on a power play goal at 12:17 as a result of a Jack Johnson roughing penalty. Smid took a Michael Frolik feed at the right point before firing home a shot that got through traffic into the net. The assist was Frolik’s first point of the tournament.
The Czechs nearly tied the affair with just over five minutes remaining in the period, as the line of Hromas, Pohl and Krejci pressed the Americans.
“You’re always upset when you lose a game,” said Hromas afterwards. “I think we played hard, played a good game, but their goalie was unbelievable.”
Though the second period failed to produce any goals, the two teams exchanged a number of power play scoring chances.
A Bourque penalty for slashing at 7:12 enabled the Czechs to apply significant pressure in the American end, but a series of failed one-timers kept the score at 2-1.
Shortly after Bourque served his penalty, the Americans went right back on the power play as a result of a Karel Hromas hooking call at 9:58.
Team USA sharpshooter Robbie Schremp quarterbacked his team’s power play for the entire two minutes, but the London Knights’ sniper failed to hit the net on several shots fired from the top of the circles.
From there, Brian Lee was sent off for holding the stick at 12:31, and the Czechs narrowly missed on their best scoring opportunity of the period.
With Schneider hugging the right post to prevent a wrap-around, Roman Polak fed a hard cross-crease feed to Michal Birner, but the Saginaw Spirit product failed to score what would have been a simple tap-in.
The Czechs continued to apply pressure on the Americans at the start of the third, and
After collecting a loose puck just outside the American blueline, Michal Birner moved in on Schneider all alone, but his forehand-backhand deke was stymied by the USA netminder.
Twenty-two seconds later, Team USA’s Nathan Gerbe was called for hooking, and the Czech Republic’s power play went back to work. The Czechs had several opportunities in close to beat Schneider, but chances by Hromas and Krejci were turned aside by the future Vancouver Canuck.
Before the Czech power play ended, Kevin Porter came close to notching a shorthanded marker, but his partial breakaway was turned away by Schwarz.
Then at 11:17 Michael Frolik missed his team’s best scoring chance of the period, as the 17-year-old HC Kladno forward failed to bury a cross-ice pass from Michal Birner into a yawning cage.
From there, the Americans went into a defensive shell, employing the trap for the remainder of the contest. Stifled, the Czechs failed to muster any real offence in the game’s dying minutes.
“I’m not disappointed with the way we played,” said Pohl. “I’m of course disappointed that we lost, because that’s all that matters.”
The pro-Czech Vancouver crowd did not let USA defender Jack Johnson forget about his questionable elbow on Team Canada’s Steve Downie two days earlier. Every time the American defender touched the puck, GM Place erupted into a chorus of boos.
Coach Kyle, however, was optimistic about potential crowd support for the Americans in the semi-finals.
“We’ll have 16,000 people cheering for us, and we know they’re not going to cheer for the Russians. We’re pretty certain of that, so we’ll have the home crowd, finally. I can tell you, if they cheer for the Russian team tomorrow, I will be very disappointed.”
PREVIEW: USA - CZECH REP.
By Greg Alexis
USA: When the tournament started, most people predicted Team USA would finish first in Group A and receive a bye into the semi-finals. But after a surprising 2-2 draw with Switzerland and a 3-2 loss to Canada in the Round Robin, the USA finds itself in a tough quarter-final duel with the Czech Republic. The Americans will be under immense pressure to beat the Czechs and advance to play the Russians in a January 3 semi-final. In goal, Cory Schneider will most likely get the start, as he has played most of the key games so far for the Americans. In three starts, he has a win, a loss, and a tie, and sports a respectable .911 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. Up front, Phil Kessel leads the team in scoring with eight assists but has still yet to score a goal in the tournament, while Chris Bourque has six goals in four games (five of those, however, came against Norway). Although the Americans (tied with Russia for the tournament lead in goals at 21) may have the edge offensively over the Czechs, they will need to play a solid defensive game to reach the semis, and refrain from unnecessary cheap shots like the one Jack Johnson laid on Steve Downie at the end of the New Year’s Eve clash with Canada. Incidentally, apart from the contributions of Jack and the other Johnson, Erik, the USA blueliners have done little to spark the offense, with all other notching one point or less through four games. If the Americans lose in the quarter-finals, a lot of questions will be asked about how a team that had so much promise couldn’t put all the pieces together to achieve a championship.
Czech Republic: After earning a bronze medal in the 2005 WJHC, the Czechs were looking to build on that momentum and emerge as one of the dominant teams in this year’s tournament. Even though the Czechs finished the round robin with a respectable two wins and two losses, they were unable to beat the higher-finishing teams in Group B, losing 3-2 to Sweden and 7-2 to Russia. Their biggest issue so far has been their goaltending. After winning tournament MVP honours in 2005, St. Louis Blues goaltending prospect Marek Schwarz was expected to dominate again, but lost his starting job to backup Radek Fiala. In four games, the two goalies have combined for an average 3.37 GAA and .877 save percentage, not exactly championship numbers. Among the forwards, there’s no shortage of firepower, with David Krejci (3-3) and Petr Pohl (4-1) headlining with a combined total of 11 points. For the Czechs to advance to the semi-finals, they will have to keep a sharp eye on the likes of Robbie Schremp and Phil Kessel, both of whom have yet to truly explode offensively and could be due, and they must get a strong performance in goal. It’ll be tough against an American squad that has something to prove. The Czechs will enjoy one advantage, though: a sold-out GM Place crowd cheering them on.
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André Brin Director, Communications | Directeur, communications