USA Beats Czechs 4-3, Faces Canada Friday
The United States grabbed an early lead and held on against the Czech Republic to advance through to the semi-finals of the 2003 IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax. The 4-3 victory sets up a highly anticipated showdown against Canada on Friday night for the right to go on to the gold medal game.
“Our team battled hard tonight,” said goaltender Robert Goepfert, who stopped 22 of 25 Czech shots for the victory. “We didn’t have our best game but we toughed it out and we ended up coming out with the victory.”
American Head Coach Lou Vairo echoed these sentiments after the game. “The Czech team played very well today, but they just couldn’t score. Our goaltender was outstanding. After we got a 2-0 lead he stopped numerous scoring chances by the Czechs that ultimately led to our victory.”
Czech Assistant Coach Jiri Kalous said that he was happy with his team’s performance, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. “I think that we played well tonight. We created lots of scoring opportunities, but we just could not score on the United States goalkeeper.”
The United States raced out to an early lead against the Czechs. Near the halfway point of the period, a long pass from Matt Jones sent Dwight Helminen in on a partial break. Helminen fought off a defender while driving to the net, where he used one hand to lift the puck over Czech goaltender Martin Falter on the short-side. Just thirty seconds later, the Americans gained the Czech zone and fired a flurry of shots at the net, eventually scoring as Zach Parise wired a shot between the legs of Falter to go up 2-0.
After outshooting the Czechs 8-3 in the first period, the Americans faced a barrage in the second, as the Czechs carried the play and outshot the USA by a 13-5 margin. This increased pressure began to pay dividends, as the Czechs sliced the American lead in half in the opening moments of the period. A tick-tack-toe play from Jiri Hudler to Jakub Klepis to Milan Michalek ended up in the back of the net when Michalek shelved the puck high over a sprawled Goepfert.
The U.S. re-established their stranglehold on the game minutes later, scoring a pair of goals, including a deflection goal that marked the end of the night for Czech starter Martin Falter, who was lifted in favor of Lukas Mensator. Before the end of the busy second period, the Czech Republic had once again drawn to within two goals, when a point shot by Lukas Krajicek deflected off a pair of Americans on the way through to elude an upset Goepfert.
The third period featured great fast-paced action, as the Czechs pushed hard for more goals. With seven minute to go the American lead was once again reduced to one goal when a turnover behind the American net left three Czechs all alone in front, resulting in a goal to make the score 4-3 for the USA. The Czechs continued to press late, but failed to equalize the score, as the Americans held on for a narrow one-goal victory.
The loss means that for the Czech Republic, fifth place is the best they can hope to finish in this tournament. The victory for the United States set up a battle against border rival Canada for the right to advance to the finals. “It’s a dream come true,” said Goepfert of squaring off against Canada. “You dream about it while you’re in your backyard, or playing street hockey. You dream of facing off against Canada. There is a big rivalry there and there always has been. It should be exciting.”
“All Americans, from hockey fans to hockey players, have a great respect for Canada as a hockey nation,” said Coach Vairo. “If we can’t win, we always cheer for Canada. Now we get a chance to advance past them into the finals. I won’t have to say much to get the guys motivated.” As he went on Coach Vairo offered but one prediction for the Semi-Final match-up, which is scheduled for 8:10pm local time on Friday night. With tongue firmly in cheek Vairo said, “if you believe everything that has been said about Canada, I figure will lose by eight or nine goals.”
Czech Republic vs. USA
The medal round begins today as the Czech Republic face the United States in what will surely be a hard fought match between two teams that took a bumpy road to the second round. The Czechs had to at least tie the Swedes in their final game to advance (they won 3-1), while the Americans had to overcome a first-game loss and improve with every game.
The Czech Republic will lay their goaltending hopes in Martin Falter, whose 1.78 goals against average and 92.65% save percentage are part of the reason the team has advanced to the playoff round. His American counterpart, Robert Goepfert, currently ranks second in the tournement in GAA with a paltry 0.99, and a save percentage of 96.30%.
The key for the Czech Republic will be to take the physical game up a notch and win the battles along the boards, no easy task against a very strong U.S. team. Getting the puck to top scorer Jiri Hudler should also be a priority as his play has given opponents fits. Czech defenseman Lukas Krajicek has been a pillar on the point and will anchor an improving team defense.
The United States sports a roster led by team captain Eric Nystrom, Zach Parise and Christopher Higgins, whose steady leadership and clutch play helped shake the team out of its early tournament problems. The play of youngster Patrick O’Sullivan continues to impress, and the strong physical defensive corps, led by stay-at-home defenders Ryan Suter and the heavy hitting Mark Stuart, and offensive threat Ryan Whitney give Team USA strength at every position.
Today’s winner goes on to face Canada in the next round.
USA eliminates Czech with a 4 - 3 win
For more information:
André Brin Director, Communications | Directeur, communications