The Czech Republic and Slovakia were at battle on the ice again today. On a blustery Saturday afternoon in Halifax, the two teams finished off the tournament vying for fifth place in the world. The game wasn’t as fast-paced as it could have been, since these two teams often play heated games when they face each other. Both teams looked like it was the end of the tournament for them, and they were just playing it out to see who would get bragging rights for the year.
The first goal was scored by Anton Zagora with 30 seconds left in the first period, and that looked like that would be it. The game had a soothing rhythm, with occasional moments of excitement around the net. It seemed that the goalies were there to put on a show, when the offensive players wanted to play. The second goal came at 15:00 of the third, scored by Ratislav Lipka. The Czechs lined up after the game, looking dejected and tired. Across the way, the Slovaks held their heads high and proud that they had won.
Tomas Slovak plays with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL. He has made the jump overseas, and compares the play of his team. "In the first round, the team played very good in tactics, structure and we listened very good to our coaches. In the playoffs, we didn’t have much confidence. We were nervous on the ice, so I think that’s why we lost. Today we played more confident, we won more battles than the Czechs. So we won."
He laughs when asked about his play on the ice. "You know, so many people say, ‘You only have one point, eh?’ because in the WHL I have many points. I only have one point because our coaches here have said to play defence, so I focused only playing more defence."
National bragging rights aren’t the only thing that comes out of this tournament. This tournament is about the development of 17-19 year old hockey players. For some Europeans, it is the first time playing overseas. For others, the pride of playing for their national team is enhanced by the fact they are playing in a familiar country. All players, however, have learned something about themselves and the game of hockey. They will all have something they will remember about this tournament.
"I think I will remember the national anthem after the game, when we won the three games in the pool. I played for Russia in the World Juniors two years ago, so I had some experience. I think that every tournament and game is some experience. This team, these guys, I will remember."
Czechs and Slovaks meet for fifth place
Today at the 2003 IIHF World Junior Championship, an interesting rivalry will be renewed as the Czech Republic and Slovakia will meet in a game to determine fifth place in the tournament. Fewer than ten years ago, the players on these teams were countrymen, but with the breakup of Czechoslovakia two independent nations were born, and so too was an immediate rivalry.
To say that both of these teams would probably rather not be playing in this game would be an understatement. Both teams endured heartbreaking losses, of very different varieties, to find themselves in this position.
After a lacklustre round-robin, the Czechs found themselves seeded third in Pool B, which led to an encounter with the United States, the second seed from Pool A, in the quarter-finals. Czech goaltender Martin Falter played poorly in the first half of the game, allowing four goals before being lifted for Lukas Mensator with the score 4-1 for the United States. The hole would prove to be too large, as a good third period would only yield a pair of goals for the Czechs, making the final 4-3 in favor of the United States.
Slovakia had a good showing in the round robin portion that allowed them to be seeded third in Pool A and forcing them to square off against high-powered Finland who had attained the second seed in Pool B. The Finns had their best day of the tournament and by the end of the second period, Slovakia had made a pair of goaltending changes and were trailing 6-0. The score remained the same in the third, and Kari Lehtonen stop all fifteen shots in the game for the shutout.
After shutting down the United States in the second half of their quarter-final contest, expect Lukas Mensator to get the start for the Czech Republic. The Czechs were among the favourites coming into the games here in Halifax, and playing for fifth place will fail to do much to motivate them.
On the other hand, this position is about where the Slovaks expected to find themselves. While every player on the team would rather be in a game for a medal, just making the medal round was an accomplishment itself for the tiny nation. Fifth place would be a decent showing for the central-European squad, who historically only has one showing better than fifth, a 1999 silver medal.
Another bad sign for the Czechs is history. The only other time these two teams met in this tournament was in the pre-competition stages, a game that Slovakia won 4-2.
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André Brin Director, Communications | Directeur, communications