Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Late collapse vs Finland sends Czech U18s to relegation round

When Lukáš Sedlák converted a set up by Martin Frk with 8:39 to play in their last round-robin game against Finland, the situation for the Czech U18 team looked pretty good. After all, they needed only a single point to secure a spot in the quarterfinals and, with a 3-2 lead, could afford to surrender a goal and still advance.
So when Joel Armia tied the game for Finland with 5:17 on the clock, it wasn't the end of the world. But the Czech team, which had played disciplined hockey in a pre-Championship tournament and when faced with pressure in games against Sweden and Norway, suddenly seemed to panic. The offensive stars for Finland jumped all over that, and Olli Maatta set up Toni Kallela for the go-ahead marker just 33 seconds later. At that point, they couldn't right the ship, and Markus Hannikainen finished them off when he tipped Markus Grandlund's shot past Matěj Machovský with 31 ticks on the clock. It ended a run that began so well.

When the Czech Republic opened the 2011 U18 World Championship with a 2-1 victory over Sweden, it gave them an important leg up in getting a coveted spot in the medal round; no easy task in a group that included some very stiff competition. Though a tired team dropped a 5-0 decision to Canada, they were expected to beat Norway and keep their playoff spot in good standing. They did so, but it took a power-play goal in the second-to-last minute by Dmitrij Jaškin to do so. The slight margin of victory combined with the 5-goal loss hurt their chances of gaining any position in a tie-breaker, so they would have to earn at least one point in the last game against Finland. 

They could have won the last game outright or they could have sent it to overtime, either would have gotten the job done. So to lose a game where they outshot their opposition and didn't trail until the final few minutes of the game is a difficult pill to swallow.

"We couldn't do it. We made stupid mistakes, which we can't do," a dejected Jaškin said to the media after the game. "We skated around like idiots and didn't play positionally. We're terribly disappointed."

The result was also terribly disappointing for the hundreds of Czech fans who watched all of the team's games in Dresden over the past week. They had, by far, the most fan support of any of the five teams in the group.

The Czechs will now have to regroup and get ready for their Relegation Round games against Slovakia and Switzerland on Thursday and Saturday. Neither team is exactly a pushover and if they don't win at least one of them they will be relegated to Division I for 2012.

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