Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Czechs hold off Belarus

On the strength of a three-goal third period, the Czechs won their second consecutive game and have earned at least a point in all three of their outings so far. Their New Year’s Eve group finale is against host Finland.

"We’re looking forward to a great atmosphere," Czech forward Michael Spacek said of facing the Finns. "We’ll get some rest now and hopefully we’ll win."

Belarus finished its round-robin with zero wins in four games. It will play in the relegation round. The newly promoted Belarusians have now lost six times to the Czechs in World Junior history.

"Today was a really good game for us," said Belarus forward Vadim Malinowski. "I think for two periods we played not bad. After the second period, we thought we were going to win this game. But we made a mistake because probably we didn’t concentrate for a certain period too much. That’s why we lost the game today."

In front of 8,456 fans at the Hartwall Arena, Simon Stransky and Jiri Smejkal notched a goal and an assist apiece for the Czechs, and Dominik Lakatos and Dominik Masin also tallied.

Stepan Falkovski, Yegor Sharangovich, and Vladislav Goncharov replied for Belarus.

Belarus netminder Ivan Kulbakov, who gained notoriety for leaving the bench in a vain attempt to prevent an empty-net goal in the 4-2 loss to Slovakia, took the defeat against Czech starter Vitek Vanecek. Shots favoured the Czechs 49-24.

"The coach raised his voice after two periods, and we started to play better," said Spacek. "We were lucky enough to come out with the win."

Similar to the Slovakia game, Belarus managed to hang tough with its opponents for most of the game, but couldn’t produce enough offence to get the win. One positive was that the Belarus power play clicked twice. The Czechs hadn't conceded a goal with the man advantage until this contest.

Midway through the first period, Belarus assistant captain Danila Karaban was shaken up and bloodied in the Czech end. He was helped off the ice, but would return to the game later. He made a big impact, picking up three assists.

The Czechs opened the scoring on a dandy unassisted goal at 15:39. Stransky danced around defenceman Ilya Sushko at the Czech blue line, busted down the left side, and fooled Kulbakov with his deke, going high to the blocker side.

Just 43 seconds into the second period, Belarus tied it up. Falkovski smartly joined the rush, racing to the front of the net, taking Artemi Chernikov’s feed, and roofing one past Vanecek. 

Belarus took a 2-1 lead on a power play goal at 10:26. Falkovski put the puck to the net from the right faceoff circle and when Karaban couldn’t put it home, Sharangovich pounced and converted the rebound.

The Czechs notched the equalizer two minutes later. David Pastrnak curled and lofted a long shot that was tipped by Dominik Lakatos and caught Kulbakov sliding the wrong way. An official review confirmed that the puck was not touched with a high stick.

Belarus refused to fold, however. Goncharev’s power play blast from the left point made it 3-2 with 2:29 left in the middle frame. The Belarusians leaped up and down with joy.

In the third period, the Czechs drew even at 3-3 at 12:06. Smejkal stationed himself next to the crease and shrugged off two Belarusian defenders to swat home a puck rolling along. the goal line.

Just 2:14 later, the Czechs regained the lead for the first time since the opening period. Vesely controlled the puck along the right side boards and was allowed to walk into the middle, where his stiff wrister eluded Kulbakov on the blocker side.

Belarus strove to tie it up late, pulling its goalie with 54 seconds left, but it was in vain. Masin added an empty-netter with 20 seconds left to round out the scoring.

"We came back in the third, and I thought we played like a team," said Pastrnak. "We turned it around. It’s important points for us."

What will be the key for Belarus in relegation play? Malinowski said: "We have to concentrate for 60 minutes. We have to score more goals and make less mistakes in our defensive zone."

This is the first time since the 2013 tournament in Ufa, Russia that the Czechs have earned at least two regulation wins during the group stage. The last time they won three group games was at the 2005 tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota, when they went on to capture their last medal (bronze).

The passion for hockey in these two countries is unquestioned. At the 2014 IIHF World Championship, Belarus set a new tournament attendance record (640,044), topping the previous mark set in the Czech Republic in 2004 (552,097). The new record lasted only until 2015, as the Czechs set the bar higher by more than 100,000 spectators (741,690).

No comments: