The Czech Republic recorded its third straight victory with a comfortable 6-1 success over Great Britain in Saturday’s opening Group A game in Rīga. After losing the first two in this championship, the Czechs were under pressure. Since then, wins over Belarus, Sweden and now Britain have lifted Filip Pešán’s team firmly into the playoff picture.
Two goals from Libor Šulák led the Czech scoring and the Karpat defenceman is looking forward to the decisive games in the group phase.
“This was a big win for us,” he said. “Every game is important right now. We tried to play our best and keep scoring even when we felt we were going to win. We’re really excited right now.
“We’re trying to build our confidence with every game. The tournament is going by quickly, and we have to keep focus on winning every game now.”
For GB, playing its sixth game in nine days, this felt like a challenge too far. Despite another brave goaltending performance, this time from understudy Jackson Whistle, the Czechs dominated much of the play and finished with 46 shots on goal against 19 from the Brits.
“Throughout the full 60 they took it to us for most of the game,” reflected Britain’s Ben Lake. “In the first 20 we played with them pretty well but gave up that goal. We knew it was going to be a difficult task. This is the #5 team in the world, they’ve got some high end skill. For some of the game we got away from what our identity is. At times we gave them too much time on the puck and they capitalized on those chances.”
Victory takes the Czechs to eight points, level with Denmark as they dispute fourth place in the standings. The teams meet on Monday in what might be a decisive showdown in the absorbing race for a quarter-final spot.
In its previous games here, the Czech Republic had not managed to secure a first-period lead. Today, there was obvious determination to put that right. The Czechs had 18 shots in an impressive first period, but only beat Whistle once. That came after eight minutes, when Lukáš Klok fired home his second goal in successive games following his game-winner against Sweden on Thursday.
“The first goal is always important, it gives you a bit of calm,” said the goalscorer. “But a 1-0 lead means nothing in hockey so we wanted to score more and get more calm. That’s how it happened in the second period.”
Great Britain showed a few flashes of attacking intent – an early shot from David Phillips clattered into the helmet of Roman Will in the Czech net – but found itself on the back foot for long periods.
GB often ran into trouble getting the puck out of its own zone and, at the start of the second period, the Czechs took advantage. Sluggish play behind the net led to a turnover and Filip Zadina fed Filip Hronek. The defenceman still had plenty to do, but showed superb stick-handling to take two opponents out of the game before depositing the puck beyond Whistle.
Four minutes later, the Czechs got their third. Jiří Sekáč found Michael Špaček in the deep slot and he was alert to the arrival of Libor Šulák, who jumped off the bench and into the play. Šulák loudly demanded the puck and fired home from the top of the left-hand circle as his team threatened to run away with this one.
The fact that the scoreline remained respectable was largely down to Whistle. The Nottingham Panthers goalie is blessed with a lightning-fast glove hand and got plenty of chances to flourish it as the Czechs pressed. He also had some help from the piping, with both Špaček and Jakub Vrana ringing the iron.
There was a fourth Czech goal just after midway when Filip Chytil got in close and supplied an audacious backhand finish. With a four-goal lead, the contest was effectively over, but there were still some questions for the Czechs to answer.
The Czech penalty kill has been a problem in this tournament, with Pešán’s team placed 14th out of 16 after allowing five goals from 16 power plays. And those concerns continued, with Britain getting on the scoreboard late in the middle frame with a goal on its first PP of the afternoon. Will could not hold on to a point shot from Mark Richardson and Matthew Myers batted the rebound through the goalie’s pads.
That gave Britain a lift and Liam Kirk had a couple of chances early in the third. However, it was not long before the Czechs were back on top and the pressure built up on the GB net once again. That forced an early end to Whistle’s game when he picked up a cramp facing his 38th shot of the game and Ben Bowns came in for the remaining 11 minutes.
He got a fiery welcome to the action, with the Czechs adding a fifth goal soon after his arrival. An odd-man rush misfired, but the play was recycled and Robin Hanzl’s perceptive pass found Radan Lenc unmarked between the hash marks to fire over Bowns’ glove. And Hanzl picked up a second helper as Šulák rifled home his second of the game to complete the scoring at 6-1.
“Any time you lose a game, you’re disappointed,” said Britain’s Richardson. “At the same time, we know what we’re up against here. Right now we want to take a bit of a rest and get back to how we played in those first three or four games where we were very good.”
GB now has two days to recover before finishing its 2021 program against Switzerland on Tuesday, while the Czechs will rest on Sunday before going into its decisive games against Denmark (Monday) and Slovakia (Tuesday).
And Špaček is confident that his team has turned a corner and will continue to progress from here.
“We didn’t start the tournament the way we wanted, but I think the third game against Sweden was critical for us,” Špaček said. “We were down by two goals after the second period and scored four goals and won the game, so that was a turning point. It gave us some confidence, and now we’ve won three in a row and are feeling good. Now we just have to focus on the next game.”
01:12 – 🇨🇿 PEN – Sekáč, interference
01:12 – 🇬🇧 PEN – Clements, checking to the head minor + 10 min. misconduct
04:30 – 🇬🇧 PEN – Phillips, slashing
08:01 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Klok (Špaček)
20:33 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Hronek (Zadina)
24:29 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Šulák (Špaček, Sekáč)
27:30 – 🇬🇧 PEN – Long, tripping
32:07 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Chytil (Musil)
37:57 – 🇨🇿 PEN – Šustr, slashing
39:37 – 🇬🇧 PP GOAL – Myers (Richardson, Kirk)
44:37 – 🇨🇿 PEN – Šulák, roughing
51:33 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Lenc (Hanzl)
57:58 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Šulák (Hanzl, Klok)
W: 🇨🇿 Will (18-19)
L: 🇬🇧 Whistle (29-33), Bowns (11-13)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇨🇿 18+14+14 = 46
🇬🇧 9+5+5 = 19
🇨🇿 Goaltenders: Petr Kváča, Roman Will. Defence: Libor Hájek, Filip Hronek (A), Lukáš Klok, David Musil, David Sklenička, Libor Šulák, Andrej Šustr. Forwards: Matěj Blümel, Filip Chytil, Jakub Flek, Robin Hanzl (A), Jan Kovář (C), Dominik Kubalík, Radan Lenc, Jiří Sekáč, Jiří Smejkal, Matěj Stránský, Michael Špaček, Jakub Vrana, Filip Zadina.
🇬🇧 Goaltenders: Ben Bowns, Jordan Hedley, Jackson Whistle. Defence: David Clements, Dallas Ehrhardt, Sam Jones, Ben O’Connor, David Phillips, Mark Richardson (A), Joshua Tetlow. Forwards: Oliver Betteridge, Brendan Connolly, Ben Davies, Robert Dowd (A), Luke Ferrara, Mike Hammond, Liam Kirk, Robert Lachowicz, Ben Lake, Ciaran Long, Matthew Myers, Brett Perlini, Jonathan Phillips (C).
|🇨🇿 CZECHIA (C)
||vs.||GREAT BRITAIN 🇬🇧|
(since 27 May 2021)
|Last Title||20 Mar 1950|
|First IHLC Meeting (CZE vs. GBR)
🇬🇧 GBR 11-0 BOH 🇨🇿 – 24 Jan 1909 – CDC – Chamonix 🇫🇷
|Previous IHLC Meeting (CZE vs. GBR)
🇬🇧 GBR 5-0 TCH 🇨🇿 – 14 Feb 1936 – OG – Garmisch-Partenkirchen 🇩🇪
|Last IHLC Game
🇨🇿 CZE 4-2 SWE 🇸🇪 – 27 May 2021 – WC – Rīga 🇱🇻
|Next IHLC Game
🇨🇿 CZE 2-1 DEN 🇩🇰 (SO) – 31 May 2021 – WC – Rīga 🇱🇻