Saturday, 14 April 2012

Five goal third period enough for Slovakia

It's now three games and three games for Slovakia 18 as they went one step closer to promotion back to the Top Division of IIHF Under 18 competition following an 8-2 victory against Slovenia in Piešťany. With this victory, Slovakia keep their three point gap over Norway, who they will face in the final game of the tournament on Tuesday. For Slovakia, Marko Daňo and Dominik Rehak scored twice, giving him six goals in the tournament so far, whilst Eduard Šimun added three assists. Matej Paulovič opened his account for the tournament, as the Färjestad junior added a goal and an assist. Arguably the most impressive statistic was that Slovakia outshot their opponents 43-9, highlight a dominance that was not put onto paper until the third period.

Unlike the last two games, Slovakia got off to a good start in this contest, and went ahead in the second minute of the game. Smart play by Šimun off the offensive zone faceoff set up Stanislav Horanský, who was left unmarked in front of the goal, and the Žilina junior had the simple task of tapping home the puck to open Slovakia's account. The teams then traded penalties, and with Martin Reway in the box for elbowing, Slovenia had a powerplay chance in the ninth minute, which they would eventually capitalise on. A horrible neutral zone pinch by Patrik Luža left the door open for Slovenia, and pass from the left circle by Jaka Podrekar went tape-to-tape to Aljaz Uduc, who slotted it past Patrik Romančík as Slovenia scored on their only shot on goal of the period. Slovakia had 12, and the period ended 1:1.

The start of the second period was a scrappy affair, and Richard Buri went to the box for a nasty boarding penalty, before Slovenia's Jure Stan was given 2+10 for a check to the head on Daniel Rzavský, who looked worst for wear after the hit, but would return. Slovakia failed to convert on the powerplay, but would eventually get on the board as the period ticked down. Slovenia couldn't clear the puck, and Slovakia worked the puck to the corner. David Griger found Marko Daňo in the slot, and the hatrick hero from the opening game of the tournament made no mistake, one-timing the puck into the top corner of Tomaz Trelc's goal. Thirty seconds later the score was 3:1, this time the goal coming from the stick of Milan Kolena, who managed to tip the puck out of mid air after a rebound from a Rzavský effort from the side of the goal. That wouldn't be it for the second period though, as soon after Slovakia were shorthanded once again, as Denis Šimek took a holding penalty. Slovenia managed to score their second powerplay goal of the net on just their fourth shot of the game, as Jaka Podrekar fired home a rebound off a point shot with just fifteen seconds remaining in the period, sending the teams into the break with the score at 3:2.

Slovakia have tended to get better as the games have gone on throughout the tournament so far, and the same can be said for this game, as they truly put Slovenia to the sword in the third period. Slovakia scored in the 45th and 47th minutes through Rzavsky and Paulovič respectively, the latter scoring after yet more strong work by Šimun off offensive zone faceoffs. The score was 5:2 with ten minutes remaining, yet Slovakia were still not done, as Daňo scored his second at 51:46, scoring at a tight angle on the powerplay, and then at 52:25, Dominik Rehak scored, being the first to the puck and tipping it over a sprawling Trelc. Rehak would also close out the scoring with 71 seconds to go, scoring after brilliant work by Patrik Koyš down the right wing. 

That would be the final result, as Slovenia simply couldn't withstand the Slovakian pressure in the third period, and now Slovakia go on to face arguably their toughest two games against France on Sunday, and then Norway on Tuesday.

Shootout victory for Pardubice levels the series.


(Written for EuroHockey.com).


Before I start this entry, I wanted to say a big thank you to fellow EuroHockey colleague Derek O'Brien (Follow his blog Czech Hockey Report!) for covering Game 3 in person!

Pardubice knew they had to win Game 4. If they lost they would have gone back home with a 3:1 series deficit, facing the prospect of winning three straight games to win the championship. However, Saturday night saw the team bounce back after losing Games 2 and 3, and hold on for their second victory of the series, with their first also coming in a shootout. With this victory, Pardubice have also reclaimed the home ice advantage, whilst Kometa Brno will be looking to recreate the magic of the previous two games when the series heads back to Pardubice.

Sasu Hovi can't stop Jan Kolář's shootout effort.
Photo: Michal Beránek, isport.blesk.cz 
In what was a rather dull first period, both teams traded penalties and both netminders, Martin Růžička for Pardubice and Jiří Trvaj for Kometa, made a number of key stops to keep the game scoreless through the first period. The second period saw both teams cutting ruts to the penalty box, and as the period went on, Kometa started to get the better of the chances, forcing Růžička to make a number of saves, as well as other methods, such as an old school poke check to deny the Kometa forwards. Pardubice captain Petr Koukal hit the post with a rasping wristshot from the hash marks early in the period, but that was the best chance that the road side were to have in the period, as their powerplay struggled to break down the well organised Brno defence.

Delight for Pardubice
Photo: Michal Beránek, isport.blesk.cz 
The game was still without score as the third period started, but that was soon to change, as Kometa eventually broke the deadlock in the 46th minute. Jozef Balej was left unmarked by the Pardubice defencemen, and carefully slipped past Václav Kočí to connect with Leoš Čermák's perfectly weighted cross-crease pass, leaving Růžička hopeless to the delight of the raucous home crowd. Kometa had the momentum, but Růžička bailed his team out, making a brilliant glove save on a 2 on 1 counterattack by the home side just after Balej's goal. The clock was winding down, and Pardubice were getting desperate. With the puck in the Kometa zone, sheer hard work and determination by Tomáš Zohorna paid off, as he managed to work the puck from the corner to the slot, where Martin Bartek fired home to break Trvaj's shutout bid and to tie the game at 1:1. Only a minute after Bartek's goal, Pardubice had a goal wiped off, as the referee's had already blown the play dead before Jan Buchtele scored. The teams traded chances but the game would eventually go to overtime, which was a cagey period, as both teams didn't want to be the one that made the game deciding mistake, so as in Game 1, the game went to a shootout, and once again Kometa swapped Trvaj for Sasu Hovi. Trvaj made 38 saves in the game.

The shootout began in earnest with Pardubice shooting first, and Tomáš Zohorna scored, his forehand shot beating the blocker of Hovi. Vojtěch Němec was successful with Kometa's first attempt, leaving the shootout tied at 1:1 after the first round of shooters. Jan Kolář I. was the next shooter for Pardubice, and although Hovi got his glove to the puck, the shot was too hot to handle, as it trickled over the line to give Pardubice a 2:1 lead, which they kept until the next round, as Kometa's second shootout effort, by Jozef Balej, was stopped by Růžička's pads. Petr Koukal, the game winner from Game 1 was the next shooter, but before he went, Kometa made the choice to bring Trvaj back into goal. Instead of sitting back in goal, Trvaj charged Koukal, trying a diving pokecheck, but Koukal was wise to it, and quickly got his shot away into the empty net, sealing the game for Pardubice.

Pardubice now have won two games in the shootout in this final series, and have regained the home ice advantage, with two more games to play in Pardubice. It was a disappointing result for Kometa considering their performances in Games 2 and 3, but with the series level after four, you can't see this series going anything shorter than seven games.

Shootout loss for Slovakia in Yaroslavl

After a series of disappointing results against Denmark last week, the Slovakia national team put in a much better performance in Yaroslavl on Friday evening, despite going down 2:1 in a shootout. Head Coach Vladimir Vůjtek was right in saying that "Compared to our performances against Denmark, we did a lot better tonight. In the end I think we were the better team. The Russians had pressure in the opening six or seven minutes, but then the game settled, and as the game went on we got the upper hand. Our netminder [Jan Laco] played well." The HC Lev netminder did indeed play well, only conceding one goal in open play, and providing a strong backbone which the team lacked in their games against Denmark. With a performance like this, Laco has only furthered his claim to the starter's spot when the tournament begins on the 4th May.

They may have lost, but it was a good performance
by a Slovakia side still awaiting reinforcements
Photo: Hokejportal.sk
The Russians began the game much the better side, as Slovakia appeared to still be in the dressing room. Russia's early pressure was finally rewarded 14 minutes into the game, as Spartak Moscow forward Roman Lyuduchin beat Vladimir Mihalik for pace along the right wing, and Lyuduchin took the puck behind the goal and expertly found Alexander Svitov unmarked on the doorstep, and Svitov obliged by tapping the puck into the net to the delight of the 9,040 in attendance in Yaroslavl.

The second period began with Russia once again being the team creating the most chances, and Laco was called into action more than once, making a great save to deny Evgeni Ketov, before making a fantastic stop to deny Lyuduchin. This seemed to be the catalyst that Slovakia needed, and off a faceoff, a Kristian Kudroč point shot was saved by Mikhail Biryukov in the Russia net, but Biryukov couldn't control the rebound, and once again Juraj Mikuš was the first to react, firing into the empty net to tie the game in the 35th minute.

A minutes silence was held before the game in Yaroslavl
Photo: Hokejportal.sk
Instead of Russia being the ones to start the period well, it was Slovakia who took the game to Russia in the opening minutes of the third period, but their attempts were thwarted by Biryukov, who did well to stop chances by Rastislav Špirko and Marcel Hossa. Both teams wanted to be the ones that won the game, but they also did not want to be the team that made the mistake that lost the game, so although the puck kept on going back and forth, the two teams put all their focus on being the team that wouldn't concede the deciding goal. As a result, the third period was goalless, as was the overtime period, which sent the game to a shootout.

The shootout was a delight to watch, as the players really turned on the style. Denis Abdullin scored a lovely one handed goal to open the shootout, but his efforts were matched by the next shooter Jan Sykora, who put his stick between his legs and fired the puck over the shoulder of Biryukov. Pestushko scored on an effort that Laco would like back to make the score 2:1 Russia, which remained the score after Slovakia's second effort, as Biryukov made a fantastic sprawling save to deny Milan Bartovič. Lyuduchin was denied by both posts on a gorgeous spin move on Russia's third shot, and Marcel Hossa scored on Slovakia's third effort to tie the shootout at 2:2 after three shooters. Abdullin scored the next effort, whilst Biryukov saved Sykora's and Juraj Mikuš' efforts, which gave Maxim Pestushko a chance to win the game. The Neftekhimik forward did so with a brilliant move, faking the shot before quickly moving backhand-forehand to beat Laco, sealing the victory for Russia.

Juraj Mikuš, Slovakia's solitary goal scorer, did not seem too disheartened following the loss. "It was a balanced match. Russians have a young team, whilst we have a bit more experience. They played at home and they had to create more chances. We can take a lot of positives from our performance, which we will have to repeat in our next match. Hopefully tomorrow we'll score more goals and we will once again play well in defence."




Thursday, 12 April 2012

Three goal second period leads Slovaks over Japan

They looked unconvincing at times, and even went behind, but Slovakia 18 eventually ran out 4-1 victors over Japan 18 in the second game of the Division 1A World Championships in Piešťany. Whilst the Slovaks were the superior team, the Japanese put up a brave fight, but ultimately the Slovaks had too much for them to handle, scoirng three times in thirteen second period minutes to seal the win, which leaves them clear leaders in the group after Norway lost to Italy in the afternoon game.

The first period was littered with penalties, as both teams cut ruts to the penalty box. The Japanese seemed to catch the Slovaks sleeping in the first few minutes, as Richard Sabol made a fine sprawling save in the opening minute of the game. Despite this, Slovakia started to get into the game as the minutes ticked down in the first period, firing 12 shots on Akira Sasaki in the Japanese goal, but none of them found the net.

As they did in the opening frame, the Japanese started the second period the better team, and they managed to take the lead in the second minute. After the Slovaks cleared the puck following a period of sustained Japanese pressure, a sloppy piece of play gave the guests a 2 on 1 chance, which was expertly converted by Yuri Terao, faking a shot before cutting inside and sniping it over Sabol's shoulder. However, this seemed to be the wake up call that the home side needed, and they finally began to convert their chances. A brilliant stretch pass by defenceman Tomáš Rusina, sent in hatrick hero from yesterday Marko Daňo in alone on goal, and he made no mistake, switching to his backhand and finding the goal, only 52 seconds after Terao had made it 0:1. Compared to the first period, there were very few penalties in the second period, but Slovakia had the better of the play. Their dominance was rewarded with a second goal in the 34th minute as Daňo turned provider, and after a good bit of work in the neutral zone, set up Mário Lunter, who scored on his backhand to give the Slovaks the lead. The wheels were truly in motion now, as two minutes later Slovakia scored their third. A lovely pass from Milan Kolena set up Martin Reway in the slot, and the Sparta Praha prospect made no mistake, finding the top corner perfectly with a snapshot. 

The Slovaks lead 3:1 after two periods, but once again began the third period on the back foot. However, they were given a powerplay chance early in the period, and after failing to convert in the first period, they made no mistake on their first chance in the final period, as Reway scored his second of the game. Reway was the first to react from a rebound off a Daňo point shot, and his backhand found the twine, giving Reway his second goal of the night, whilst Daňo got his third point of the game, giving him seven overall in the tournament so far. Sabol was only forced to make 13 saves in the game, whilst the Slovaks managed to get 48 on the Japanese, who swapped Sasaki for Yuichiro Sato halfway through the third period.

Another positive result for Bokroš' men, who now have a day off before facing Slovenia on Saturday.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Daňo the hatrick hero for Slovakia

Slovakia got their promotion charge off to the perfect start on Thursday, with a convincing 5-0 victory against Italy in the IIHF Division 1A Under 18 World Championships. Dukla Trenčín prospect Marko Daňo was the star of the show, scoring a goal in each period to add to an assist, giving the promising forward a four point night. Slovakia dominated the Italians in every aspect of the game, restricting their opponents to a paltry 20 shots, whilst they captalised on the numerous powerplay chances Italy gave them, as three powerplay goals were scored by the Slovaks.

The first period was a closely contested one, as a well organised Italian backline proved difficult for the home side to penetrate. However, six minutes into the first period Slovakia opened the scoring, as a lovely piece of skill by Mário Lunter set up Daňo on the back post, who hammered the puck past a diving Martin Rabanser. Slovakia wouldn't have to wait long in the second period to double their lead, as only three and a half minutes into the period, Daňo scored his second powerplay goal of the night. Milan Kolena seemed to lose control possession of the puck, but Lunter managed to regain control, and set up Daňo, who scored his second goal of the night in a similar manner to his first.

Italy offered very little going forward, as they only mustered seven shots through two periods, but they started to come back at Slovakia in the third period, getting 13 shots on Patrik Romančík, who was equal to all of them. Romančík made one very good save, sticking out a sprawling pad to deny an Italian forward whilst Slovakia were killing a Martin Reway penalty. Speaking of Reway, he was kept off the scoresheet by the Italians tonight, but it wasn't for the lack of trying. He was clearly the most skilled player on the ice, but things didn't go his way tonight.

Slovakia scored two goals in 45 seconds at the start of the third period, as Dávid Šoltés scored on a breakaway after lovely set up play by Milan Kolena to make the score 3:0, and then Daňo completed his hatrick, scoring on a third chance rebound after Lunter and David Griger were denied by Rabanser. Lunter would eventually close out the scoring in the sixth minute of the third period, adding to his three assists. Despite the Italians getting a number of chances as Slovakia started to take silly penalties, they were foiled every time by Romančík. Slovakia outshot their opponents 2 to 1, and things are looking promising for the team, although they will have to up their game against the better teams in the group.

Slovakia "18" - Italy "18" 5:0
7.  Daňo (Lunter) PP,  24. Daňo (Lunter, Kolena) PP,  44. Šoltés (Kolena, Valjent),  45. Daňo (Lunter, Griger), 47. Lunter (Griger, Daňo) PP
Shots on goal: 42:20
Penalty minutes: 10:14

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Kometa Brno hold on. Extraliga Final all square

(Written for Eurohockey.com)


In a thrilling game at the sold out ČEZ Aréna, Kometa managed to cling on to a win following a miraculous Pardubice comeback in the third period, which levels the series at 1:1

After Tomáš Svoboda's backhand goal to make the score 2-6 with eight and a half minutes to go in the third period, you could be forgiven for thinking that the game was over. However, a stunning Pardubice comeback which saw them score three times in under two minutes gave the 10,050 sellout crowd in attendance a nail-biting finish, which saw the away side manage to hold on to their slender lead, and take the series back to the Kajot Arena level.

Jaroslav Svoboda makes it 2-0 in the first period.
Photo: Pavel Mazáč, www.isport.blesk.cz
As was the case in the opening game in this series, the game ebbed and flowed, and momentum swung from one way to the other with amazing frequency. The game got off to a frantic start, with both teams getting a number of chances, but it was Kometa who would get the better of the early exchanges, moving out to a two goal lead with thirteen minutes gone. Kometa capitalised on Pardubice's mistakes as both goals came as a result of neutral zone giveaways, with Roman Erat scoring first, before a beautiful piece of play by Leoš Čermák set up Jaroslav Svoboda to score on the backhand with thirteen minutes on the clock.

Few would have predicted Kometa to have dominated the game so convincingly, and their positive play continued in the second period, as they stretched their lead to three goals midway through the frame, as a Radim Bičánek point shot beat Martin Růžička on the powerplay to give Kometa a 0-3 lead. However, the away side seemed to become complacent in the second half of the period, and Pardubice would begin to get into the game. Daniel Rakos finally broke their duck with a subtle deflection of a Václav Benák point shot 35 minutes into the game, and from there to the end of the period, they laid siege to Trvaj's goal. It is no surprise that Pardubice outshot Kometa 2 to 1 at the end of the second stanza.

It would have been unfair to hope that the third period of Game 2 would match the standards set by the two teams in Game 1, but once again Kometa and Pardubice put on a show for the fans. A seven goal period left both sets of fans exhausted by the time the final buzzer went. Pardubice cut the lead to one 90 seconds into the period, thanks to a Lukáš Radil goal, but only two minutes later, Kometa forward Tomáš Svoboda netted to restore Kometa's two goal advantage. Their lead was soon stretched to four, as Tomáš Svoboda scored his second goal of the night, whilst Tomáš Divíšek tapped in a one timer to add a goal to his three assists, to give the former Pardubice veteran and current playoffs points leader a four goal night.

Jiří Trvaj made 30 saves for the victory.
Photo: Pavel Kraus.
However, Pardubice can never be counted out of a hockey game, and when Kometa got themselves into penalty trouble, giving Pardubice a 5 on 3 powerplay for 80 seconds, the home side smelled blood. Aleš Píša fired home a point shot to make the score 3-6 on the two man advantage, and although they failed to capitalise on the remaining time on the 5 on 4, Jiří Cetkovský scored just as the penalty expired, moving the puck out of Gretzky's office before getting his own rebound off of Jiří Trvaj's pads. Kometa looked shell-shocked and head-coach Zdeněk Venera quickly called a time-out to try and rally his troops. What he said didn't seem to work though, as only 24 seconds later, Pardubice had made the score 5-6. A nicely worked move off an offensive zone draw saw Petr Koukal send a pass across the slot, which Jan Stary dispatched high into the top corner. He climbed up the boards in celebration, and the home crowd was rocking.

Kometa just needed to hold on for five more minutes to get the victory. However, they seemed to be conspiring the throw the game away, as with just over three minutes on the clock, Jozef Kováčik fired a puck over the glass from his defensive zone, giving Pardubice a powerplay. They threw everything at the Kometa goal, and a Vladimír Sičák point shot hit the post, but Kometa managed to hold on for the victory, to the relief of Venera and the travelling support.

The series now moves to Brno, where Pardubice won twice in the regular season, but with the form that Kometa are showing, they must fancy their chances against this Pardubice side.

Bokroš finalises Slovakia Under-18 squad

Richard Sabol will be the go to guy for Slovakia
Photo: Majo Srnik
Tomorrow sees the start of the Division 1A World Under-18 Championships in Piešťany, and sees the start of Slovakia's attempt to reclaim their place in the top division following their relegation last year. After two warm up games with Belarus, where the teams shared victories, Slovakia have cut down their squad from 28 to a final 23, with the coaching staff hoping that this will be the team to do the job.

The final roster is as follows:

Netminders: Richard Sabol (HC '05 Banská Bystrica), Patrik Romančík (HK 36 Skalica), Denis Godla (HK Spišská Nová Ves)

Defenseman: Jakub Predajnianský (HC '05 Banská Bystrica), Patrik Luža, Michal Valjent (both HC Slovan Bratislava), Tomáš Rusina (MHC Mountfield Martin / MHK D. Kubín), Richard Buri (HC Nitra), Ľubomír Dinda (HK ŠKP Poprad), Peter Šohajda (HK 36 Skalica), Denis Šimek (HK Trnava)

Forwards: Mário Lunter, Eduard Šimun (both HC '05 Banská Bystrica), Stanislav Horanský, Dominik Rehák (both MsHK Žilina), Marko Daňo, Patrik Koyš, (both HK Dukla Trenčín), Milan Kolena (HC Mountfield Martin), Daniel Rzavský (HC Nitra), Dávid Gríger (HK ŠKP Poprad), Dávid Šoltés (HC Košice), Martin Reway (HC Sparta Praha/Czech Republic), Matej Paulovič (Färjestad BK/Sweden).

The players who didn't make the cut are defencemen Martin Chrkavý (Topoľčany) and Martin Kečkeš (Falu/Sweden), whilst forwards Tomáš Paleček (MsHK Žilina), Ján Blaško (HK Dukla Trenčín) and Denis Šimurka (EHC Linz/Austria) will miss out on a place in the final squad.

Bokroš, the head coach of both the Under-18 and Under-20 programs, was pragmatic in his interview with SZLH yesterday (link). "We've had a year-long preparation, in which we played five tournaments and tried 51 players. We have done the maximum to ensure the team is the best available. I believe that we are mentally and physically prepared to handle the challenge. A difficult task awaits us over the next seven days. We must win five games. We know about it and we have to handle it."

Marko Daňo impressed with the Under-20's.
Photo: Peter Kapusta (KITA)
The squads strengths lie in its forwards and netminding, however, the defence looks a bit thin on the ground. The only players ranked by the ISS for the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry draft are defencemen Patrik Luža and Richard Buri  who are ranked 80th and 94th respectively among European skaters, whilst Žilina forward Stanislav Horanský is ranked 120th in the same category. In goal for the Slovaks will more than likely be Richard Sabol, who was the third goaltender for the Under-20 team in the World Junior Championships in the winter, and has had a very promising year for Banská Bystrica in the Under-20 domestic league. The only other player who represented Slovakia U-20 in Alberta was forward  Marko Daňo, who was one of the finds of the tournament, as the 17 year old, originally used in a fourth line role, found himself on the first line for the final game against the Czech Republic, and scored in the game against Finland. Daňo, draft eligible in 2013, has spent a lot of his season with the Dukla Extraliga team, scoring 10 points in 32 Slovak Extraliga games, whilst also tallying three points in the playoffs, where his side were eliminated by Slovan Bratislava.

There are a number of exciting forward prospects for Slovakia who are draft eligible in 2013, with the biggest name being Martin Reway. A member of the "'95 group", Reway has made the switch to the Czech Republic and is currently a member of the Sparta Praha youth program, where he has excelled at the Under-18 level. Reway scored two goals in Slovakia's 5-3 win over Belarus on Sunday, and he looks set to be a star of the tournament. However, two other members of the same year group have struggled in their pre-tournament form.  Matej Paulovič and 16 year old Patrik Koyš were both on the bubble when it came to the final cuts, but they managed to make the squad. Both played on the fourth line for Slovakia in the pre-tournament games, and have not shown their best form as of yet. Paulovič, who scored 28 points in 17 J18 Elit games for Färjestad this year has a mix of size and pace which could make him a very exciting prospect for NHL scouts next year, whilst Koyš, who was a point per game in the Slovakia U-20 league as a 16 year old, has looked out of sorts with the national team so far. 

The tournament begins on the 11th of April, and anything but promotion will be a huge failure for the program, and could see a number of top prospects lose potential draft status by not playing against the worlds best juniors only a couple of months before the draft.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Pardubice win Game 1 thriller

(Written for Eurohockey.com)


They took the lead four times, but Pardubice needed a shootout to defeat Kometa Brno in Game 1 of the Czech Extraliga final.

Pardubice lead the seven game series 1-0
Photo: Pavel Mazáč, www.isport.blesk.cz
The sell out crowd in Pardubice were treated to one of the best hockey games of the playoffs so far as Pardubice and Kometa Brno put on a show on Monday evening. Both teams left everything on the ice as the game ebbed and flowed, going from a cagey defensive affair in the first period, to an all out shootout in a six goal third period. Pardubice took the lead four times in the game, but each time Kometa pegged them back. The score was 4-4 after a scoreless ten minute overtime period, and Pardubice ended up winning the shootout by a score of 1-0, with captain Petr Koukal scoring the winning penalty shot in the third round.



Pardubice took the lead early on through Lukáš Radil, but the netminders were the stars of the show in the first period, with Pardubice's Martin Růžička and Kometa's Jiří Trvaj making a number of key saves. Kometa would eventually break the deadlock in the 27th minute, as Leoš Čermák's centering pass deflected off of Pardubice defenceman Václav Kočí's leg and past a sprawling Růžička. The goal came on the powerplay.

Martin Růžička after conceding a freak goal.
Photo: Pavel Mazáč, www.isport.blesk.cz
The third period was fast and furious, with both teams giving it everything they had. Pardubice re-took the lead just two minutes into the period, as they pounced on a neutral zone giveaway and Daniel Rákos grabbed his own rebound to score past Trvaj. Kometa quickly responded though, as Radek Dlouhy scored after good work behind the net by Jaroslav Svoboda to level the score at 2-2. The teams continued to trade goals, as Aleš Píša's goal from the point on the powerplay only gave Pardubice the lead for a few minutes, before Roman Erat was found unmarked in the slot, and he wired a wristshot past Růžička to bring the scores level. Jan Buchtele's goal after brilliant work by Lukáš Radil and Václav Benák looked to have won the game for the home side, but the crowd fell silent with just over three minutes to go, as a harmless dump in by Kometa defenceman Tomáš Žižka went straight through Růžička's five hole and into the goal. An incredible series of events which had the fans on the edge of their seats, and sent the game to a cagey overtime period, where Pardubice had the better of the action, but were denied by Trvaj on a number of occasions.


The game went to a shootout, and Kometa swapped netminders, as they chose to go with Sasu Hovi in the shootout. Hovi managed to stop Martin Bartek and Tomáš Zohorna's efforts, but in the third round, Pardubice captain Petr Koukal sent the home fans into raptures with a beautiful shotoout move, faking a shot before going onto the backhand and lifting the puck over a sprawling Hovi. The pressure was on Leoš Čermák, who looked to have scored when he made Růžička commit to the butterfly, but somehow the Pardubice netminder managed to catch Čermák's effort in his glove, holding the pose for a number of seconds whilst Čermák looked to the heavens in disbelief, moving only to get out of the way of the rushing Pardubice players. Růžička had made up for his mistake in the third period and you could see the relief on his face after the game.

Kometa are no strangers to losing games, as they went behind in the series against Sparta, but there is serious pressure on Zdeněk Venera's team to get the win in Game 2, otherwise Pardubice could run away with the series.

Slovakia U-18 downs Belarus U-18 in Piešťany

After a disappointing 3-2 loss in overtime on Saturday, Slovakia's under-18 team showed what they are truly made of with a convincing 5-3 victory over the Belarussian team to end their preparations for the Div1A World Championships on a high. Ernest Bokroš' team should have won by a more convincing scoreline, as they lead 4-1 half way through the second period, only to get into penalty trouble and allow Belarus back into the game.

Sparta Praha junior Martin Reway was the star of the show, as his two goals were crucial to the Slovak victory, and if it weren't for the disappointing finishing of his linemates David Šoltés and Milan Kolena, he could've added a hatful of assists. Speaking after the game, Reway, who had 60 points for Sparta in the Czech U-18 league this year, was careful not to get ahead of himself.

"It was a dress rehearsal before the world championships. After yesterday's defeat, we wanted to win. On Saturday we failed at putting our gameplan into practice. Today, everything right went. We are pleased with our preparations for the world championships, but now we expect five tough matches, and the only goal is to get promotion." (Source).

Slovakia got off to a slow start on Sunday, going behind to a 9th minute Valeri Kubrakov goal, but they finished the period with a lead, after goals from Reway and Topoľčany junior Eduard Šimun. Early in the second period, Reway scored his second goal, and soon after Marko Daňo, who scored in the World Junior Championships in Canada in the Winter, scored to make the score 4-1. However, Slovakia began taking penalties and goals from Dmitri Zhelnerovsky and Roman Dyukov sent the teams into the second intermission with the score at 4-3. Slovakia managed to take control of the game again in the final period, and the third line got on the scoresheet again as Stanislav Horansky scored in the 44th minute to add to his earlier assist and finish the game with two points. Linemate Daniel Rzavsky had two assists in the game also.

Bokroš was disappointed at the way his team threw away their three goal lead in the second period, and speaking after the game, he said, "With the score at 4-1 we had our opponent pinned. However, unnecessary penalties meant we were playing into the opponents hands. On our side it was better than Saturday's performance though. We currently have 28 players on the roster, and we need to cut it down to 23 this evening."

Slovakia's quest to get promotion back to the top division begins in earnest on Wednesday where they face Italy.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The end of the road for two Czech greats?

The conclusion of the Extraliga semi-finals have not only created a huge buzz around the final featuring surprise package Kometa Brno, but also after news that two of the best Czech players in modern years could have played their last game. Regular season scoring leader Petr Nedvěd has been coy with the press regarding his future, and although it would be a surprise for the 40 year old to retire after his brilliant season, it looks like he won't return to Liberec. In an interview with MF Dnes following his teams Game 6 loss to Pardubice, Nedvěd gave no indication of his plans for next season, stating: "I'm frustrated and tired. During the off-season I will think and see how I feel." (source)

Petr Nedvěd could be on his way back to Prague...
Photo: Jaroslav Appeltauer
Nedvěd, who returned to the national team during the Euro Hockey Tour may be making his first appearance at a IIHF World Championship this coming May, as all signs point to head coach Alois Hadamczik making the Liberec captain a member of his squad. It appears that Nedvěd is relishing the possible chance to lead the Czech Republic to World Championship glory, as once again speaking with MF Dnes, he said, "The coach can call and we will solve the problems.  Although I feel the bitterness of defeat, I want to go for the championship."  Nedvěd scored 5 goals in 6 EHT games this season.


Although retirement is certainly a possibility for the 40 year old forward, it seems that he is looking to finish his career elsewhere from Liberec, although he made sure to point out that he would not rule out the possibility of returning to the White Tigers. One possibility, which has been talked about in the media following Liberec's elimination was that their captain leaving to join Lev Praha, who will compete in the KHL from next season. Whilst Nedvěd turned down advances from Dinamo Minsk in the off-season, the chance to earn a better wage whilst living in Prague may be appealing, although the other side of the argument is whether or not the 40 year old will relish the prospect of playing in a league which stretches across half the world's surface.

Straka faces a difficult summer, with an aging squad
and the prospect of losing a number of big names.
Photo: Milan Podpera.
Another stalwart of Czech hockey whose future is in doubt is Plzeň's Martin Straka. Following their defeat to Kometa Brno in the semi-finals, the Plzeň fans spent minutes chanting the name of their clubs owner and player-coach, who applauded his fans with a aura of resignation about him. However, we will have to wait a few weeks before we hear anything regarding his future, as Straka has obligations to fill with his owner's cap on, as big names such as Radek Duda are still unsigned for next season. Straka also faces problems regarding his aging team, as an article on iSport.cz (source) hints that Jiří Hanzlík and Jiří Vykoukal, both 38 years of age, could both be hanging up the skates.


Straka, a member of the 1998 Nagano Gold Medal team is now 39 years of age, cut a forlorn figure on the bench following Kometa's thrashing of his team in Game 5. With all his other duties as the figurehead of the Plzeň organisation, it remains to be seen whether or not the former Pittsburgh Penguin and New York Ranger will return in a playing capacity. Straka, who was another tipped to join the Czech Republic World Championship squad ruled himself out of the running. In an article on Nova Sport's website, he said, "I'm tired, and my performances have been poor. Someone else deserves the championship place..... Team leaders are there to score goals, but I only scored two in the playoffs."

It's been a rocky road for the Indians, as they have been consistently the best team in the regular season over the past three years, but all they have to show for this is one series win, which was this year in a thrilling seven game series with Zlín. Straka loves his hockey club, but it is entirely plausible that we could have seen the last of him, at least on the ice.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Slovaks fall to the Danes twice.

Team Slovakia's preparations for the upcoming World Championships in Finland and Sweden got off to a rocky start this week, following two losses to Team Denmark in Košice. The first game saw Denmark run out 3-1 winners thanks to a brace from 21 year old defenceman Simon Grønvaldt, with Branko Radivojevič's scrappy effort in the 38th minute being the only time Slovakia managed to beat Frederik Andersen in the Denmark net. In the second game, Slovakia managed to get more goals, but they still ended up losing the game as Denmark ran out 4-3 winners following a shootout. Juraj Mikúš scored twice for the home side, tapping in a rebound for his first and then re-directing a Rene Vydarený point shot for his second. However, the Danes would get the last laugh, as Frederik Andersen proved spectacular in the shootout and got the victory for Denmark.

Slovakia fell to a superior Danish powerplay.
Photo: (Tomáš Surový), sportky.topky.sk.

Speaking after the second game, head coach Vladimír Vůjtek seemed to be in positive spirits, as speaking with hokejportal.sk (link), he said, "Today we gave a much better performance than Friday. From the beginning we tried to play at a faster tempo. It was not perfect, but we gelled better and we put them under pressure. When we took the lead we should have won, but we made mistakes."

Two goal man Juraj Mikúš, also speaking after Game 2 said, "Today we played better than yesterday, but we made too many mistakes in defence. I think we were not big favourites against the Danes. Two losses are not a tragedy, but it's a shame because we were better". Mikúš, who was Slovakia's best player at the BelSwissBank tournament in February (My take on it) once again proved his worth as a natural goalscorer, something which Spartak Moskva's Štefan Ružička failed to do once again, being held scoreless in the two games with Denmark. Whilst there are few players who had a successful season as Ružička in the KHL, the 27 year old former Philadelphia Flyer has yet to really prove his worth in a Slovakia jersey, scoring only 2 goals in 11 World Championship games over the past two seasons. If he's not careful, he won't make the cut.

Július Hudáček allowed four goals in Saturday's match
Photo: sportky.topky.sk.
Slovakia fielded a roster which will be certain to change come to the start of the WC on the 4th of May, but it's fair to say that a fair few of the squad that lost to Denmark will make their way to Scandinavia. Two places that already look to be settled are the netminder positions, as all signs point towards Slovakia's two main goalies being Třinec's Peter Hamerlík, who played in Friday's game, and Július Hudáček, the former Košice goalie coming off a very successful debut season in the Allsvenskan for Södertälje who featured in Game 2. It signals a change in the policy of the Slovakia selection system, as it appears that new blood is being given a change. It appears that it is the end of the road for hardy veterans Rastislav Staňa and 2002 World Championship winner Ján Lašák, who are not in contention for places. Peter Budaj ruled himself out of playing in the tournament due to playing such a small number of games for the Canadiens in the NHL (link), which leaves HC Lev's Jan Laco as the only feasible contender to grab the other goalie spot for the tournament.


There is still plenty of time for Slovakia to turn around their fortunes before the Championships start in May, and on the whole Vůjtek seems to be bringing a bit of positivity back to Slovakian hockey after the catastrophe of last years performance in front of the home crowd, and with the possibility of a number of additions to the roster, Slovakia could prove to be quite the dark horse in Scandinavia.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Pardubice book their place in the Extraliga final


(Written for Eurohockey.com)

Their form has been inconsistent in the playoffs so far, but Pardubice have managed to qualify to the Extraliga final for the second time in three years, and will now have a chance to repeat the great team of 2010 and claim another Extraliga title. After their incredible 8-1 victory in Game 5, the momentum was with the third seed as they faced off in Liberec for Game 6, and despite the home side’s best efforts, it was Pardubice who would eventually run out 4-2 winners.

Liberec needed a fast start in order to get the fans rocking and to send a message to the Pardubice team that the Game 5 loss was simply a blip. However, just over three minutes in and it was Pardubice who were the ones sending a message. Liberec fluffed an easy clearance from their zone, and the puck ended up on the stick of Jan Stary at the blueline. He cut to the high slot, and despite almost losing the puck, managed to compose himself and fire a wristshot which Marek Pinc waved a glove at but failed to snag, giving Pardubice an early 1-0 lead.

Pardubice qualify for the finals for the
second time in three years
photo: isport.blesk.cz
Stary’s goal was the only marker in the first period, and the second period began slowly as well, as both teams had short powerplay chances but failed to convert. However, in the 28th minute, Pardubice took full control of the game. After a minute of sustained Liberec pressure, Pardubice managed to clear their lines and send the puck down into the Liberec end. A terrible pass by Marek Trončinský went straight onto the stick of Jan Buchtele in the neutral zone. Pardubice gained the zone, and Buchtele fired a square pass to Jan Semorad, who waited for the Liberec defenceman to commit before shooting high into the top corner of Pinc’s goal, doubling Pardubice’s lead. Liberec’s heads were down, and they began a parade to the penalty box, which, in the final minute of the period gave Pardubice a 5 on 3 powerplay chance after Milan Bartovič’s stupid play, as he got his stick in between Martin Růžička’s legs and tripped the Pardubice netminder. There were only 54 seconds left in the period, but Pardubice managed to convert. Aleš Píša’s point shot was blocked in front, but Martin Bartek managed to work the puck back to the point, where Vladimír Sičák fired off the post and into the goal, giving Pardubice a 3-0 lead, and sending a furious Marek Pinc to the corner, where he smashed his stick against the glass. Pinc didn’t return to the net in the third period. He conceded three goals on 23 shots. Tomáš Vošvrda took his place in net.

Marek Pinc was pulled after the second period
photo: isport.blesk.cz
The third period began with both teams trading penalties once again, and Liberec were desperately trying to beat Martin Růžička in the Pardubice net. With Lukáš Radil in the box, Liberec got their powerplay chance, and with under nine minutes to go in the third period, they finally opened their account. After good play down in the corner, the puck worked its way back to the point, where Martin Čakajík’s point shot was saved but Lukáš Krejčík was the first to react, tapping the rebound home. Pardubice kept on giving Liberec powerplay chances, and with just over three minutes to go, Daniel Rákos took a high sticking penalty, giving Liberec a 6 on 4 powerplay, as they had began pulling Vošvrda with four minutes to go. With the puck stuck at the blueline and the powerplay running down, Liberec looked to be out of luck, but Martin Čakajík’s low point shot took two deflections on the way in, and left Růžička stranded, leaving Liberec only a goal behind Pardubice. Liberec pulled Vošvrda immediately after they gained the zone after Čakajík’s goal, and as is often the way, Pardubice managed to seal the game through Martin Bartek who gained the zone and scored into the empty net, sending the large travelling support into raptures, and booking Pardubice’s place in the final.

Key to their success was shutting down Petr Nedvěd, who only scored one goal in the series, as well as solid netminding from Martin Růžička, who had 27 saves in Game 6. Pardubice now advance to face a surging Kometa Brno side, who have already beaten the first and second seeds in the playoffs, and will be an extremely tough test for this Pardubice side. However, Pardubice won all four encounters in the regular season, and will go into the final as favourites, not only for their regular season advantage, but they also have a large number of players from the 2010 Championship side who know what it takes to win. All that we know for sure is that it will be a thrilling series.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Kometa advance to Extraliga final.


(Written for Eurohockey.com)


Three years ago, Kometa Brno were facing off against HC Slovan Ústečtí Lvi in the final of the 1.liga. Now, after finishing two seasons in the relegation playoffs, Kometa are now playing in the Extraliga final after defeating Plzeň 7-2 in Game 5, and 4-1 in the series.

Kometa players mob Trvaj at the buzzer.
Photo: isport.blesk.cz
Tomáš Divíšek led the charge for the road side, scoring four points (2+2) in Kometa’s historic victory. He opened the scoring just 65 seconds into the game, pouncing on a rebound spilled by Marek Mazanec. Kometa would go on to score two more goals in the opening four minutes, chasing Mazanec from the game after he made just four saves on seven shots. Adam Svoboda played in relief, making 22 saves.
Kometa had a 3-1 lead going into the second period, but they ran into penalty trouble early in the frame, and were forced to kill a two minute 5 on 3 powerplay. However, 37 year old netminder Jiří Trvaj stood tall, making a number of stops. He made 43 in total. Jozef Kováčik’s disputed goal in the 39th minute was the only marker in the middle stanza.

The third period began with Jiří Hanzlík cutting Kometa’s lead to two goals, but from there on in it was the Kometa show. They scored three times in the third period, as Tomáš Svoboda added to his first period goal, Radek Dlouhy scored his fifth of the playoffs and Divíšek closed the scoring in the 53rd minute, stretching his playoff points lead.

Is it the end of the road for Martin Straka?
Photo: Milan Podpera
Kometa forward Radek Dlouhy spoke after the game, and was rather pragmatic in his approach.  “We are very pleased that we won it today, which has given us more time to recover, to come together and gain strength for the final.” Speaking after the game, Plzeň coach Marian Jelínek rued his teams luck in the opening games of the series, musing; “We could have won the first three games of the series, unfortunately, the opponent stole them. The fourth match in Brno was the only one where we were truly better. I'm happy we have won the bronze medal. There is some disappointment, but this season was not bad at all.”

Brno will now advance to play the winner of the Pardubice-Vitkovice series, which enters its sixth game on Tuesday, with Pardubice favourites to advance.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Furch makes Extraliga history

Not many people will have been watching the game, but Slavia Praha netminder Dominík Furch made history on Sunday evening, as he became the first netminder in Extraliga history to score a goal. Furch was adjudged to have been the last Slavia player to touch the puck before Richard Jareš fired the puck down the ice and into the empty net whilst Litvinov had a delayed powerplay.

video


Furch's goal was the only goal that Slavia scored in front of their home fans at Eden, as they were outclassed by a Litvinov side desperate to avoid finishing bottom of the table after a rotten run of form. However, Furch will surely get some sort of happiness from getting a little known Extraliga record.

It's another chapter in the already long career of Dominik Furch. He's only 21 years old but it's almost like he's been around forever, after making his Slavia Praha debut at the tender age of 16 in the 2006-07 season. After representing the Czech Republic at all junior levels, Furch has failed to kick on like a number of other young Czech netminders have, and his progress has somewhat stalled. Performances such as his 38 shot shutout against Sparta Praha back in October have been few and far between, and if it were not for the dip in form of Miroslav Kopřiva, Furch would have been spending a lot more time in the 1.liga with Beroun. However, Furch seems to be getting his act together in the relegation playoffs, and as Slavia have started to move themselves away from the precipice, Furch has been on the top of his game.

There is no denying that Furch still has plenty of time to develop. However, ever since the young netminder made his debut five years ago, there appears to have been little progression in his game. It's now or never for Furch, as he will either go on to shine professionally, or fade into obscurity as many other young prospects have done. He needs to be starting, but whether or not Slavia will put their faith in Furch at the start of next season remains to be seen.

Extraliga Playoff Update.

I realise it's been a long while again since I've updated. I'm rather disappointed that I haven't been keeping up with this, but work and an interest in the KHL playoffs has left me missing out on a lot of what's happened in the playoffs so far.

At the time of writing, both semi finals are at the Game 5 stage, with Kometa Brno showing that their win over Sparta Praha was no fluke, as they have continued their rich vein of form by taking a 3-1 series lead over Plzeň. After getting off to a rocky start against Sparta, losing two of the first three games, Kometa won Games 4, 5 and 6 to punch their ticket to the Extraliga semi-finals. Sparta, who impressed for so long during the regular season seemed to struggle to find any sort of form against the eighth seed, and the top line of Petr Ton, Petr Tenkrát and Mario Bližňák failed to find any sort of rhythm during the series. Another area in which Sparta paled in regards to their regular season play was in their defence. Usually ever reliable, numerous defensive lapses resulted in Kometa goals, as well as the dip in the form of Tomáš Pöpperle, who was pulled in one game and omitted from the line-up in Game 5.

Jiri Trvaj has rolled back the years
 in the playoffs so far
Photo: Ivo Dostál
For Kometa, it is difficult to place the success on the shoulders of one player, but credit must be given to 37 year old netminder Jiří Trvaj, who appears to be turning back the years with his stellar play in the playoffs. After sharing the duties with Sasu Hovi for most of the season in the Kometa net, Trvaj has grabbed the reins and is showing some of his best form in the playoffs so far. With 10 wins in 13 games and a save percentage over 93%, Trvaj is certainly proving that he still has what it takes to be a starter at the Extraliga level. Another player turning back the years is Tomáš Divíšek. Divíšek has always flattered to deceived following his incredible season for Pardubice in 2003/04, and after a so-so season with Mlada Boleslav last season, Divíšek ended up at Brno halfway through this season, and is currently the playoff leading scorer with 15 points in 13 games. However, it is not fair to give Divíšek all the plaudits, as on the scoring front, Kometa have been blessed with incredible scoring depth so far. Jakub Svoboda, Leoš Čermák and Tomáš Svoboda have all put in stellar performances in this years playoffs, but will need to continue to do so if Kometa want to get over the finish line.

Radek Duda has struggled in the playoffs
Photo: Ivo Dostál
At the time of writing, Kometa have one foot in the Extraliga final, as they hold a 3-1 lead over Plzeň. Kometa won both games on the road as well as Game 3, meaning that  Plzeň will have to win the remaining three games in the series if they are to advance. Kometa shut out  Plzeň's forwards in both Games 2 and 3, with Trvaj keeping a shutout streak spanning for over 150 minutes. It is safe to say that  Plzeň, like Sparta, may be resenting the two weeks of inactivity during the qualification round, which has seen both teams appear flat footed to start the playoffs.  Plzeň needed to go to Game 7 to beat a dogged Zlín side in the quarter finals, and their win in Game 4 was their first road win of the playoffs. They look snakebitten, and whilst Radek Duda hasn't exactly been slacking in the playoffs, his scoring form is nowhere near as hot as it was during the regular season, mustering only 7 points in 11 games. Martin Straka is the only Plzeň player near a point per game, but he has only scored one goal during the playoffs. Another interesting point to note during the playoffs is that Adam Svoboda, a netminder who knows what it takes to win a championship in the Czech Repblic, has been benched during the semi finals after conceding four goals in Game 1. 20 year old starlet Marek Mazanec has taken over the duties against Kometa, and he cannot be blamed for any of the losses during the semi final series, as Plzeň failed to score in both Game 2 and Game 3. Whether or not  Plzeň's 3-2 win in Game 4 will be the turning point in the series remains to be seen, but with three more wins needed to advance, the odds are truly stacked against Martin Straka's men.

Daniel Rákos celebrating his series winning goal
Photo: Jan Jedlička
Third seed Pardubice have been hit and miss so far in the playoffs, and currently stand tied at 2-2 in their series with Liberec after defeating Vitkovice in seven games in the quarter finals. In a series full of twists and turns, which saw Pardubice win Game 5 6-0, only for Vitkovice to rally back and take Game 6 by a 6-1 scoreline. A Daniel Rákos overtime winner in Game 7 saw Pardubice advance to the semi finals, where once again they have proved to be consistently inconsistent. Liberec and Pardubice have alternated victories so far in the semi final, and Game 5 in Pardubice will be a pivotal game in deciding the series. Martin Růžička has certainly proved me wrong so far, as he has put in a number of fantastic performances throughout the playoffs so far, which sees him at the top of the netminding statistics, whilst Pardubice's offence has been somewhat hit and miss. Jan Kolář and Petr Koukal's performances haven't matched their regular season totals, and it has been depth scoring which has got Pardubice by so far, as Martin Bartek and Radovan Somík have proved capable goal getters so far with 11 and 9 points respectively. It is probably fair to say that on their day, Pardubice are the best team left in the playoffs and could easily take the title, but if they continue their inconsistent play, they may not even make it to the final.

The White Tigers of Liberec were arguably the most impressive team not named Kometa in the first round of the playoffs. They managed to chase Jakub Kovář out of Game 1, and aside from a blip in Game 2, they dispatched of České Budějovice in five games. Liberec are always a difficult team to overlook simply because of the Petr Nedvěd factor, and his 12 points in 9 games have gone a long way to Liberec's strong showing in the playoffs so far, but it would be unfair to overlook Marek Pinc, who has put in some solid performances as well. Michal Bulíř has also made a name for himself as one of the Extraliga's brightest young stars following his hatrick in Game 1 of the quarter finals, but he hasn't been able to keep up that scoring form during the semi final series. Jaroslav Kudrna has pitched in with five goals, but it does seem that everything that Liberec needs to do to win revolves around their veteran captain Nedvěd. Liberec need to win once more in Pardubice if they are to advance to the finals, and Nedvěd won't be able to do it all on his own.

I guess it makes sense to look back to my quarter final predictions that I made just before the quarter-finals and see how wrong I was.

(1) HC Sparta Praha vs (8) Kometa Brno
My prediction: Sparta win 4-1
Actual series: Kometa win 4-2

So this was a comprehensive cross on my tick sheet, although I don't think many people would have picked Kometa to win. Considering their relative experience and fervent fanbase, Kometa are the sort of team which should never be overlooked in a playoff setting, but after how well Sparta had played during the tail end of the series, even I saw Sparta rolling over them with relative ease. Instead, Kometa now sit one win away from the final, whilst Sparta are off golfing.


(2) HC Plzeň vs (7) PSG Zlín
My prediction: Plzeň win 4-2
Actual series: Plzeň win 4-3

I managed to get the right team this time, but Zlín got one more win than I thought they would. I was rather surprised that Zlin were able to score as many goals as they did, which may be due to the resurgent form of Petr Čajánek, who scored the same amount of goals in 12 playoff games as he did during the whole regular season. 


(3) HC Pardubice vs (6) HC Vitkovice
My prediction: Vitkovice win 4-3
Actual series: Pardubice win 4-3

This time I got the right amount of games but the wrong team. I thought that Pardubice would score enough goals to see them through, but wouldn't have the goaltending required to advance to the semis, but as I mentioned,  Martin Růžička has played brilliantly throughout the playoffs so far, and has gone a long way to getting his team to the semi finals. Once again for Vitkovice it was a case of the old guard putting in another good shift, as Burger and Ujčík were outstanding, whilst the younger players couldn't rise to the challenge. It was also a strange series for Roman Málek, as he only played three games due to injury, and looked distinctly average in all of them. The curse that Málek held over Pardubice seems to be over.


(4) Bili Tygri Liberec vs (5) HC Mountfield
My prediction: Liberec win 4-2
Actual series: Liberec win 4-1

Again, right team, wrong number of games. I was rather disappointed with the performances of České Budějovice, as they simply did not turn up. They struggled to deal with Nedvěd, and made life very easy for Marek Pinc. Every year it seems that Budějovice go into the playoffs as possible dark horses, but year after year they fail to get anywhere in the playoffs. Something needs to change for that team.