The first day of the IIHF World Championship hosted a handful of long-awaited matches, including some of the highest-rated national teams of the world. Among today’s clashes, the one between host country Czech Republic and Sweden was probably one of the most interesting. Here’s a summary of the magnificent match staged in Prague by the two European giants.
After only three minutes, Sweden manages to score the first goal with Joel Lundqvist, formerly of the Dallas Stars and currently captain of the Frölunda Indians in the Swedish Elite League (where his twin brother Henrik also played). A power play caused by Czech forward Martin Erat ensues, during which the Scandinavians obtain their second goal: assisted by Mattias Ekholm and Anton Lander, Staffan Kronwall stuns the Czech goalie Alexander Sálak (curiously enough, the two are both playing in the KHL).
The first half of the opening period finds the hosting team struggling, with their first shot on goal arriving only at the ninth minute of play. A power play caused by Carolina Hurricanes’ forward Elias Lindholm sets the Czechs on motion, and a goal by local legend Jaromír Jágr shortly follows. Jágr, hailed as a sort of national hero by his home country (needless to say, the arena is literally packed with jerseys sporting his #68 number), finds himself in front of the goal posts shortly after the 15th minute of play, and successfully converts Jakub Voráček‘s pass into a really useful point 25 years after his first World Championship appearance.
Another power play, this time for Sweden, closes the first period without changes to the score.
The previous power play ends during the first seconds of the second period, with CSKA Moscow’s Simon Hjalmarsson failing to score. The Czechs manage to become dangerous, and they get a couple of changes when Sweden’s defender Jonas Ahnelöv temporarily exits the rink to serve a minor penalty. Another power play, always for the home team, causes the 43-year old Jágr to try a wonderful long shot after having distanced all his opponents.
Sweden doesn’t lose its grasp, and after a double assist by Lindholm and Hjalmarsson, Victor Rask (another Hurricanes’ player) finds again the net after an acrobatic spin on the puck. The ensuing Czech shots are, unfortunately, useless.
During another power play, the home team strikes again early in the final period: This time is Tomas Hertl of the San José Sharks who receives the cheers of his home audience. The Swedish reaction comes immediately after, with a goal by Joakim Lindström setting the score at 4-2 for the Scandinavians.
After yet another penalty to the Swedes, the traffic jam in front of the latter’s net causes Czech forward Petr Koukal to go down on the ice, albeit in a somewhat exaggerate and theatrical way, which doesn’t convince the referees to the point to award a penalty.
But Czech Republic is a country which has always played hockey with strength and determination, and in the middle of the period they demonstrate it once again, with two wonderful goals by Simon and Cervenka (this one after an awesome long shot) which, with 7 minutes to go, bring them to a score of 4-4.
Four minutes more, and the Czechs score again with Martin Zat’ovic, starting the final minutes in front. The Swedes react leaving their net empty and forcing a power play resulting in the equalizing goal with 53 seconds to go… but this thrilling third period leaves us the time for yet another power play, which continues during the overtime.
Overtime and Shootouts
The 5 minutes of overtime are not as dramatic as the previous period, and a save by Sálek with only one minute to go stops Swedish hopes to close here the game.
The following shootouts start immediately after, and many of us are probably thinking about that epic semi-final during the 1998 Winter Olympics, when the Czech Republic managed to defeat Canada and Wayne Gretzky, thus qualifying for the final game against Russia (which they won; notably, Jágr was there, too).
The Swedes don’t fail the first shot, with Lindholm scoring quite easily: but a mistake by Josefson forces Ekman Larsson to be the decider of his nation’s fate in this game: he scores, and after Sobotka´s failed attempt to level things up (before him Klepis failed to score, while Voráček didn’t) this wonderful, thrilling, dramatic Group A game comes to an end, giving to Sweden the ultimate victory.
The following matches will be quite easier for both opponents, as the Czechs prepare themselves to confront Latvia tomorrow, while Sweden will take on Austria on Sunday. Only the next day will tell us wheter this was one of this year’s World Championship finest games, but, believe me, it surely was something special.