International Ice Hockey Federation

Czechs get angry, romp

Czechs get angry, romp

Plasek scores twice in win over France

Published 23.04.2018 19:05 GMT+5 | Author Slava Malamud
Czechs get angry, romp
CHELYABINSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 23: The Czech Republic's Jakub Lauko #13 skates with the puck while France's Flavian Dair #23 chases him down during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
France was finally able to enjoy, however briefly, its first lead in U18 World Championship history, but the Czechs managed to assert themselves in a 9-2 win.

Karel Plasek scored twice and added an assist when his reeling team needed it most to nullify the surprising French resurgence in the second period, his second goal proving the eventual game-winner. Michal Kvasnica also had two goals. Matej Pekar and Matej Blumel each picked up a goal and an assist, while Vojtech Strondala, Adam Gajarsky and Jaromir Pytlik also scored for the Czechs. 

The French, who broke the one-goal barrier for the first time, collected goals by Flavian Dair and Pierrick Dube. The loss, in the most competitive of their games by far, ensured France’s last-place finish in Group B, sending the IIHF World U18 Championship newcomers to the relegation round.

It wasn’t a beautiful affair by any means. With the French coming into the game with the understandable desire to slow it down against a much better skating opponent, and the Czechs looking like their game plan was to let France roll over and die, there wasn’t much exhilarating action on display at the Traktor Ice Arena. Still, the French showed some notable improvement, both defensively and in the cohesiveness of their transition game. It was apparent that the team, which had almost no time together prior to the tournament, was finally getting comfortable enough with each other to attempt some controlled breakouts, at the very least.

Still, as team speed goes, France is no match for the Czechs, and to the extent that Les Bleuets were able to keep this game’s outcome in suspense, they did it thanks to the opponent’s conspicuously sluggish pace.

"We said to each other it was going to be an easy game", admitted team captain Libor Zabransky. "We started very badly."

Czech Republic scored first, after a deflection in the slot left goalie Valentin Duquenne out of position and Strondala pounded the puck into the open net at the 7:26 mark. However, through Duquenne’s solid play and a timely assist by the crossbar, the French kept the opponent off the board for the rest of the period and managed to tie the game up with 1:34 left, while on a power play.

With Lukas Dostal screened, Dylan Fabre sent the puck toward the net from the right circle, and Dair’s deflection beat the goalie on the short side. Dair, a 2002 birth year, became the youngest player to score in the 2018 World U18 Championship.

"I didn’t expected to become the youngest scorer of the tournament so far", said Dair. "I won’t forget how I scored a goal. It’s a good experience to be here. I did all my best for the game. The boys didn’t expect promotion last year. Once we knew France would be in highest division, I worked hard to make to the team."

The boredom in the Traktor Ice Arena was dissipated at 6:14 of the second period, when Timothe Quatronne’s long pass unleashed Dube on a breakaway. The shot beat Dostal cleanly for Dube’s second goal of the tournament and France’s historic first-ever lead at the U18 Worlds.

"Probably, the guys were nervous", opined th Czech head coach David Bruk.

France had one minute and 31 seconds to contemplate history and entertain thoughts of possibly avoiding the relegation round. This is how long it took for Czech Republic to finally reassert themselves. Operating on a power play, Plasek deftly redirected Zabransky’s shot, and the puck snuck in under Duquenne’s pad to pull the Czechs even.

France had one last fleeting flash of possible glory when, right after the ensuing faceoff, the shifty Dair wristed a puck past the shaky Dostal, only to hear it ring off the goalpost.

Then again, that just got the Czechs mad. At 11:11, with both teams playing a man down, Plasek completed his role as the Czechs’ savior as he got the puck while left completely alone in the low slot and tipped it into the five-hole.

Czech Republic wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. Moreover, if they were the first team to allow France score more than once, they made sure they would also be the first to ring Les Bleuets up for more than seven. 

But first, Plasek almost demoted himself from hero to goat in the 14th minute, when he took a penalty, resulting in a tremendous chance for the French, who had several whacks at the puck from up close. This time, Dostal held strong, and the French promptly negated their power play with a slashing minor.

With 25 seconds left in the period, Czechs scored again on a nice passing sequence from Matej Blumel to Jakub Lauko to Pekar, who one-timed it into the twine.

"The goal we scored for 4-2 was the most important point in the game", said Bruk. "After that, we got more confident and controlled the game. "We wanted to play all the way to the end and keep the energy up in order to get ready for the next game."

In the third, Czech Republic piled on, with five straight goals, chasing Duquenne midway through the period. Adrien Vazzaz acquitted himself well in relief, making several highlight-reel saves, including a diving, backhanded stick swipe, which sadly came only a split second before Pytlik put in the rebound to make it 9-2. 

Each team had a chance to score on a penalty shot late in the period, but Vazzaz denied Lauko with a pad save, while Dair got too cute in front of Dostal and lost the puck. 

France will now face neighbor Switzerland in the relegation round in Magnitogorsk. Czech Republic will be back in action on Tuesday, facing off against Finland.

"The key for us will be to play simple and play hard", said Zabransky.

 

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