Czech U20s win silver at ice hockey World Championship, igniting hopes of return to past glories

This week saw the Czech U20 National Ice Hockey team reach the World Championship finals for the first time in 22 years. Despite eventually losing 2:3 to Canada in overtime, the result is being hailed as a significant success in Czechia and as a source of hope that the next adult ice hockey generation may restore some of the past glories achieved two decades ago.

Photo: Darren Calabrese,  ČTK/AP

The Czechs reached the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship finals without losing a single game, but Thursday’s contest for the gold medal began badly, with Canada leading 2:0 after the first two thirds.

However, the last 10 minutes of the game saw Czechia’s hopes for gold reignited after goals by Jiří Kulich and Jakub Kos levelled the score in a space of just 54 seconds.

As the game went into overtime it was hard not to recall that the Czechs had been in more or less exactly the same situation in their semi-final game against Sweden, where they managed to equalise in the last minute and then go on to score the winner in extra-time.

Photo: Darren Calabrese,  ČTK/AP

This time, however, the great comeback did not happen. Canada’s Dylan Guenther netted the winner seven minutes into overtime and the home team secured its 20th U20 World Championships title.

Yet despite the loss, Czechia’s players are proud of what they achieved, as the team’s leading point scorer at the tournament, Jiří Kulich, told Czech Radio after the game.

“None of us will forget how good of a group we were here and what we managed to achieve together. These will be beautiful memories.

“I am especially proud of the team, the staff and also of the fans at home and how much they supported us. Hats off to them. We are very thankful.”

Photo: Darren Calabrese,  ČTK/AP

Praise also came from the highest echelons of power in the country. Prime Minister Petr Fiala applauded the “excellent performance” of the team and hailed their silver result as a major success for Czech junior ice hockey.

Meanwhile, the head of the Czech Ice Hockey Association Alois Hadamczik said the team’s success brought back a state of ice hockey euphoria into Czechia that had not been present in the country for years.

Photo: Darren Calabrese,  ČTK/AP

It wasn’t just Czechs who were impressed with their team’s performance. No fewer than three Czech players were selected by journalists into the tournament’s all-star team. Defender David Jiříček, who was drafted sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, was also voted the best overall defender by the organisers of the tournament.

Goalkeeper Tomáš Suchánek, who kept Czechia in the game throughout the final with several key saves, was included in the ranks of the all-star team as well. Czechia’s coach Radim Rulík told Czech Radio after the game that he has high hopes for the 19-year-old goalkeeper.

Photo: Darren Calabrese,  ČTK/AP

“He‘s an outstanding guy and a very good goalkeeper. I think that he has a bright future ahead of him even though he hasn’t been drafted yet. He’s got it right in his head and he works hard.”

The Czechs’ silver success follows up on the team reaching fourth place in the same tournament last year. Many commentators in the country now hope that some of these up-and-coming players could soon join NHL stars such as David Pastrňák and Tomáš Hertl in the men’s team and perhaps bring back the time when medals were seen as a certainty at tournaments, not as a dream.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Michal Markup , Alena Panovská
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