Hockey specialist: Czech team at worlds has been underwhelming, will have to dig deep

Czech Republic - Norway, photo: CTK

The Czech national hockey team has not been firing on all cylinders so far at the Ice Hockey World Championships hosted by Sweden and Finland. In three games, it won twice and lost once, but each match was a struggle, the last – against Denmark – came down to penalty shots. Can the squad turn things around moving forward – putting together a faster, more dynamic game?

Czech Republic - Norway, photo: CTK
Earlier I spoke to Karel Knap, a journalist who specializes in hockey for the Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes.

“I would say there are quite a few problems now: it seems like almost nothing has clicked with the team, other than goalie Jakub Kovář playing really well. Otherwise, though, nothing is working. There are problems with the transition game, getting the puck from the defence to the offense. The power-play team hasn’t scored at all; the team has had problems creating scoring opportunities, they haven’t shot enough at goal. In short, I think they are not playing hard enough, they are not skating enough, not body-checking. The whole team is missing a spark.”

What can a coach like Hadamczik do when faced with such a situation like this? What can he do to fire things up?

“It’s not an easy position to be in, certainly. But I think most of the responsibility now lies with the players themselves. They have to know they have to work harder and fight more. The coach picked the players and can try to change lines around and so on but at the end of the day it will be up to the players themselves to change things around.”

Jakub Kovář, photo: CTK
A lot of people remember a couple years ago that the Czech squad suffered a similar slump; Jaromír Jágr who was on the team then, said publically that players essentially had to do a lot more (and it worked: the team went on to win gold in the final). Is there anyone on the roster now who could play a similar role and whip the team into shape?

“There is certainly no one like Jaromír Jágr. We’ve never had another player like him and there is no such personality on the team now. There are some really good players on the team like Krejčí, Plekanec, or Michálek. They are really good but so far they have appeared lost on the bigger surface (compared to smaller ice surface in the NHL). You can say what you want in the locker room but first you have to play well: otherwise it won’t work.”

Sometimes teams rally around their goaltenders, especially if they are rookies or playing in their first big tournament: is there a chance that could happen with Kovář? He did after all get a shutout in the opening match…

“Maybe, maybe.... He certainly has been the best thing so far about the Czech team. He has been the biggest plus.”

Alois Hadamczik, photo: CTK
The way things have been going so far don’t bode particularly well for the Czech team ahead of its match against Latvia: will that game be key, do you think, in how far the Czech squad gets in the tournament?

“Well, that will be decided in the quarterfinal where the winners and losers are separated. But the next group game will be important if the team wants to start turning things around. It’s hard if you play several bad games in a row to suddenly turn things around to begin to play well or perfectly. The next games will be more and more important for the team to build its confidence. That’s what it will have to do in the next few days.”