By Nick Carey.
Yes, it's time for the last sports roundup before the Christmas holidays, and the main sporting news this week comes from a sport quite fitting for the time of year: ice hockey. And the biggest ice hockey news for the Czechs this week has been the Baltic Cup in Moscow.
Now, although the Czech Republic is not actually a Baltic state, and is some way from the Baltic Sea, it has been playing in the Baltic Cup for some years. The Czech national team, with two world championship titles in a row under their belts, and of course their famous victory in the 1998 Winter Olympics, had high hopes for further glory in this tournament. And after their first game against Sweden, which they won 4:1, it seemed as if they were indeed well on their way to victory.
The second game in the tournament, against the home team, Russia, did not match up to Czech expectations. The Czechs started out well, going ahead 2:1 in the first period, with goals from Piros and Matjeovsky. The second period also went the Czech's way, 2:1 again, with goals from Hubl and Ujcik, bringing the score to 4:2 for the Czechs, which must have left them feeling very comfortable. Perhaps just a little too comfortable, because in the third period it all went wrong, with two goals from the Russians, and third in extra time, bringing the final score to 5:4 for the Russians.
Despite this defeat, the Czechs were still in with a chance of wining the tournament. All they had to was beat Finland in their third and final game, and hope that Russia did not beat Sweden, and they would reach the top of the table.
And indeed, the final game for the Czechs was about as good as it gets. The first period was the only tough one of the game, with a score of 3:2 to the Czechs, with two goals supplied by Hlinka and one from Piros. The second period was completely dominated by the Czechs, with a goal from Piros, his second of the game, Sykora and Matejovsky. This brought the total to 6:2, with one more period to play. And the Czechs held the Swedes back throughout the final period, essentially shutting the game down, and no more goals were forthcoming from either side. The final score of 6:2 put the Czechs at the top of the table, and just a whisker away from the prize money of fifty thousand dollars.
The whole tournament now rested on the last game between Russia and Finland, and several million fingers were crossed in the hope that the Finns would triumph, guaranteeing the Czechs victory. But, it wasn't to be. After a nerve-wracking, goal-less first period, the Russians scored the one and only game of the match, and their 1:0 victory sealed the Baltic Cup for the home team.
Considering their record for winning the tournaments, though, I doubt very much the Czechs will be worrying too much about coming second. After all, there's always next year's World Championships.