It was a surprise to many, but not the readers of this site, when the Czech Republic went on to finish fourth in last year’s tournament. This year, Czechia will look to improve and really challenge for the medals.
However the factor many deemed was a big part of the success last year, coach Filip Pesan, only had a one-year contract and decided to continue his coaching job with Liberec rather than take a full-time position with the Czech Ice Hockey Federation.
The new coach, Václav Varaďa, is used to the national team, previously coaching the U18s and U19s at the international level, and has had success, winning the Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2016 and finished second in 2017. He is good at motivating his players and his tactical acumen is also well developed. Having worked with players like Filip Zadina, Filip Chytil and Martin Nečas before is a good thing. However, Chytil and another strong player, Ostap Safin, will be unavailable, and that will cause concern for the Czech depth.
The experience accumulated from last year’s World Juniors along with the established connection between the coach and his star players should make this an interesting campaign for the Czech team.
Team Czech Republic final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|2||Lukáš Dostál||G||Czech2||SK Horácká Slavia Třebíč (ANA)|
|30||Jiří Patera||G||WHL||Brandon Wheat Kings (VGK)|
|1||Jakub Škarek||G||Liiga||Pelicans (NYI)|
|23||Daniel Bukač||D||OHL||Niagara IceDogs (BOS)|
|10||Jakub Galvas||D||Extraliga||HC Olomouc (CHI)|
|9||Michael Gaspar||D||Czech2||HC Stadion Litomerice|
|11||Filip Král||D||WHL||Spokane Chiefs|
|7||David Kvasnička||D||Extraliga||HC Plzen|
|22||Dalimil Mikyska||D||Czech2||SK Horacka Slavia Trebic|
|21||Radim Šalda||D||QMJHL||Rimouski Océanic (TBL)|
|13||Jan Hladonik||F||Extraliga||HC Ocelari Trinec|
|26||Kryštof Hrabík||F||WHL||Tri-City Americans|
|14||Jan Jeník||F||Extraliga||Bili Tygri Liberec (ARZ)|
|16||Martin Kaut||F||Extraliga||Colorado Eagles (COL)|
|12||Jan Kern||F||USHL||Omaha Langers|
|29||Jáchym Kondelík||F||NCAA||University of Conneticut (NSH)|
|15||Jakub Lauko||F||QMJHL||Rouyn-Noranda Huskies|
|17||Ondřej Machala||F||Czech2||HC Frydek-Mistek|
|18||Martin Nečas||F||AHL||Charlotte Checkers (CAR)|
|5||Matěj Pekař||F||OHL||Barrie COlts|
|28||Karel Plášek||F||Extraliga||HC Kometa Brno|
|25||Jakub Pour||F||Extraliga||HC Plzen|
|19||Filip Zadina||F||QMJHL||Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)|
Player-wise, the return of the big three — Filip Zadina, Martin Necas, and Martin Kaut — will most likely form a dangerous first line that should be able to score more or less at will. There is some secondary scoring with Matěj Pekař, Karel Plasek or Jakub Lauko, but not to the same level as last year’s tournament with Chytil’s emergence.
Lauko is speedy winger who likes to drive to the net. He has put up a point per game in the QMJHL. Other players to keep an eye out for are Jáchym Kondelík, a Nashville Predators pick, who is a really big player who can make plays, Matěj Pekař (another Buffalo Sabres draft pick), who will probably make an impact, and then grittier guys like Krystof Hrabík or Jan Jeník (my personal favourite from last year’s draft who has struggled a bit this season).
Coach Varada likes to use speed, and there is a lot of speed to be had in this lineup. Add the fact that there are several players that are used to the North American ice, and maybe even more importantly, used to the time zone.
It will be the defence that makes or breaks the Czech team’s tournament. Jakub Galvas is there from last year, and he has performed well in the Extraliga, playing big minutes. Just before the selection to the WJC, HC Olomouc made him captain for a couple of games due to injuries. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect certainly looks to be the real deal, and he will be used to shore up a shaky defence.
An interesting name is Martin Hugo Haš. He looks like a great talent, but at just 17 you have to wonder if he is ready to break out on the biggest of stages. Daniel Bukač is a bigger, more defensive type (a Boston Bruins prospect) and is the only other drafted defender on the team.
The goalie situation is stable. Jakub Škarek signed with the Pelicans of Finland’s Liiga and has thrived in the Finnish goalkeeping school. His numbers are really good with a .921 save percentage over 16 games, and he is returning to the WJC for the third time. He should be the number-one, however Lukas Dostál should not be counted out. He is smaller, but he has played well in the international games leading up to this year’s tournament. He plays in the Czech second division, and should probably be relied upon as a backup rather than a starting goalie at the moment.
The Czech offence is strong. The forwards are hard-working, technical, and very fast. However, as Coach Varaďa likes to play simple and avoid costly turnovers, it might not be a puck-possession team that lines up in British Columbia. It might be more of the classical former Czechoslovakian counter-attack hockey that allows the Czech team to challenge for the medals.
Škarek should be counted as a strength too. The question is if he can adapt to the angles of the smaller North American rinks, but he can be counted on as a sweeper at times to help his defence out in any way possible. Yet he has never really shone in a WJC; last year’s upset in the quarter-finals was not backstopped by him but by Josef Kořenář. The question that lingers, even if I count Škarek as a strength, is whether the change to the Finnish league have provided Škarek with a better mindset in order for him to succeed in his last shot at World Juniors success.
“How many minutes can Galvas play a night?” Unfortunately for the Czech fans, this question won’t be far off the mark as the top concern for the team. The defenceman will be the pillar that the Czech team is held up by. The defence is really shaky, and most likely coach Varaďa will try to account for this by keeping things simple, I would expect the defence to use a lot of chip-outs and dumping the puck into the offensive zone just to get a line change going.
The Czech team will make the playoff round no doubt. They will be outshot against Canada and Russia, but should get two wins against Switzerland and Denmark. In the quarter-final the Czechs will face Sweden or the USA, and that will be the critical game for the Czech team: a win and it will have been a good tournament, a loss and many would think that the Czech team had underachieved.
Coach Varaďa’s experience and tactical acumen will be relied upon to get the best out of a technical and skilled offence that has to limit the fragility of the defence. It is clear that there is potential, and if the right players step up, the nation might be the joker of the tournament once again.
Can the first line’s scoring and secondary input outscore the shaky defence? We’ll soon learn the answer to that question.