Every year as the World Juniors tournament begins, all eyes are on Sweden as they attempt to keep their incredible streak of 51 straight wins in the preliminary round alive. With their roster hammered hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and a hungry Czech Republic side in front of them, the setting was right for a potential upset.
The Czechs looked extremely dangerous in their warm up game against Slovakia, with their stars like Jan Mysak, Jaromir Pytlik, and Pavel Novak playing big roles. The team is without forward Adam Raska who is serving a one game suspension for a hit from behind in the pre-tournament game against Slovakia.
Both the starting goalies in Hugo Alnefelt and Nick Malik were sharp in the early minutes of the game, with Alnefelt fending off a clean look through the slot by Pavel Novak, while Malik stood tall against a trio of dangerous Swedish rushes. As the two sides traded odd-man rushes, the Czechs drew the first power play of the game, with Alexander Holtz going to the box for a late hit. It didn’t take long for them to capitalize as Michal Teply fed a cross-crease pass to Jan Mysake who lifted it by a sprawling Alnefelt.
Jan Mysak gets the Czechs on the board with a power play goal! pic.twitter.com/8rw5MQVC2b— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 26, 2020
The lead was extremely short-lived, as the Swedes roared right back down the ice to tie the game. Victor Soderstrom wired a beautiful pass through the Czech defence and Arvid Costmar was in the right spot to direct it by Malik for the tying goal.
The Czechs didn’t give their opponents a chance to catch their breath, with a pair of near goal chances immediately after. The first being a pass from Mysak across the crease to Michal Teply, who in turn was robbed by the glove of Hugo Alnefelt. Then a wraparound look was fought off by the pad of the Swedish netminder. Sweden put themselves in a late hole as the period wound down with a pair of penalties, including one that carried over into the next period.
Incredible save from Hugo Alnefelt to take away a goal from Michal Teply pic.twitter.com/BLR5pHk4tv— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 26, 2020
Alnefelt had to be sharp to start the second period as the Czech power play worked the puck around, testing the Swedish defence from multiple angles. Despite some great looks by Martin Lang, the score stayed tied at a goal apiece early into the middle period. Neither side budged an inch as the period wore on, but the Swedes were given a chance to break the stalemate thanks to a Czech high-sticking penalty, their first power play of the game.
While Nick Malik was standing tall, he overplayed a shot from Simon Holmstrom, leaving part of his net exposed. While he saved the initial chance the puck ended up on the stick of Albin Sundsvik who put the puck in the lower corner of the net before Malik could cover his far post. Holmstrom fresh off his assist then had to sit for two minutes for a tripping infraction, putting a dangerous Czech man advantage on the ice.
Sweden was not phased, breaking out of the defensive zone with pace, and Emil Heineman sneaking in behind the Czech defender. He broke in uncontested on Malik, then fired a a low shot through the five hole to advance the Swedish lead to two goals. The Swedish onslaught continued from there as their depth was too much for the Czech Republic. Phillip Broberg fired a shot high and wide of the net, and Theodor Niederbach was right beside the net to poke it by Nick Malik and push the Swedish lead to three goals.
The Czechs did little to help their own efforts, taking a penalty late in the second that they had to kill off before the intermission. Then early in the third period they were called for holding, and the Swedes piled on another goal for good measure. Elmer Soderblom got in tight to the net and had no issues lifting his shot between his legs and over Nick Malik for a four goal lead.
Elmer Soderblom goes between his legs and makes it 5-1 Sweden.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 26, 2020
What a goal by the big lad. pic.twitter.com/xeuRL75k30
Even another power play for the Czechs couldn’t shake the Swedish stranglehold on the game, as the man advantage managed just one shot on net, and generally didn’t seem to bother Hugo Alnefelt in the slightest. The Swedes had no problem keeping their offence rolling as the minutes ticked off, and Oscar Bjerselius slipped his cover before putting the sixth Swedish goal by Malik with just over seven minutes left to play.
Another poorly timed penalty resulted in another Swedish power play, and another power play goal to make it a 7-1 game. Noel Gunler rushed into the zone on a change, then walked his way into the faceoff circle, then wired a shot off the crossbar and in to add an exclamation point to the game.
Mercifully the Swedes didn’t pile on any more goals with the late five on three power play and despite a strong first period, the Czech side could not match the skilled depth of Sweden.
Things don’t get much easier for the Czech team after this loss, as they square off with Russia tomorrow night with the Russians coming off a massive win over the United States. For Sweden they get a day off, then will face an Austrian side that will have played a game the previous night.