On Thursday, the Czech Republic faces Finland in their first knockout stage match at the Ice Hockey World Championships. As the hosts of this year’s tournament, the Czechs – led by Jakub Voráček and legendary forward Jaromír Jágr – will do their utmost to make it to the semis, to keep alive chances of winning a medal at home. But beating the Finns, with the goaltending of Pekka Rinne, won’t be easy
The quarterfinals was a must for the hosts the Czech Republic – the question is whether the squad can clear the next hurdle and edge the Finns on Thursday at Prague’s O2 arena. During the tournament the Czechs have been strong at moments but ultimately defeated only lesser opponents, not Sweden or Canada. Finland lost just once in the preliminary round, to the US, and picked up a valuable scalp against Russia. One of the big factors could be Pekka Rinne who has been stellar in goal for Finland, setting a new shutout record at the championships of 237:05 minutes before he was beaten. Since the streak was snapped, he gave up two goals per game in three matches. Nevertheless, he is sure to be ready on Thursday. The Czechs will have to find the key to beating him.
Without question, fans of the Czech squad will be hoping to see a good game not only from players like Voráček and goalie Pavelec but also from legend Jaromír Jágr, one of the team’s best players in this year’s tournament. There were fears earlier this week he had suffered an injury as he played only two shifts against Switzerland before hitting the showers. But since then team physiotherapist Pavel Kolář said that Jágr should be ok.
“He was feeling pain which suggested a groin injury. So we decided it would be better if he came off so he could use the time for rehab and recovery. The step was preventative; a tiny question mark remains… but I think he will play.”
Jágr has so far netted four goals, at 43 setting the record for oldest goal scorer at the Worlds. His enthusiasm and sheer hard work have been inspirational and, among Czech fans, infectious. His absence on the ice against Switzerland, who the Czechs beat narrowly, was immediately apparent, the team’s assistant coach Jaroslav Špaček said.
“[The moment Jágr came off] our forwards began looking from one to the next to see who would pick up the role of the leader; I think that Voráček took over brilliantly but some of our other players still needed to pick up their game.”
Jaromír Jágr himself pointed out early into the tournament that the Czechs are by no means the favourites – that mantle belongs to someone else. But at this stage, anything can happen. Betting agencies are giving the Finns and Czechs very even chances: odds of 2.5:1 for the Finns and 2.6:1 for the Czechs.