Expectations were low at first but grew as the group stage advanced. And most Czechs probably thought they had a better than even chance of reaching the ice hockey World Championship semi-finals and a chance of the medals by overcoming the United States. But a penalty shoot-out following a tense quarter-final match decided otherwise and the Czechs are now on their way home.
Czech medal hopes at the ice hockey World Championship in Russia evaporated when Tomáš Zahorna failed to score with the last run on goal. He had been the hero earlier in the 16th minute when he converted a penalty which gave the Czechs a 1:0 lead.
The sole scorer during the shoot-out was Auston Matthews. And it was Matthews as well who had earlier tied the match at 1:1 in the 22nd minute.
Eighteen-year-old Mathews plays in the top Swiss league. He has an impressive record against Czech teams: playing five times against them in various competitions in the last two years and scoring 10 times.
The Czechs were not outplayed in Moscow but were rather out of luck. This is how head coach Vladimír Vůjtek summed up his feelings in a post match interview with Czech Television.
“Teams are of course evaluated on whether they got through the quarter-finals. Of course today we lost on penalty shoot-outs. The final verdict will be that we finished at the quarter-finals, but I think that this team played very well. There was not a single match in which we did not pick up some points. We always gained at least one point. I think this team worked out a lot better than most people had expected.”
Vůjtek confirmed in that interview that he will be definitely be stepping down as Czech head coach.
Expectations for the Czechs going into the championship were not high. Most of the warm-up matches ended up with defeats and the team was largely based on young, largely unexperienced players at the top level.
Coach Vůjtek admitted early on that he had to forgo some of his first choice options from the NHL because the players were not available. But the little fancied Czech team turned the tables on the doubters in the early stages, beating hosts Russia in the opening championship match and later the Swedes, to eventually top the group table.
And the takeaways from the championships for the Czechs? There is obviously disappointment that the medal drought continues with the Czechs having to turn their minds back to 2012 for the last world championship medal – and that a bronze – and back to 2010 when they last landed the gold. But there is some optimism now that a core of young talent is coming through that can deliver the medals in the coming years.
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