Monday, May 03, 2004

Punishment in Prague

Six goals for in yesterday’s game, six goals against in Monday’s. For Canada the difference in the two games was glaring. The Czech Republic led by Tomas Vokoun sent the Canadians a message, the push overs are gone, and it’s time to play some hockey.

The Czechs outplayed the Canadians completely in this game; goaltending was an all Vokoun affair, scoring a total domination by the Czech squad as they showed the home town folks that a World Championship may just be within reach. With 34 shots on Roberto Luongo, the Czechs controlled play through the game, Vokoun having little trouble with most of the 23 shots directed his way. His team coasting to a 6-2 win over a disorganized looking Canadian squad.

If this game was to be used as mid term exam by the Canadians then its time to hit the books and pull up the grades. The Canadians never really got into their groove in this game, frequently standing around watching the Czechs pass and shoot at will. Penalties took their toll as Canada collected 10 minor penalties in the sixty minutes, basically one full period spent in the penalty box. Playing short handed for that length of time was just an invitation for disaster, and disaster struck early and often. The referees provided a bit of an adventure through the game, calling mystery penalties, sending players to the box only to haul them out and put someone else in. All in all they provided what appeared to be Rec league quality reffing, for a World Championship game.

The one positive aspect of this drubbing is that it’s purely a positional result; Canada will enter the quarterfinals on Thursday with a game against Finland. The one sided nature of this game should serve as a warning against overconfidence and point out some much needed attention to aspects of the Canadian effort.

The Czechs finish top in their group with the best record in the tournament, they now go on to face the USA in a quarterfinal game. The line up put out by the Czechs would fuel a Don Cherry conspiracy theory for years. Most of the Czech team in this line up is due to the early exits, or non qualification of their NHL teams. Jagr, Prospal, Slegr, Dvorak, Hlinka, Rucinsky, Beranek names that a few weeks ago floundered in an NHL uniform suddenly were flying at breakneck speed in Prague.

With the win over Canada, the Czechs become the favourite to deny the defending Champion Canadians another Gold Medal. But, it was only the preliminary round; Canada is no doubt focused on being in the Gold Medal game, a chance to renew acquaintances with the Czechs high on their list of things to do.

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