Monday, 16 January 2012

Maroon is the colour.

Sunday afternoon saw the third edition of the Battle of the Vltava, as the old rivals Sparta and Slavia faced off at the o2 Arena, with the game having more connotations than just the pride of Prague. Sparta needed the win to keep their slender lead at the top of the table over Plzeň, whilst Slavia, riding a three game win streak, were looking to move out of the relegation places for the first time in three months. 11284 fans were in attendance as the two sides battled out a closely fought game, which was much tighter than the teams respective league positions would suggest, but eventually the league leaders Sparta got the break through in the final frame, and took the game 2-1.

 Bližňák scores the winner in the Prague derby
Photo: Pavel Vrtiška 
The first period was very open and very physical. European hockey has a reputation, especially in North America and Britain of being soft, and having no hitting. Try telling that to these two clubs, as they were going at it hammer and nail to try and get the advantage. Slavia actually outshot their guests, as the hosts had 30 shots to Sparta's 27, but they lacked that clinical edge which good teams have. Slavia had numerous breakaway attempts, but Tomáš Pöpperle stopped each one of them, making up for his teams rather lacklustre defensive performance. After a scoreless first, Sparta would open the scoring in this game, as they would make the man advantage count. Jan Dresler took a needless neutral zone hooking penalty and Sparta made them pay, the goal coming from the stick of Petr Tenkrát, who fired home from the left wing circle, leaving Dominik Furch flapping at thin air. Slavia rallied back though, and mid-way through the second frame they levelled the score, as Vladimír Růžička Jr. tipped a Jakub Šulc point shot past Pöpperle. The third period was a tight affair, as neither team wanted to be the one that made the mistake that cost them the points. Slavia went close early on as Michal Vondrka was denied from close range, and then Czech Under-20 forward Tomáš Hertl was sent to the box for checking from behind, giving Sparta a powerplay, and they made it count. Petr Tenkrát's point shot was deflected by an unwitting Mario Bližňák past Furch and into the goal, sending the fans in the Maroon jersies wild, whilst the red and white of Slavia held their heads in their hands, and rued their missed chances. Sparta took all three points back to Holešovice, and kept their one point lead at the top of the standings.

Other games around the Extraliga:

Plzeň 10 - 4 Liberec
Jan Kovář scoring one of  Plzeň's ten goals
Photo: Milan Podpera 
It was a fourteen goal thriller at the ČEZ Aréna, as second placed Plzeň kept up the pressure on Sparta with their 12th win in a row, and now go into Thursday's massive game with Sparta as the favourites. Radek Duda, who started last year in the 1.liga continued his magnificent form with five points (2+3) against Liberec, who shipped nine goals in the first two periods, surprisingly leaving Tomáš Vošvrda in for all ten of the goals. It only took Plzeň eleven seconds to get on the board, as Canadian defenceman Nicholas St.Pierre fired home. Liberec did lead the game mid way through the first period, as they took the lead at the twelve minute mark, but that was all the joy they were going to get, as the Pilsner boys scored three times in five minutes to go into the first period 4-2 to the good. Jan Kovář, Pavel Vostřák and Martin Straka all had three points for Plzeň, whilst Petr Nedvěd managed to keep his grip on the scoring title lead, as he added two assists, leaving him tied with Duda on 44 points. Poor old Petr did go -4 on the night though! With just two and a half minutes left in the game things got nasty as Martin Heřman for the Indians and Daniel Špaček for Liberec got 5+game for a brief fight, which mostly ended up being a spot of hugging.

Kladno 3 - 1 Mountfield
In the shock result of the day, Kladno turned their recent run around and put Mountfield to the sword, taking a back and forth game 3-1. Kladno broke their three game losing skid to pick up three vital points against a championship contender. After a horrible run of form, Jan Chábera put in a great performance, making 36 saves to deny the Mountfield shooters. Tomáš  Knotek was the star of the show as he bagged himself two goals, whilst veteran Slovak forward Jiří Bicek added the other, with a brilliant solo effort. Bicek faked the shot, cut to the left around the defenceman before rifling it over Jakub Kovář's shoulder. Mountfield outshot Kladno heavily, but it's Jarda Jágr's team which gets the three points.

Litvínov 4 - 3 Pardubice (Shootout)
In another surprising turn of events, Litvinov picked up a vital win at home against Pardubice, who have now dropped two games in a row. In a game littered with penalties it was difficult for either side to get any momentum, but Pardubice had the better of the early exchanges, taking the lead just two minutes in with a goal from Lukáš Nahodil. However, with just 41 seconds left in the first, Litvinov got a vital goal to swing the game in their direction, as relative newcomer Jakub Černý fired home for his first goal since signing from TPS in the SM-Liiga. Litvinov took the lead with the only goal in the second period, as Martin Hujsa scored, tipping in a Brejčák point shot. Pardubice came back hard in the third, and tied the game at 2 with a Robert Kousal goal, but just two minutes later Litvinov took the lead again, this time Robin Hanzl finding the net, beating Martin Růžička with a lovely move on a penalty shot. Pardubice though, were like the smell you just can't seem to escape, and with a little over four minutes left in the third, they got the equaliser, as Jan Buchtele  capitalised on a horrible giveaway to put the backhand home. Pardubice put Vladislav Koutsky in goal for the shootout, and acquitted himself well, but Martin Volke was able to make that one extra stop in sudden death to take the extra point for the black and yellow side.

Vítkovice 4 - 1 Třinec
Vitkovice had a point to prove after being trashed 6-0 by Slavia in their last match, and they rallied back with a fine 4-1 victory in the battle of the steel cities. Three goals in six second period minutes took the game away from Třinec as Juraj Štefanka, Jiří Burger and Juraj Sykora all scored to cancel out Lukáš Bolf's opener and then some. With teams around them winning, Třinec see themselves moving further away from the automatic playoff spots and closer to the relegation places, as the crowded middle of the table means that wins are so vital at this point in the season. Roman Málek returned to his best, making 29 saves for the victory.

Zlin 2 - 3 Kometa Brno (Overtime)
Kometa got their second two point win in a row, beating local rivals Zlin in a rather dull affair. Jiří Trvaj once again proved that age is no barrier for him, as the 37 year old netminder put in a sparkling performance, making 41 saves for his sides victory. Zlin got on the board first, as Pavel Kubiš scored just 81 seconds into the game, finishing off a lovely piece of work between Petr Čajánek and himself, cutting through the Brno defence like a knife through warm butter. However Kometa equalised before the first intermission, eventually scoring after rotten defensive work by Zlin. The blue and yellow boys took the lead once more in the second period, as lanky forward Bedřich Köhler pounced on a rebound off the post, with Trvaj miles out of his crease. With ten minutes left in the third, Brno were anxious to get the tying goal, and they eventually got it, as Tomáš Svoboda picked up the rebound off of Jakub Sedláček's pads and fired home into the empty net. This game went to the extra frame, and it was Brno who would steal the extra point, with Miroslav Holec scoring the winning goal for Zdenek Venera's men.

Mlada Boleslav 4 - 2 Karlovy Vary
In a bottom of the table encounter, Mlada Boleslav picked up three much needed points, breaking their five game losing skid, and leapfrogging Karlovy Vary to reclaim 13th place in the standings. Mlada scored all their goals in the first period, chasing Dusan Salficky from the game after eight minutes. Zbyněk Hrdel and Jiří Cetkovsky scored before the eight minute mark, as Salficky was yanked after conceding two goals on seven shots. Mensator made 25 saves in relief, but Karlovy Vary had a tough time beating Michal Valent in the Mlada net. Tomáš Sykora scored mid way through the first to make it 2-1, but Mlada scored twice more before the break, as Andrej Podkonicky and Tomáš Jiránek scored, and Jaroslav Balaštík had two assists to give Mlada Boleslav a huge three points, and perhaps reignite their playoff challenge.

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