Sunday, 12 February 2012

Slovakia victorious in the BelSwissBank Cup

Team Slovakia won both games in Minsk.
Team Slovakia put in two solid performances to win the BelSwissBank Cup. The Slovaks defeated Switzerland in the opening game of the tournament, scoring three third period goals to defeat the Swiss 3-1, before facing the home side Belarus in the final, where the Slovaks dominated the game from start to finish, winning 5-1.

The national side, who won the Deutschland Cup before Christmas continued their run of good form under new coach Vladimír Vůjtek, and their defensive play has been most impressive since the changing of the guard after Glen Hanlon's firing. The Slovakian national side needs any success it can get at the moment after the horror show that was the 2011 World Championships, and with Slovakia's current ranking putting into jepoardy their chance of automatically qualifying for the 2014 Olympics, any form of forward momentum would be greatly welcomed within the Slovakia set up.

Speaking with (link) after the game, Vůjtek sounded surprised at how the Belarussians folded in the first period.

"The match with Belarus was easier than we expected. In eight minutes we managed to put three goals past them, and then we just had to control the game."

"Against Belarus we were more relaxed than against Switzerland."

Two goal hero Juraj Mikúš celebrates
The opening game of the tournament was the definition of a slow burner, and although both teams had a fair number of chances in the opening half of the game, neither team managed to break the deadlock. Eventually Switzerland would take the league, as a Damien Brunner shot eluded the grasp of Peter Hamerlík, who was tending goal for the national side. Both teams only had 24 shots on goal, but that was the only time that Hamerlik was going to be beaten, and as the third period progressed, Slovakia started to take the upper hand, and they finally equalised with under five minutes to go, as Juraj Mikúš - recently loaned out to SM-Liiga side TPS from Lev - fired home to tie the game up. 29 seconds later, the Slovaks had taken the lead, as another Lev forward, Rastislav Špirko fired in from close range, beating former NHLer Tobias Stephan in the Swiss goal. Mikúš would get a second goal as the Swiss went with the extra attacker, meaning that the score ended 3-1 to Slovakia, with Mikúš scoring two, and surprise call up Michel Miklik, from HC Košice, added two assists. Belarus, who had shut out Germany in the day's later game would be Slovakia's opponents in the final.

Kristian Kudroc hammers
 Konstantin Koltsov
After flattering to deceive in the opening half of the game against Switzerland, the Slovaks clearly got the message against Belarus. Only 23 seconds had elapsed before Vladimir Dravecky fired home from close range to give the road team the lead. It took Slovakia a little over six minutes to double their advantage, as Juraj Mikúš bagged his third goal of the tournament in the 7th minute, tapping a juicy rebound off of Andrei Mezin's pads into the gaping net. 22 seconds later, and the Slovaks were three to the good, as Vladimir Mihalik's cross crease pass from the left wing fell perfectly onto the tape of Adam Lapšanský, and the young Sparta Praha forward made no mistake in burying the puck past Mezin. The Slovaks, who went with Július Hudáček in the net for the final seemed to switch off after the third goal, and the Belarussians beat Hudáček for the only time in the 8th minute, as Aleksandr Kitarov scored. Hudáček made 30 saves in Saturday's game, showing that he has no problem in translating his blistering Allsvenskan form into international play. Hudáček was called into making a number of saves early in the second, and against the run of play, Slovakia got their fourth, as Kristian Kudroc's point shot eluded Mezin and wound up in the back of the net. The scoring was closed out by Marcel Haščák, as the HC Košice sniped a wrist shot from the left circle into the top corner, capping off a brilliant game by the Slovaks, who take home the BelSwissBank Cup.

Juraj Mikúš led the way for the Slovaks, scoring three goals and one assist in the tournament, whilst Michel Miklik, renowned for his goal scoring touch in the Slovak Extraliga, showed an extra dimension to his game, picking up three assists in the two games. Considering some of the absences from the squad, including SM-Liiga forward Tomáš Záborský, who once again pulled out after being selected, the Slovaks should be pleased from their showing, especially with some of their depth players who weren't expected to contribute, although they're might be a few worries about the performance of the top line, as Vladimir Dravecký, Roman Kukumberg, and Štefan Ružička combined for just one goal. All in all though, I imagine the SZLH is very happy with the job that Vladimir Vůjtek has done so far, although the big test comes in a couple of months, when Vůjtek takes his Slovakia side to the World Championships, where the Slovaks will hope they can recreate the magic of 2002.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Round 46: As you were at the top.

Also posted at

Friday night in the Extraliga saw few surprises, as both Sparta Praha and HC Plzeň won, defeating HC Mountfield and Slavia Praha respectively. Going into the final few gamedays before the playoffs, Sparta have an almost unassailable seven point lead at the top of the Extraliga standings, and will, barring a drastic turn in form, head into the playoffs as the number one seed. 

Sparta Praha 4 - 2 HC Mountfield
Troy Milam celebrating his goal for Sparta
Photo: Jan Benes
Sparta put in another accomplished home performance at the Tipsport Arena to give their fans more to cheer. Only 5554 were in attendance, which is a surprisingly low number considering the success of the Holešovice side, but the fans that did make it were treated to a good game between two of the best teams in the league. Sparta opened the scoring in the 17th minute, as French forward Sacha Treille pounced on a terrible defensive giveaway to score. Little over a minute later though, Mountfield had equalised as Jiří Šimánek benefited from some sloppy Sparta play, faking out Tomáš Pöpperle and scoring on his forehand. The second period saw only one goal, and it was Sparta who got the goal, as Slovak defenceman Michal Sersen fired a slapshot from a tight angle which Jakub Kovář should have done better with. It was unfortunate for Kovář, who was Mountfield's best player as he kept them in the game, making 40 saves in all, but he couldn't stop Sersen's shot. Sparta pulled away in the third period, as Petr Ton and Troy Milam scored in the first seven minutes of the final frame to take the game away from Mountfield. Tomáš Mertl scored a consolation goal with little over three minutes to go in the third, but it wasn't enough for Mountfield to get back in the game, and they trudged back to České Budějovice with no points from their trip to Prague.

Plzeň 5 - 2 Slavia Praha
Adam Svoboda playing the puck
Photo: Milan Podpera
In the nights televised game, it was second placed Plzeň who kept up the pressure on Slavia, as they ran out 5-2 winners. Slavia made it tough for the Indians in the first two periods, as the score was 1-1 going into the final period as Jan Alinc cancelled out Martin Straka's goal in the second period to send the teams into the break deadlocked. However, Plzeň exploded in the third, firing four goals into Slavia's net. The first of these came three minutes in, as Martin Straka fired a one timer from a tight angle past the flying glove of Dominik Furch to give Plzeň the lead. Straka was a dominant force for Plzeň, showing that his old age isn't catching up to him yet, as he assisted on Plzeň's third and fourth goals, scored by defencemen Jiří Marušák and Jaroslav Modry. Slavia's second goal came sandwiched between these in the 54th minute, as Michal Vondrka scored. Plzeň scored an empty net goal courtesy of Nicholas Johnson to seal the points. Eurohockey player of the month nominee Radek Duda was surprisingly kept off of the scoresheet.

Pardubice 5 - 1 Kometa Brno
Pardubice kept up the height on the top two with a solid victory on home ice against an inconsistent Kometa side. Pardubice controlled the game from the early going, however, they had lady luck on their side for their first goal, as Jan Kolář's centering pass took an unfortunate bounce and trickled through unwitting Finnish goalie Sasu Hovi's five hole. Pardubice doubled their advantage before the end of the first period, as Lukáš Radil tipped Vaclav Kočí's point shot past Hovi. Kometa couldn't get a break, and in the second period they were once again undone by bad fortune, as Jan Buchtele's goal came courtesy of a lucky deflection off of Hovi and his defenceman. Kometa finally got on the board in the 47th minute as Leoš Čermák beat Dušan Salfický from a tight angle, showing that hard work near the net pays off, but that was all that the travelling Kometa support would get to cheer, as Pardubice scored twice in the remaining minutes, as Pardubice's other Jan Kolář, and Aleš Píša scored to give Pardubice the comfortable three points. 

Liberec 4 - 1 Zlín
Liberec strengthened their grip on fifth place with a solid home win against fellow playoff contenders Zlín. The white tigers scored twice in the opening two periods to seal the three points, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission through goals by Jaroslav Kudrna and Petr Nedvěd. Liberec were 3-0 up just over a minute into the third as Tomáš Urban fired home, but Zlin started to show some fight, and finally got the goal that they deserved at the halfway mark, as Bedřich Köhler beat Marek Pinc in the Liberec goal for the only time on the night. Liberec got their fourth and final goal under a minute later though, killing any of Zlin's momentum as Tomáš Klimenta got a goal to go with his two assists to give the forward a three point night.

Kladno 4 - 3 Třinec (Shootout)
A thriller in Kladno saw the home side come away with a vital two points in their quest to avoid the relegation places. Kladno came from behind twice in the game to send it to a shootout. Martin Látal scored the game tying goal with a little over five minutes left in the third period, and this seemed to give Kladno the confidence they needed, and an accomplished performance by Jan Chábera in the Kladno goal gave them the victory, the Czech shot-stopper making 40 saves. Canadian defenceman Jason Lepine scored the shootout winner.

Litvinov 2 - 3 Mlada Boleslav (Shootout)
The bottom of the table clash went to a shootout as well, and it was the last placed team, Mlada Boleslav who came away with two points in a rather dull game. It started so well, as Juraj Majdan and Roman Tomas scored in the opening three minutes to leave the score at 1-1, but it was a long wait until the 55th minute for the games next goal, as Martin Frolik scored with 54 minutes on the clock to give Litvinov the lead. However, Mlada Boleslav managed to reply in under 90 seconds, and Roman Tomas scored his second of the night for Mlada to tie the game up and send it to a shootout. David Vrbata scored the winning penalty shot for Mlada Boleslav, who now sit just one point behind Karlovy Vary.