MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 2: Slovakia's Erik Cernak #14 looks for a pass with Czech Republicâ€™s Dominik Kubalik #18 chasing during quarterfinal round action at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Bokros’s boys seek first Slovak medal since ‘99
Slovakia beat the Czech Republic 3-0 on Friday to make the semi-finals for the first time in six years. Michal Kabac scored the winner in the first period.
With 1:10 left in the first, Kabac cut in and released a close-in backhand that fluttered up in the air, landed behind Czech goalie Miroslav Svoboda, and bounced in. Czech forward David Pastrnak tried to scoop it out of harm’s way, but video review showed that it was a good goal.
Peter Cehlarik and Martin Reway had the other goals for Slovakia, which will face the winner of Canada-Denmark in the semi-finals.
"We prepared really well," said Slovak head coach Ernest Bokros. "I watched all four games the Czech team played here. We prepared really well for this, because as I've said before, [for us], this is like Canada playing the U.S."
The Slovak quarter-final victory ended their overall seven-game losing streak against the Czechs at the World Juniors. Meanwhile, the Czechs will go home without a medal, as they've done every year since 2005's bronze.
"It’s always a tough tournament for us," said Czech assistant coach Pavel Trnka. "We didn’t start well at all, and we got through against Russia in the last game, which was a big one for us. The guys got confidence, which was great. But today, the Slovaks wanted it more."
It is the first time in four World Juniors under Bokros that Slovakia has made the final four. Now the goal is to win their first medal at this tournament since taking the bronze in Winnipeg 1999.
The last time Slovakia made the semi-finals was after a stunning 5-3 upset of the Americans in Ottawa 2009.
"The last time the guys did it, it was Tomas Tatar and Richard Panik," said Reway, the Slovak captain. "It’s a very good feeling for all of us, and I think everybody in Slovakia is proud of us. I’m pretty sure they watched the game tonight."
This proved to be a relatively tight-checking affair, as is the norm between these two brotherly rivals. The Czechs, who had averaged three goals per game in group play, couldn't put the puck in the net when it counted most.
Netminder Denis Godla, who has appeared in every game for Slovakia, shone again with his first shutout. Svoboda, who made his tournament debut with a 4-1 win over Russia to close out the round-robin, played in his second straight game. Shots on goal favoured Slovakia 36-34.
"It feels really great," said Godla. "I got big help from the defencemen. We believed from the beginning we were going to win."
Slovakia had the better chances in the opening stanza and deserved the lead.
With just over six minutes left in the first period, the Slovaks momentarily thought they’d opened the scoring when Cehlarik cruised into the slot and caught Svoboda moving right to left. His shot dinged off the post and the goalie’s leg, but Svoboda reached back just in time to grab the puck before it crossed the line.
About a minute later, Svoboda made another fine stop when Christian Jaros swooped into the slot after beating three Czech defenders and sent a quick, low shot on net.
Already trailing 1-0 in the second period, the Czechs would face more frustration.
Two and a half minutes in, Ondrej Kase had a golden opportunity to tie it for the Czechs when defenceman David Nemecek fell down, giving him a breakaway. But as Godla went down, Kase’s high backhand rang off the goalie’s right post.
Around the 13-minute mark, Pastrnak sent a sweet cross-ice pass to a wide-open Patrik Zdrahal, but he put the puck wide of the Slovak net. And Godla came out to foil Jakub Vrana with a sprawling pokecheck just before the end of the middle frame.
"I had a cool head," said Godla. "I saw the guy had a little bit of a disadvantage, and that’s why I went for the puck."
Slovakia took five minor penalties to two for the Czechs, but the Czech power play was consistently ineffective.
With 5:42 remaining in the third period, Cehlarik put the game away for the Slovaks with his second goal of the tournament. Standing in front of the net, he got three cracks at it before it trickled in behind Svoboda.
The Czechs called their timeout with 1:36 left, but no amount of strategizing was going to bridge that two-goal deficit. Pulling Svoboda for a sixth skater, they mustered the barest minimum of pressure, and then Reway scored into the empty net seconds before the buzzer.
"I look like a specialist on empty net goals," Reway joked. "I’m happy that the coach believes in me for the last minutes, the crucial moments of the game."