International Ice Hockey Federation

Battle for the bronze

Battle for the bronze

Something to play for

Published 17.05.2015 14:44 GMT+2 | Author John Sanful
Battle for the bronze
MINSK, BELARUS - MAY 22: Czech Republic's Alexander Salak #53 reaches to stop a shot from USA's Johnny Gaudreau #53 during quarterfinal round action at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
After tough semi-finals losses, the Czech Republic and Team USA will face each other with a chance to win bronze.

Bronze medal games are not easy games to play. On one hand, you can salvage an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship tournament with something to show for your effort when you win. But when you lose, fourth place is not an easy position because you don’t go home with a prize around your neck.

The Czech Republic and United States find themselves in this position heading into the afternoon tilt at O2 Arena in Prague.

The Czech Republic lands in this position after a difficult yet respectable 2-0 loss to Canada. The Unites States saw a fine 40 plus minutes of hockey against Russia dissolve into a 4-0 loss.

The Americans have played one of their better tournaments in recent memory. They won Group B in the Preliminary Round, thanks to six wins, including one in overtime that saw them beat 2014 World Championship finalists Russia and Finland. Indeed, they beat both national teams in winning the group.

Brock Nelson continues to lead the Americans in goal scoring. He’s put together two consecutive performances as a member of the U.S. national team. Brock should be in serious consideration for the American World Cup team in 2016 and possibly the 2018 Winter Olympic team should there be NHL participation.

The college kids are all right. In the semi-final game against Russia, NCAA skaters generated 14 of the 35 shots on goal. Jack Eichel has led the way and is clearly headed towards a future in the NHL. The same can be said for Dylan Larkin and, possibly, Jimmy Vesey.

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On defence, the Americans have had a decent corps. Torey Krug led all blueliners in scoring with five points. Seth Jones is not far behind with four. Beyond points, some players have simply stood out. Soon-to-be NHL free agent Mike Reilly was solid and made smart decisions and the ability to carry the puck.

Connor Hellebuyck has been integral to Team USA’s success. Despite the 4-0 score, Hellebuyck was in fine form against Russia. That he gave up third period goals to the Russians does not discount from the fact that he was a wall over the first two plus periods. If the Americans were able to capitalize on their chances, Hellebuyck might have been playing with a lead and the outcome different.

For the Czechs, Ondrej Pavelec was admirable in his team’s 2-0 loss to Canada. Coming into the game, Canada averaged almost eight goals a game. In their first match against the Czech Republic, Canada won 6-3. Pavelec made 32 saves on 38 shots. In the semi-final, Pavelec stopped 39 of 41 shots. He was singlehandedly the reason the Czechs were in the game until the end.

Carolina Hurricanes defenceman, Michal Jordan has logged minutes key minutes for the Czech Republic. Jordan has average almost 17 minutes per game. Jordan also has a goal and assist. Jakub Nakladal leads all defencemen in time on ice with over 21 minutes per game. Nakladal has also contributed five assists in nine games. The Czech Republic’s most productive defenceman has been Ondrej Nemec, who has three goals and three assists in nine games. Nemec is also +6.

The Czech Republic has the third-ranked power play in the tournament. A disciplined Canadian team did not give the Czechs much of a chance to get that aspect of their game going in the semi-final.

Jakub Voracek is capping his fine season with a strong World Championship. Not only did Voracek lead the Philadelphia Flyers in scoring, he’s doing the same for the Czech national team.

What else can you say about Jaromir Jagr? He’s been the inspirational leader for the Czechs on and off the ice. He’s also been their leading goal scorer with six, including two game winners. Jagr has gone from young phenom to elder statesman and the international hockey community has watched him grow and flourish. The Czechs are hoping he has another strong effort in his today that will carry the nation and hockey team to gold.

In one area the Czechs have an overwhelming advantage over the Americans. Spectators at O2 Arena have been the sixth man, if you will, in creating an environment that motivates their team. The packed arena and the noise at the venue has made every game a home game for the Czech side. The Americans will have to deal with that today.


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