Czechs wanted more in 2004
Czechs wanted more in 2004
Recalling a dream that fell short for the hosts
It’s been nearly 11 years since the Central European hockey power hosted the tournament for the only previous time in its history as an independent nation. It was well-attended, with a then-record 552,097 fans packing the seats, but Czech supporters ultimately were shocked and disappointed with a fifth-place finish.
Let’s take a quick look back at what befell coach Slavomir Lener’s squad that year.
Heading into the 2004 IIHF showcase in Prague and Ostrava (the same two cities that will co-host in 2015), it seemed like the Czechs had good odds of ending the “home ice curse” that had endured since the Soviet Union’s 1986 gold medal in Moscow.
That season, a whopping 68 Czechs were playing in the NHL (compared to just 33 in 2013/14), and NHL attackers like Jaromir Jagr, Martin Havlat, Vinny Prospal and David Vyborny were willing and available to represent their country in their prime. The blue line looked stable and mobile with veterans such as Roman Hamrlik, Frantisek Kaberle, and Jaroslav Spacek. Number one goalie Tomas Vokoun was coming off a career-high 73 starts for the Nashville Predators.
On paper, defending champion Canada, 2003 silver medallist Sweden, and 2003 bronze medallist Slovakia looked best-poised to give the Czechs a fight. But there are always surprises at the Worlds in the new millennium.
How would things play out at the brand-new arena in Prague?
The Czechs were the class of the Preliminary Round, earning a 15-2 goal difference with three straight wins in Group A. They opened with a 3-1 victory over Latvia, and Lener complimented his players afterwards on their “enthusiasm and passion”. Martin Rucinsky led the way with a hat trick in a 7-0 pasting of Kazakhstan. And the Czechs outshot Germany 32-11 in a 5-1 win. “The Czech avalanche came over us and we couldn’t stop it,” said German head coach Hans Zach afterwards.Continue reading
The dominance continued in the Qualifying Round. Only Austrian goalie Reinhard Divis kept the score close as his team lost 2-0, with Jagr garnering a goal and an assist. Jagr also had the eventual winner in a tight-checking 3-1 win over Switzerland.
The highly anticipated group finale against Canada was all Czechs. After the 6-2 rout, Canadian coach Mike Babcock complimented his opponents: “The Czechs did a good job at controlling their emotions in this noisy arena.” Canada ran into penalty trouble trying to slow down their fired-up opponents. Now the Czechs looked unstoppable. The only downside was losing Spacek with a knee injury.
But it all fell apart in the quarter-finals. The Czechs perhaps thought they’d get an easy ride against the Americans, who had only been able to defeat Ukraine, an underachieving Russian team that would finish 10th overall, and the Danes. That was far from the case.
The Czech Republic jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second period on goals by Martin Skoula and Jagr. But just over four minutes after Jagr’s goal, Richard Park cut the deficit to 2-1. Erik Westrum got the equalizer with less than nine minutes to play in the third period.
Overtime settled nothing, and it came down to a shootout. In a classic goaltending duel between Vokoun and the U.S.’s Ty Conklin, only one goal was scored. American defenceman Andy Roach did the honours with a slick forehand-backhand-forehand move. When Jiri Dopita failed to convert on the Czechs’ final shot, the dream of home ice gold died, suddenly and shockingly.
American coach Peter Laviolette said: “Andy Roach played for us in the Deutschland Cup and my assistant coach (Greg Poss) said he had one unbelievable move that he did not use in the shootout at that tournament. So I basically took a chance here, and he delivered.”
The Czechs, who hadn’t won World Championship gold since their three-peat in Germany 2001, were disconsolate. They had to watch the same Canadian team that they’d dismantled in the Qualifying Round go on to win gold, beating Sweden in the final for the second straight year.
Only in 2005 would the Czechs earn revenge and vindication. Under new coach Vladimir Ruzicka, they blanked Canada 3-0 in the final, and there were plenty of happy Czech supporters on hand for the game in Vienna.
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