This was the championship match-up that seemed destined from the start of the tournament. The two teams met in last year’s final in Karlstad, Sweden, where the Americans came away with a 4-3 victory. This year, they matched each other, win for win, through the group stage. Then came the quarterfinals and semifinals, and finally, on Saturday night in Pardubice before a festive crowd of more than 6,000, they were facing each other with perfect 5-0 records. Only one of them would finish the tournament still perfect.
The teams were ready to play right from the opening face-off, and traded early chances. Petr Tenkrat set up Martin Koudelka nicely a minute in, but he deflected the puck wide and the Americans were quick on the counter-attack. They actually put the puck in the net, but the goal was disallowed because the net had moved out of position.
The Czechs knew it was important not to fall behind the Americans, who play very well with the lead, and desperately wanted to score the game’s first goal. In the early going, they were trying to work the puck into perfect shooting positions, but the Americans were breaking this down well. Finally, they changed strategy and started firing it on net. At 7:42, Martin Vozdecky walked in and fired a bullet between the legs of Troy Redmann to get that important first goal.
The US tried to tie the game before the end of the first quarter. The best chance belonged to Charles Yoder, who took a pass at the right post, but was in too close to get a good shot away. In the 14th minute, Vozdecky almost scored his second goal of the game when he took a nice pass from Broz, but Redmann came up big and stopped him in close.
A couple of minutes later, while on the power play, the Americans tied it. James Beilsten and Shawn Gawrys moved the puck well to Itan Chavira, whose quick shot beat Roman Handl.
After the American goal, the Czechs went back to the attack again and got several great chances. Sigmund was called for hooking in the 20th minute while trying to stop one attempt; a call that the Americans didn’t like, and they were more angry when the Czechs scored to take the lead back. Jiri Polansky’s pass attempt hit Jiri Besser’s skate and deflected into the net.
The Czech offensive didn’t let up after the goal, and Troy Redmann had to make several saves to keep the deficit to one, but he couldn’t hold the fort forever. On a three-on-one, Martin Koudelka and Tenkrat worked a give-and-go perfectly, with Koudelka finishing it off 49 seconds before halftime. The Czechs went into the break with a 3-1 lead.
Down by two goals, the Americans had to come out strong in the second half, and the Czechs knew that the defending champions would not go away quietly. The Americans had the Czechs back on their heels for much of the third quarter, and even controlled the puck through most of a Czech power play. Though the shots in the quarter were 9-7, the Americans had more chances to score, but missed the net a few times. Handl also had to be sharp on a few occasions. Finally, just seven seconds before the end of the quarter, Chavira scored his second power-play goal of the game with a perfect shot into the top corner. Beilsten picked up his second assist as well.
In the fourth quarter, the crowd at ČEZ Arena was noticeably more nervous with the one-goal lead than they were when up by two. And they became downright angry when Ladislav Vlcek was sent off for hooking a minute in, whistling loudly. The Americans were dangerous on the power play, with Handl turning back one shot after another. The crowd gasped on each shot, and then cheered loudly when the whistle came.
“The hardest part was killing penalties, where the United States managed to score twice,” said Handl, who was named the tournament`s top goaltender, of the dangerous American power-play. “There, we could have been broken down, but fortunately we managed to kill the other penalties and that was key to the win.”
“Roman Handl is a huge guy and it was hard to beat him. And I want to congratulate him on today`s performance.” said Charles Yoder, who was stymied by the Czech goaltender on a few occasions.
The Americans continued to attack after the penalty ended, but it left them vulnerable on the counter-attack as well, and the Czechs had some chances to extend their lead. Vozdecky and Tenkrat, the Czech team’s most dangerous duo, each had good opportunities that were thwarted by Redmann.
With exactly three minutes to play, the US comeback attempt was dealt a serious setback when Tyler Walser was called for hooking. Karel Rachunek nearly scored with the man advantage, but Redmann managed to gather it in. When the penalty ended with 90 seconds to play, the Americans made one final push for the equalizer.
On one rush dangerous rush, the tournament`s top forward, Jose Cadiz Jr, was hooked down by Tomas Mojzis as he was cutting toward the goal, which drew a penalty with 54 seconds to play, setting the stage for a wild finish.
On the power play, the Americans seemed to be trying to tee up a shot from Chavira, their offensive weapon, but the Czechs played the triangle well, and didn’t allow the slot to be penetrated. All shot attempts were either blocked or stopped by Handl without much problem. In the dying seconds, the crowd became louder, and as the Americans lost possession of the puck and it squirted out toward centre, they erupted and the Czech players poured off the bench to celebrate their first-ever world inline hockey championship.
“It was a great game and both teams wanted to win,” said US captain Charles Yoder after it was over. “We are a bit disappointed, but it was a tough game and we have to work much harder for next year to win gold.” In assessing the performance of the Czech team, he added, “The Czechs play as physically as on the ice, but it was okay for me.”
“I was a bit worried if we could match the US players in skating,” said Handl. “In the end, we did fine and perhaps were even better than Americans.”