REGINA – A four-goal first-period outburst lifted Sweden to a 10-1 thrashing of the Czech Republic in the opening game of the 2010 IIHF World U20 Championship.
The Group B tilt, played in front of 5,191 fans at the Brandt Centre, had considerably less intrigue than a thriller by Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell, but it unmistakably validated Sweden as a championship contender. And talk about a balanced attack: 14 different Swedish players recorded at least one point.
Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson led the way with a goal and four assists, while Andre Petersson, Tim Erixon, and Anton Rodin added a goal and two assists apiece. Anton Lander tallied twice, and Mattias Tedenby, Carl Klingberg, Jacob Silfverberg, and Adam Larsson also scored for Sweden.
"We're really thrilled to win 10-1, obviously," said Pääjärvi-Svensson. "We played some good hockey in the first and third. Our second wasn't that good, but we had good puck control."
Jan Kana replied for the Czech Republic, which dressed just 17 skaters and was clearly outmatched.
Sweden's Jacob Markström, who earned Best Goalie honours at last year's tournament in Ottawa, faced 21 shots in the win. His teammates fired 46 shots at hapless Czech starter Jakub Sedlacek and his eventual replacement, Pavel Francouz.
The best Czech chance in the early going went to Tomas Knotek, who stole the puck in the neutral zone for a breakaway but fired wide. Later, Jan Kana dinged one off the post. But close wasn't going to cut it against the powerful Tre Kronor squad, seeking gold this year after settling for silver in 2008 and 2009.
At 7:42, Petersson opened the scoring for the Swedes, cutting down the left side past the Czech defence before tucking a forehand past Sedlacek.
The Swedes jumped into a 2-0 lead at 15:20, as Oliver Ekman-Larsson pinched in smartly to feed Rodin at the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Just over two minutes later, they made it 3-0 when Tedenby jammed the puck in during a goal-mouth scramble.
Sweden went up by four goals in the final minute of the first when Anton Lander converted a sweet cross-ice pass from Petersson, falling to his knees as he did so. That was the end of Sedlacek, as Czech coach Jaromir Sindel yanked him in favour of Francouz.
"It was very difficult to play after the first period," said Sindel. "Sweden led 4-0 because it’s a very strong team with high-quality players. We had an unlucky beginning, and Sweden was so much better on the offence. I'm sad about the score because we expected a better game from our side."
Tre Kronor continued to pour it on in the second period. At 2:34, Pääjärvi-Svensson hammered a power-play one-timer through Francouz's legs.
The Czechs finally got on the board at 5:01 with some good puck movement on the man advantage, Kana doing the damage. But the Swedes replied 21 seconds later, as Klingberg scored with a quick shot off a faceoff in the Czech end. As the period wore on, Sweden's superior puck possession and physical game took a toll on its opponents, who couldn't sustain the pace.
"I think we played a decent game, but we can do a lot better," said Erixon. "We made a few defensive mistakes. And I like the smaller rink, but it takes some getting used to."
Erixon increased the gap to 7-1 with a power-play drive 51 seconds into the third, and Lander made it 8-1 at the three-minute mark. Silfverberg capitalized on a Rodin set-up at 11:21. Adam Larsson, Sweden's 17-year-old blueline phenom, scored his first-ever World Junior goal on the power play to complete the slaughter.
"The whole team can be happy with the victory,"said Petersson. "We played our game. It wasn’t that easy from the start, but after the second period we were clearly the better team on the ice. I’m pretty happy with my game too."
This was Sweden's fifth straight victory over the Czechs at this level. The last time the Czech Republic beat Sweden in World Junior hockey was a 3-1 decision on December 31, 2003 in Halifax. The Czechs haven't medaled since 2005's bronze.
“We've got a new game tomorrow against Finland, and we need a win,” Kana said resignedly. “We didn't play well today. We need to take more shots. The coach told us to forget about this one and move on.”
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com)