NIAGARA – Before today’s game Germany had never beaten the Czech Republic at the U20-level. In a must-win game in order to avoid relegation, Germany came very close to upset the Czechs but found themselves on the losing end of a close game. Two third-period goals by Ondrej Palat turned a 2-1 deficit into 3-2 Czech victory.
"The atmosphere in the dresing room right now is not really one of happiness but sheer relief," Palat said. "Now we know we cannot be relegated. We were very nervous out there. Both players and staff on the bench were very tense today."
The stakes were clear for Germany. A victory would mean the Germans would have destiny in its own hands whereas a loss would mean being relegated back to Division I once again.
The fans in the Dwyer Arena in Niagara were treated to typical relegation round game. Fast end-to-end but not always technically sound hockey. They had to wait nearly 23 minutes before Norman Hauners saw his tight angled shot deflecting into the Czech net to give Germany a surprising lead.
The goal brought some life into the Czechs who couldn’t create much offence up to that point. They started to pressure the German net with more poise and eventually were rewarded when Michal Hlinka one-timed a shot home from the right side to make it 1-1.
German Mirko Hofflin squandered a clear breakaway opportunity when he was thwarted by Filip Novotny early in the third period. But the Czech netminder turned from hero to scapegoat when he gave away a cheap rebound on a weak shot by Bernhard Keil. Marius Mochel was at the right place to muscle in the rebound to electrify the German bench.
The joy was short-lived though as the Czechs managed to tie the game for a second time. Ondrej Palat poked the puck in from close range after Roman Horak had rounded the net of Philipp Grubauer.
With time running out, both teams no longer focused on defence but tried to grab the win in regulation time to get the extra point. Oldrich Horak thought he accomplished just that for the Czechs with under two minutes to go but his effort rang off the iron.
Nevertheless the Czechs celebrated in the end when Palat became Germany’s villain of the day being at the end of a beautifully executed 2-on-1 together with Petr Straka. Grubauer stood no chance against the effort that saw Germany relegated to Division I.
Coach Ernst Hofer pulled his goaltender in a last-ditch effort to save his team from going down but the Czechs remained composed and brought home the narrow victory.
Both teams now have a day off before closing their 2011 World U20 Championships campaign on Tuesday. Germany will face winless Norway and the Czech Republic and Slovakia will decide on which of the two neighbouring countries will finish seventh.
"Those who have seen our games against Switzerland, Slovakia and today against the Czech Republic, saw that we could have beaten all of them," offered Marius Mochel. "We are closing the gap on the top countries."
Slovakia vs. Norway 5-0
NIAGARA – Once again Norway’s spot in the Top Division of the World U20 Championship has been limited to just one year. In the first game of the Relegation Round, Slovakia took a big step towards securing a spot for next year’s tournament in Calgary and Edmonton with a 5-0 win.
The difference maker in the game was Slovakia’s Richard Panik, who scored four goals and added one helper for five points. The Slovak forward struck twice on the power play in the first period to have his team take a commanding lead that was comfortable enough to sit on for the remainder of the game.
"I really wanted to win this game and I'm glad we did, and I now hope the Czechs can beat Germany so we will stay in this division," Panik said. "We now also want to beat the Czechs, who are our rivals. It will be a tough game, but I hope we can take take revenge for last year."
The game came to life after eight minutes in the first period when three minor penalties in short succession resulted in acres of open space on the ice at Dwyer Arena. Miroslav Preissinger sent a perfect cross-ice pass to Richard Panik, who could easily direct it into the empty net to give Slovakia a deserved lead.
Thirty eight seconds later Slovakia’s power play clicked again. From close range, Panik scored his second of the game and fourth of the tournament; 2-0.
The two-goal cushion was just what a shaky Slovak team needed. Norway worked hard as usual in order to cut the lead, but Juraj Holly stood tall in net, stopping all 37 shots he faced and earning his first shutout of the tournament.
But Richard Panik wasn’t done scoring. After picking up an assist on Slovakia’s third goal by Juraj Majdan he scored two empty netters. Norway coach Geir Hoff gambled by taking of his goaltender during a Norwegian power play and it backfired twice.
His four goals mean a new Slovak record for goals scored in a single game and ties Brayden Schenn’s performance earlier this tournament (also against Norway).
"I was surprised the Norwegian coach pulled their goalie, but they were down 3-0, so it was a good decision," Panik said. "I did notice it immediately that I had an empty net to shoot at when I received the puck to make it 4-0."
Slovakia now has five points from two games and temporarily takes over possession of first place in the relegation round standings. The Slovaks have never been relegated since making it to the Top Division back in 1996 and will extend their stay if the Czechs can get an expected win against Germany later today.
The loss against Slovakia means the losing streak for Norway continues. It dates back to 1991 and currently stretches 18 straight losses at the top U20 level. Their next opportunity will come on Tuesday when the Norwegians will conclude the tournament with a game against Germany.
"We obviously are not good enough. We need to work on our physical condition and goal scoring, because that's been terrible, just four goals scored," Norway's Sondre Olsen said.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)