You couldn’t have matched two teams seemingly headed more irrevocably in opposite directions. Yet, for the first time in U20 history, Germany beat the Czechs.
In ten previous meetings, the Czechs had outscored Germany 69-18 and won all ten games. Not today. Goalie Marvin Cupper stopped all 40 shots and forward Frederik Tiffels had two goals and an assist.
"The shutout speaks for the team," Cüpper said. "It was a huge team effort."
Ironically, the tandem of Tiffels and Czech-born Dominik Kahun (who assisted on one Tiffels goal and converted a Tiffels pass for another) was born of bad luck more than plan. "I haven't played with Dominik before," Tiffels explained, "because he played with Leon Draisaitl. Leon was suspended for today's game, so I played with him. We played in the junior leagues in Germany, though, so we knew each other a little bit."
The Czechs were coming off their first ever win against Canada in two decades while the Germans were reeling from a triple whammy of losing badly to the United States, 8-0, losing their captain to suspension, and playing with only 17 skaters because of injury for the second straight game.
The win vaults Germany into fourth place of Group A with three points whle the Czechs are in last with two. Germany, though, has played all its games and must now wait for the result of tomorrow's Slovakia-Czech Republic game. A Slovakia win would send the Czechs to the relegation round while a win would send the Germans there.
German coach Ernst Höfner had preached discipline to his team before the bad loss to the U.S. in which the team allowed six power-play goals, but today the players got the message loud and clear.
"For starters, we tried to skate a lot more today than we did yesterday, which helped a lot," Cüpper noted.
"The U.S. is a little better than the Czech Republic, but we skated better and followed the coah's plan better today as well," Tiffels added.
A nervous and close-checking first period saw the Germans score the only goal. Kahun made a nice little pass to Tiffels at the side of the Czech goal, and Tiffels lifted the puck in the short side past a surprised Marek Langhamer.
The Germans outshot their opponents 14-8 and also had the only two power-play chances of the period. Despite playing with two fewer skaters in the line-up (Michal Plutner was serving a suspension of his own), they certainly looked like the more desperate and hungry team. As they headed to their dressing room after 20 minutes, the largely Canadian crowd (waiting for the Canada-Slovakia game later today) gave them a loud ovation for an impressive effort.
"We were really motivated and had a good first period," Cüpper enthused. "We worked hard as a team."
The Germans had a great opportunity to increase their lead early in the second period when they had a 5-on-3 for 1:19, but inaccurate passing prevented them from getting any decent, clear shots on Langhamer. The Czechs took two similar interference penalties in the centre-ice area just 41 seconds apart to create the two-man advantage.
As the crowd started chanting, “Let’s go, Germany!” the Germans turned it on. The same combination that scored the first goal worked together on the second. This time it was a great play by Tiffels to knock the puck free from Czech defender Libor Sulak and then fire a quick pass to Kahun in front. He drilled a great wrist shot over Langhamer’s glove at 15:24 to make it 2-0.
Then Tiffels went to work on his own. Skating in over the blue line on a power play, he wristed a quick shot that fooled Langhamer to make it 3-0 with just over two minutes left in the period as the crowd roared its approval.
"I was just thinking to get a shot on goal," Tiffels said. "I don't often shoot from so far out, so it was just awesome when it went in."
"We feel like we're a team now," Tiffels added. "Everybody contributed today. Everyone blocked a shot or made a big hit."
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)