International Ice Hockey Federation

Host Czechs start with win

3rd-period comeback leads Czech women past Japan

Published 07.01.2017 20:00 GMT+1 | Author Derek O'Brien
Host Czechs start with win
PREROV, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 07: Czech Republic players celebrate at the bench after a first period goal against Japan during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
In front of an enthusiastic home crowd, the Czechs opened up Group B of the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship with a 3-2 victory over Japan.

They were led offensively in the see-saw affair by Natalie Mlynkova, who assisted on the team's first goal and scored the game-winner goal midway through the third period. Airi Sato figured in on both Japanese goals in the second period, scoring one and assisting on the other.

“It was definitely a tough game,” Czech head coach Jan Fidrmuc said afterward. “The Japanese girls played like a machine and had us under a lot of pressure in our zone. They out-shot us, which doesn't happen very often.”

Japan had a decisive edge in play in the first period, thanks in part to a pair of power plays, but Kristyna Blahova was perfect in goal. 

“From the moment I stepped on the ice and saw all the fans in the stands, I was petty pumped,” an excited and relieved Blahova said after the game. “The adrenalin rush you get from a packed arena is pretty awesome.”

After killing off their second penalty with a minute to go, the Czechs went to the attack. Following a face-off win in the attacking zone by Mlynkova, Magdalena Erbenova's wrister from the point squeezed through goalie Mei Sato's body and arm and dribbled across the goal line with 10 seconds showing on the clock.

“I think that the younger players were a bit nervous, since it was the first game they'd ever played in the World Championships ever played,” said Erbenova, who is a month away from her 17th birthday and playing in her second U18 World Championship. “Then we warmed up, though, and it was better.”

The Czechs were much better in the second period and attacked hard at the start. Martina Exnerova very nearly gave her team a two-goal lead when she received the pass right in front of a wide-open net, but Mei Sato slid across to make an amazing pad save. That immediately turned into a breakaway for Japan's Remi Koyama, but she was denied by the right pad of Blahova.

But like the Czechs in the first period, the Japanese were outplayed but capitalized on their chances. Midway through the period, Koyama used her speed to beat the Czech defence and, while she couldn't break totally free, managed to shovel a pass over to Airi Sato, who fired it home to tie the game.

In the last minute of the middle period the Japanese took their first and only lead of the game. Following a turnover in the Czech zone, the puck was moved to Hiraku Yamashita in the slot, who fired a perfect wrister high off the post and in.

“We made too many mistakes the whole game,” Fidrmuc figured. “We were definitely better in the second period but the Japanese played a simple, patient game and out-scored us 2-0.”

Undaunted, the Czechs went back to the attack at the start of the third period and produced a couple more goals to regain the lead. Two minutes in, Krystyna Kaltounkova led a rush down the right wing boards to get behind the defence, then cut in front and tucked it home to tie the score.

Just past the midway mark of the final frame, Barbora Machalova did some good work down low to win a battle for the puck, then fed Mlynkova in front for the quick wrister that beat Sato for the eventual game-winner.

The Japanese did try to push for the equalizer, but just couldn't get a bounce to fall their way, with a dangerous scramble in Blahova's crease with six minutes to go not crossing the line. 

“We still believed (after the second period) that we would win,” said Blahova, who did her part in aiding the comeback by stopping all 10 shots she faced in the third period, and 23 of 25 overall. “We supported each other in the locker room and fought hard on the ice.”

In the last two minutes Japan pulled Sato, who stopped 16 of 19 shots in the game. But it was to no avail, as the Czechs held on to win, pouring over the bench at the final horn to the wild approval of the Prerov faithful.

With three points, the Czechs will face Switzerland in Sunday's early game. Japan will look for its first win against Finland in the later game.