The Czech Republic is still seeking its first win at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Russia after losing its opening match to Sweden 4-1 on Boxing Day. The team narrowly avoided being shutout by the Swedes, who didn’t concede a goal until there were just six seconds left in the game. After conceding two goals in the first five minutes against Sweden, the Czechs hope to achieve a better start against Finland later tonight.
Last year in Alberta the Czechs finished in 5th place after losing 2-1 to Russia in the quarterfinals, and also suffered a 4-0 loss to Finland during round robin play. Tonight’s game is therefore an opportunity for the Czechs to seek a measure of revenge against the Finns and to put their loss to Sweden behind them. However just four players from last year’s team are this year’s roster: Defenseman David Musil, and Forwards Lukáš Sedlák, Dmitri Jaškin and Radek Fasca. With so much roster turnover, Musil, Sedlák, Jaškin and Fasca will have to lead the team through the nervous jitters some of the newer players will undoubtedly feel throughout the tournament.
The Czechs also have head coach Miroslav Přerost back behind the bench, and his experience previously coaching in the tournament will also be an asset that the Czechs will draw upon. He first started coaching under 19 teams in 2005-2006 in the Norwegian Hockey League and has been at the helm of the Czech Junior team every year since the 2008-2009 season. Unfortunately Přerost has yet to lead the Czechs to a medal in the tournament. The team finished in the Relegation round in both 2010 and 2011, and only advanced as far as the quarterfinals in 2009 during Přerost’s first season leading the under-20 Czech National team. The Czech Republic hopes that familiarity on the coaching staff will eventually lead to better results at the Juniors. The team last won the tournament in 2001 and its best finish since then was a third place finish in 2005.
In spite of this fact, the Czechs have shown recent improvement, with two players on the team drafted in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The Edmonton Oilers’ 2011 second round draft pick David Musil anchors the team’s defense along with U-18 team regular David Štencel. Musil is tall and can provide lockdown defense but he also is a threat on offense, as he has scored 15 points in 27 games this season for the Vancouver Giants. Štencel is small but he plays a steady, tough and reliable game on the blue line. Petr Šidlík and Tomáš Pavelka are younger prospects on this team that the Czechs are optimistic will have an impact during the tournament. Both players currently play in the QMJHL and are ranked highly amongst defensemen in that league.
Radek Fasca leads the Czech forwards into action alongside Tomáš Hertl, Detroit Red Wings prospect Martin Frk and St. Louis Blues prospect Dmitri Jaškin. Fasca had only two goals in last year’s tournament, and he’s not having the best season in Kitchener but he is nevertheless an offensive threat. If he finds his stride in this year’s tournament he will cause problems for any team that the Czechs play. Hertl currently stands in second place in scoring in the Czech Extraliga and is having an outstanding season with Slavia Praha. Frk is third on his team in scoring while Jaškin has 50 points in just 31 games for the Moncton Wildcats.
The Czechs have the youngest team in the tournament and expect to see many of their young players drafted into the NHL in 2014. Even if the team falters from inexperience in this year’s tournament, Czech management feels that the team will be a definite threat in next year’s tournament, and in years to come. This optimistic outlook will be reinforced if the Czechs perform well during the rest of the tournament. However with a Finnish team featuring high-end NHL prospects Mikeal Granlund and Teemu Pulkkinen harboring memories of narrowly losing in a shootout to Sweden in last year’s Gold medal match next on the schedule, the road to junior gold doesn’t get any easier for the Czech Republic and the team must put its best foot forward in tonight’s game.
 This was its second consecutive World Junior title. The Czechs also won the tournament in the year 2000.
 Tomás Hertl, who was drafted by the San Jose Sharks and Radek Fasca, who was drafted by the Dallas Stars.
 Last year Musil played for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
 The Halifax Mooseheads