Czech-ed in for Kamloops
Czech-ed in for Kamloops
Women’s team back among elite nations in Kamloops
After four wins in the first four rounds it has already won the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Rouen, France, before the fifth and last game day.
One year ago when the Division I was played for the first time during an Olympic season, the Czech won too but because there was no top division in the Women’s Worlds in the Olympic year, the Czechs had to play a qualification series against the last-ranked team of the Olympic Winter Games. They lost it against Japan.
This time everything is back to normal and the Czechs will be promoted directly to the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, Canada, and replace Germany, which was relegated at the recent Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden.
In a Division I Group A tournament with competitive teams and narrow gaps between most of the participants the Czechs were still a class of their own. They have already played in the top division of the U18 Women’s World Championship for eight consecutive years since the creation of the category and the good work with the youth is more and more yielding to fruits also in the senior selection.
“We want to play offensive hockey, shoot a lot, have pressure on the opponent’s net. We worked on that during the whole year and I think it paid off here even though we scored relatively few goals,” Czech women’s national team head coach Jiri Vozak said.
“I think we belong to the top division. Last year we managed to win without losing a point. The style of hockey in the top division will be completely different. We have to adapt to it and prepare for it.”
An easy 5-1 opening-day win over recently promoted Latvia was followed by a 4-0 blanking of France thanks to four second-period markers. After a day off the Czechs continued with a 4-1 victory against Austria and blanked Denmark 3-0.
The game between the top-seeded teams today, the Czech Republic and Norway, will have no influence on the top-two positions anymore because the Norwegians with a 1-1-0-2 record after four games were not able to confirm the performance of the last few years.
The Czechs had several multiple-goal scorers who have the experience of playing against top nations from the U18 program such as Alena Polenska (24, 4+3), Katerina Mrazova (22, 2+4) and Denisa Krizova (20, 3+2). All of them play abroad, Polenska, who has been the national team’s captain since the age of 18, as a professional player in Russia and the other two for colleges in the NCAA.
The Czechs had more shots and goals than anybody else, and less shots and goals against their own net than any other team, the best power play and no goals conceded on the box play.
Klara Peslarova (18), who played all four games in the Czech net but will make place for backup Blanka Skodova in the last game today, has statistically been by far the best goalkeeper of the event with a save percentage of 95.35%. Also she plays professionally in Russia. Only one other goalie, France’s Caroline Baldin, was over the 90 per cent mark after four games.
Peslarova is looking forward to competing with the top nations in Kamloops next year.
“Many players from our team, including me, haven’t played in the top division of the Women’s World Championship yet. It will be a new experience,” she said. “I think there is a big difference (between the top division and the Division I Group A). There are Canada, USA, Sweden, Russia... We can play even games with them but still the hockey will be completely different.”
Also silver medallist Austria can end the tournament with a smile as they have secured second place before the last game against Latvia. Last year the red-and-white team was only fifth. This year’s second-place finish in the Division I and 10th overall in the program has been the best result ever since entering the Women’s World Championship in 2004.
Austria had a strong start with wins over higher-ranked Denmark (8-2) and Norway (5-2) before losing 4-1 to the Czechs. On Thursday they confirmed the silver-medal position with a 3-2 win over France. The Austrians shone through firepower and scoring efficiency. Veteran forwards Denise Altmann (2+6) and Eva Beiter (nee Schwarzler, 6+1) have been the tournaments scoring leader and top goal scorer respectively after four games.
“It is our first medal in this group. One can see how enormously we have developed as a group especially during the last year,” Altmann said.
Today still three teams are involved in the bronze medal race – Denmark, Norway and France. Winless Latvia is relegated back to the Division I Group B. All games can be followed on the live stream.
Although not over yet, the tournament has been a success for the women’s hockey movement in Rouen and in France. The arena of multiple French champion Rouen Dragons was packed for French games and even for some games without the host nation. 1,789 hockey fans were in attendance when the Czechs beat Denmark on Thursday.
Next year in Kamloops the top-four teams will play in the “upper” of the two tiered groups: USA, Canada, Finland and Russia. Group B will consist of Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and the Czech Republic.
After the preliminary round the top-two teams of Group A will be directly qualified for the semi-finals while the bottom ranked teams of Group A will play a quarter-final against the best two teams from Group B. The bottom two teams from Group B will play a best-of-three relegation series.
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