International Ice Hockey Federation

The future starts now

The future starts now

Czechs hope for more talent to come

Published 26.12.2013 18:42 GMT+1 | Author Joeri Loonen
The future starts now
Radek Faksa is one of the players from last year the Czechs rely on. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
The drought has continued for almost a decade. The Czech Republic hasn’t won a medal at the World U20 Championships since 2005.

And, the odds for this year’s tournament aren’t favourable. With no top end talent available, the Czechs are looking at the future.

The Czechs had a solid World Juniors last year in which they finished second in the group only to fall to eventual gold medal winners USA to finish fifth overall. The team boasted some elite talent that has already made their NHL debuts: Thomas Hertl, Dmitrij Jaskin, and junior sensation Martin Frk.

The class of 1993-born players boasted some fine individuals, a thing the 1994 class is lacking. Two years ago, this generation only managed to avoid relegation at the U18 World Championships played at home in Brno thanks to a 7-4 win over Latvia. That fact and being drawn in a group with reigning champions USA and Canada does not increase the Czechs’ rating at the bookmakers.

It makes the task for head coach Miroslav Prerost different than last year. Instead of building a system around star players to excel, the coach, who is entering his fourth consecutive year behind the Czech U20 bench, will have to put together a strong all-round team that gels and sticks to the plan.

“We don’t have the ability to select exquisite 1994-born talents in the Czech Republic. During our pre-season games in November we determined that some of the players we had called up are not of the standard required to play at the World Juniors. These players could not convince us differently,” Prerost admits.

An anxious thought given the fact that the tournament is set to start late December.

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“Last year the framework of the team was already set in stone early on which enabled us to clearly state our ambitions to reach the quarter-finals. This year we have to be more modest and we’ll be travelling to Malmö humbly. Canada has over 200 players to choose from; we only have 30 who are capable of playing here”, Prerost sighs. “Our goal is to make the quarter-final. Anything beyond that is a bonus.”

Prerost will mainly rely on Radek Faksa at center and Petr Sidlik on defense. For Faksa it will be his third consecutive U20 championship. Last year expectations were high for him, but his production fell short as he registered just a pair of assists. The Dallas Stars first-round pick is destined to make up for the lack of goal scoring this year.

His scoring punch will be needed. During the November training camp, the Czech Republic played three exhibition games against teams they had also faced in September. Although two months had past, the results did not change as they fell short against Sweden, Russia and Finland once again.

During those games defensive weaknesses showed and the players seemed to lack in fitness. It was a fact that bemused Prerost.

“Since our primary focus is to operate strongly as a team and show great character and spirit in Sweden, I had invited nine players who have been playing in North America this season. I believed these players possessed the qualities we’re looking for.”

After the six-day preparation camp in Rokycany, however, Prerost came to the conclusion that the performance of the domestic players was just as good, if not better. The fact that they could play against senior competition in the Czech Extraliga has clearly increased their development speed over their counter parts who are playing major junior hockey in Canada.

The increased involvement of junior players in the Extraliga is a direct result of the new structure the Czech Ice Hockey Federation (CSLH) and the clubs have agreed upon (read article here). The clubs are now forced to dress a minimum number of junior players each game which not only adds to the experience the young players gain but also aids the competitive element amongst junior players themselves fighting for this roster spot.

Prerost: “This ruling is only in effect since the start of the season, so immediate results can’t be expected of it. But we do foresee the level of our junior teams increase in the future because of it.”

The future is very much in the mind of the coach. Although the final roster isn’t fixed yet, it is possible that the Czech Republic will send one of its youngest ever U20-teams in history to Sweden. “

Amongst the 23-man roster are 17-year olds David Pastrnak and Jakub Vrana, while Pavel Zacha is just 16 years of age and already carrying the label of Czech Republic’s future star.

Pastrnak and Vrana decided not to move overseas but instead left for Sweden where both are now playing at the senior level.

The development of Pavel Zacha is perhaps even more noteworthy. Having been ahead of his peers throughout his junior career, Zacha has already put his name on the score sheet on both the Czech top and second tier league level this season while he also registered two assists in seven games for Bili Tygri Liberec’s European Trophy tournament.

These players will not likely lift the Czechs to great heights in Malmö this year but they can gain invaluable experience, experience that will come in use during next year’s World Juniors in Montreal and Toronto. The preparation for that tournament starts next week in Sweden.

The Czech Republic opens their campaign with a game against Team USA on December 26, followed by a match-up with Canada two days later. On December 30, Germany will provide opposition and on New Year’s Eve the always intense game between the Czech Republic and neighbours Slovakia is to take place and possibly decide who will advance to the quarter finals.


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