Five years of Czech triumphs and disappointments

Originally published in the Prague Post in 2004

By Lucas Aykroyd

Here’s an overview of the last five IIHF World Championships, focusing on Team Czech Republic’s performance:

1999: Two future New York Rangers make huge contributions to the first Czech gold medal at the World Championships since 1996. During the tournament in Norway, Jan Hlavac tops the team scoring derby with ten points, including the overtime winner against a Finnish team led by Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu in the deciding game. Martin Rucinsky earns eight points and cracks the tournament all-star team. The triumph maintains the momentum Czech hockey built with the 1998 Olympic gold from Nagano, with Ivan Hlinka coaching once again. Sweden earns a 3-2 win over Canada in the bronze medal game.

2000: Hosting the Worlds for the first time since 1986, Team Russia assembles its most unbeatable-looking roster since the days of Communism, featuring the likes of Pavel Bure and Alexei Yashin. But the Russians totally collapse, finishing in 11th place. Meanwhile, the Czechs roll with a balanced attack paced by tournament all-stars Jiri Dopita, Tomas Vlasak, and Michal Sykora. Suffering just one loss versus Finland in the Qualifying Round, coach Josef Augusta’s troops defeat Canada 2-1 in the semi-finals. Then the Czechs fend off a late Slovak rally to triumph 5-3 in the first-ever gold medal game between the two halves of the former Czechoslovakia. Canada drops its second consecutive game to Finland, which claims the bronze.

2001: The Czechs get off to a slow start in this tournament, including a tie with the host Germans and narrow wins over Switzerland and Russia. But things improve steadily. With a 3-2 overtime win over Finland in the gold medal game, the Czech Republic becomes the first nation to capture three consecutive world titles since the Soviet Union’s 1981-83 run. Goalie Milan Hnilicka and forwards Robert Reichel and Martin Rucinsky are named tournament all-stars. David Moravec, who scores the dazzling OT winner, is named tournament MVP. Sweden edges the upstart Americans for third place.

2002: Hopes for a fourth consecutive gold run high as superstar Jaromir Jagr suits up for his first IIHF World Championships since 1994. But by his standards, the Washington winger never gets on track, finishing with eight points. The Czechs lose 3-1 in the quarter-finals to an atypically defensive Team Russia, which then loses in the finals to first-time world champions Slovakia. Josef Augusta is fired shortly after the disappointing fifth-place finish. Sweden, the host team, defeats Finland for the bronze.

2003: Martin Straka, Robert Reichel, and Milan Hejduk key the offense on this Slavomir Lener-coached edition of Team Czech Republic, and Tomas Vokoun’s goaltending largely equals the high standard set by Hnilicka and Cechmanek. But this group comes up short when it counts most, falling 8-4 to Canada in the semi-finals. Vokoun is outdueled by Jan Lasak in a 4-2 Slovak bronze medal victory. Host Finland cracks under pressure in the quarter-finals, blowing a 5-1 lead and losing 6-5 to Sweden. The Canadians beat Sweden 3-2 in a dramatic overtime finale. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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