Five Thoughts: Czechia After Four

Czechia saw a hat trick, a new record, and a much-needed win to close out the preliminary round.

Five Thoughts: Czechia After Four
Klára Hymlárová establishes herself in front of Switzerland's Saskia Maurer. Photo via the Czech Ice Hockey Association.

Young NCAA star Natálie Mlýnková earned her first hat trick at the Women’s World Championship in Czechia’s 6-1 win over Switzerland on Tuesday. This game was significant for the standings, but also for the mentality of the Czech team going into the knockout rounds.

[Ed. Note: This was written prior to the Czechs' 1-0 win in the quarterfinals against Germany. TIG has elected to keep the information in this piece current to where Czechia was at this point in the competition.]

A Steady Keel

After dropping two straight games in a painful fashion to podium favorites Canada and America, the Czechs needed to knock this one out of the park. It would have been easy to grip the sticks a little tight after going 120 minutes without a goal, but that’s not what we’d expect from Carla MacLeod’s team, and that’s not what we saw. Team captain Aneta Tejralová got the Czechs on the board in the first shift of the game, taking advantage of a netfront scramble in her own end that left the Swiss unable to cut off the rush going the other way. A goal 37 seconds into the game is just what the doctor ordered to shake off those ill feelings, and the Czechs were back in their groove from the get-go.

For seeding purposes, Czechia didn’t need a dominant win to earn the third seed in the playoff bracket. But the confidence earned from this game is exactly what they needed going forward.

A Passing of the Torch

Natálie Mlýnková scored her third goal of the game on Swiss netminder Saskia Maurer with fewer than four seconds remaining on the clock. It was her 15th goal at the tournament and Czechia’s second hat trick in the top division. Their first was earned by longtime captain Alena Mills in 2021. As noted on the broadcast, Mlýnková also tied and then broke Mills’ record for the most goals in the top division by a member of the Czech team. The 22-year-old is playing in her fifth Women’s Worlds and will no doubt play in many more.

A special note: while only Mlýnková and Mills have registered hat tricks for Czechia at the top division, Mlýnková’s linemate Klára Hymlárová scored four shootout goals in a game against Japan in 2016. You don’t see that every day! Hymlárová also assisted on the first goal of Alena Mills’ hat trick in 2021, and the second goal of Mlýnková’s hat trick on Tuesday, which is rather poignant.

Playing Their Game

After having their system thoroughly disrupted against the North American teams, the Czechs were back on the horse against the Swiss. Clean passing and cycling, creative use of space, constantly driving to the net, supporting each other’s plays, stealing pucks – they showed off everything we know this team can do. They scored their first power play goal of the tournament, and Mlýnková’s third goal was a rush goal on the penalty kill, exemplifying the tenacity and drive the team showed throughout the game.

The team also took five penalties, which at this point can also be called "their game." After no penalties were called in the game against Finland, Czechia took four against both the US and Canada, and now five against Switzerland. The only Swiss goal was scored by Lara Stalder on a two-player advantage. That is not something they can risk going forward.

Stars Shining

Mlýnková earned the Player of the Game honor with her three goals, but Tereza Vanišová surely earned second place. She had the assist on Tejralová‘s opening goal and scored her first of the tournament in the second period. Although she hadn’t gotten on the board before, Vanišová was one of Czechia’s most noticeable players in the preliminary round, constantly getting breakaways, creating turnovers, and generally being a pest and a threat. Goaltender Klára Peslarová, who earned the player of the game helmet against Canada, passed the honor to Vanišová after this game, citing her performance in the prior two games as well.

The team’s defense also stood out in this game, with great puck control, protection, and movement. The final shot count of the game was 36-19 for Czechia, and a large part of that was the Czech blueline’s work to keep the play in the Swiss end.

Also? This sick wrister from defender Daniela Pejšová.

The Bracket

Czechia earned the third seed and will face Germany in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Germany is the top team out of Group B, having won all four of their games. They scored 13 goals and allowed only two, earning shutouts against Sweden and China.

Czechia was in that exact position in 2022. They won all four of their games in Group B, then defeated Finland in the quarterfinals, lost to the US in the semifinals, and then beat Switzerland to earn their country’s first medal in the top division.

For Germany, that path has blazed, and they want to follow it, or improve upon it. Czechia will aim to ensure that history won’t repeat in exactly that way.

Bonus Thought: Another Day, Another Broken Record

It’s not just basketball bringing the numbers! The IIHF reported on Wednesday that this tournament has already broken the attendance record for a Women's World Championship played in the US. 28, 605 people attended games in Burlington, Vermont in 2012. This year, attendance is projected to pass 70,000.