Five Thoughts: Czechia after One

Five thoughts about Czechia's performance against Finland, and what it means for game two against Team USA.

Five Thoughts: Czechia after One
Czech players celebrate after Adéla Šapovalivová opened the scoring against Finland. Photo via Czech Ice Hockey Federation.

In their first game of the 2024 Women’s World Championship, Czechia shut out an impressive Finnish roster in a 4-0 victory. While the score was inflated by two empty-net goals, it was a solid win for a team with their eyes on the prize. Here are some of my thoughts following the game as Czechia prepares to take on the United States on Friday.

The Youth

Two of Czechia’s four goals were scored by players who won silver medals with the Under-18 team in January. Adéla Šapovalivová and Tereza Plosová are still 17 years old. Šapovalivová also registered an assist, and Plosová shared the team lead in shots on goal with 4.

Czechia’s Player of the Game was Natálie Mlýnková, who at age 22 has just finished her fourth year at the University of Vermont. She scored the team’s third goal and had an assist. 

Half of Czechia’s roster is age 22 or under, which is not unusual at this tournament, and their young players are having an impact already.

The Veterans

Although she didn’t make it onto the scoresheet, PWHL Ottawa’s Tereza Vanišová was an offensive threat all game and had a near miss off the post before Finnish goaltender Sanni Ahola swept the puck away. I expect her to be one of the stronger threats against Team USA, particularly with her experience playing against and alongside the Americans this season in the PWHL.

In her first game back to the international stage since 2022, Klára Peslarová earned her third World Championships shutout. Finland did not go down easy in this game, but Peslarová’s rock steady positioning gave her team a trustworthy foundation to play from. She also proved very adept at playing the puck, even against a speedy team. Hopefully that style of play won’t cause problems in later games.

The Recovery

The final shot count was 33-21 for Czechia, and that was after Finland made a strong push in the third period. At the end of the second, shots were 26-11. That is quite a surprise considering the last time these two teams played in February at the final stop of the European Hockey Tour, Finland beat Czechia 6-1.

Any team can have a good game or a bad game on a given day. It’s the aggregate that tells you who the team really is. Czechia made a strong statement that their loss in Liberec was the outlier, and that they are still the team who won the last two bronze medals at Women’s Worlds.

Time and Space

Finland is not an unskilled or slow team, and Czechia was not without their share of mistakes. The difference was when Czech players made mistakes, they generally had a second to recover, and when Finnish players made mistakes, the Czechs were already on them. While Finland wanted to spread about and utilize their passing and cycling, Czechia swarmed their puck carriers and glued themselves to the players they were chasing, creating turnovers and forcing short passes. Meanwhile, Finland seemed to be playing zone defense, which gave Czechia the space to play the way they wanted.

The way the Czech team played this game was reminiscent of the way the North American teams play, never giving the opponent a second to breathe. They proved they can imitate that style in this game; Friday’s game will show to what extent they can defend against it.

The Preview

Prior to arriving in Utica, Team Czechia practiced as a group in Lake Placid, N.Y., and played a tune-up game against Team USA. They saw an injury to one of their top players in that game.

Kateřina Mrázová is currently fourth in scoring in the PWHL and plays on the top line for Czechia. The team announced she is being monitored by their medical team and they hope to see her play later in the tournament. She will be sorely missed against the U.S.

Czechia lost 6-1 in that pre-tournament game. Klára Peslarová let in one goal and back-up Blanka Škodová let in five. I expect to see Peslarová in net on Friday.

Bonus thought: The Joy!

Team Czechia knows how to lock it down for games, but they are also keeping things light. See some of the fun the team has been having at the tournament so far: