Five Thoughts: Czechia After Seven

Czechia faced disappointment in the shootout of the bronze medal game, but they once again proved themselves a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

Five Thoughts: Czechia After Seven
Goaltender Klára Peslarová stands with her teammates after the bronze medal game. Photo via Czech Ice Hockey Association.

Czechia’s 2024 Women’s World Championship campaign ended not with a song but with a save. They lost in a shootout to Finland in the bronze medal game, ending their run of third-place finishes at the highest level of play.

The Fin(n)ish

A fourth-place finish is nothing to be ashamed of, even though the program had their sights set higher than before. Looking on the bright side, it’s a sign of the depth of the Czech program that they were able to come within a single shot of the bronze medal while playing the entire tournament without two of their best players.

Looking more head-on, this tournament showed where Czechia is lacking on the international stage. They were unable to score a single goal against the US or Canada and allowed 15 goals to the North Americans across three games. Although they were able to compete with the Americans physically and the Canadians with skill, they were simply overpowered and outskated by both sides. Czechia's execution of their game plans was stymied, and they looked more tired in third periods than their opponents. Against Finland, exhaustion can be blamed for the defensive lapses that led to two goals off the rush, but it was a struggle with finishing that led them to being tied after regulation.

Back to the bright side: they know what they have to work on.

Team MVP

There were several standouts on this team, but I’d have to give the award to Natálie Mlýnková. In an interesting turn of events, she was named to the media’s All-Star Team for the whole tournament, but was not named one of the top three players on her team as voted by coaches. That honor went to goaltender Klára Peslarová, defender and team captain Aneta Tejralová, and forward Klára Hymlárová.

Hymlárová skated beside Mlýnková on one of the best lines in the tournament, along with young star Adéla Šapovalivová. Tejralová definitely earned the honor with her offensive and defensive prowess as well as her physicality and tenacity on the ice. And Peslarová did exactly what you’d ask of a goalie, always in the right position and able to make athletic stops. She also set a new record for time on ice in the tournament, playing every minute of all seven games.

For me, Mlýnková deserves the honor because she stepped into the team’s biggest hole–Kateřina Mrázová’s absence in the top six–and provided the spark the team needed up front. It’s not just her team-leading six points in seven games, and it’s not just her hat trick against the Swiss. Mlýnková was a force to be reckoned with in this tournament. She was an oppressive forechecker, an indefatigable backchecker, she showed off NCAA-earned physicality and she impressed with her skill play. In the final overtime period against Finland, she had multiple breakaways and scoring chances. But for the bounce of the puck, she could easily have been Czechia’s bronze hero.

The Key Moment

It cannot be overstated that it was a letdown for the bronze medal to be decided in a shootout. Both teams in the bronze medal game were visibly tired, but they put their hearts on the line. The ice tilted back and forth. Finland took the lead twice before Czechia evened it up. Whereas Czechia had the advantage at the beginning of the tournament with the speed and physicality they were able to bring, when the game slowed down and became less physical, the Finns looked like the better team. The bronze medal match was a skill game from the first to the third.

As an observer, the 10 minute three-on-three overtime period in the bronze medal game was the most exciting hockey of the tournament. Chances abounded for both sides, there were incredible saves, there were heart-stopping errors; it was an exhibition of endurance and determination. The crowd was on the edge of their seats, gasping and cheering for every chance.

And then there was a shootout. Nine shots, three goals. And the bronze medal was awarded on a save, rather than a goal. While it was an amazing moment for Team Finland, one could have imagined a more fitting end.

After Finland’s 2019 loss in the shootout in the gold medal game against the United States, the IIHF changed the rules so that a gold medal game could not be decided in the shootout. After watching these teams put everything on the line in overtime, one has to ask if the same determination shouldn’t be made for the bronze medal.

What's Next?

Run it back.

Very little was lacking from Czechia’s players this year. The return of Klára Peslarová was a boon for them, their veterans and youth showed up on the blue line, and they have young stars on the rise up front. A healthier Czech squad will continue to make an impact at this level.

What they need is more experience against the top teams in the world, individually and as a team. Their fourth-place finish keeps them in Group A. As for individuals…

Where to Watch Czechia's Stars

In addition to the three players from this roster who already play in the PWHL, a number of players on this team are expected to declare for the 2024 draft. I would be surprised not to see Peslarová and defender Daniela Pejšová selected. Forward Noemi Neubauerová, who had signed to play with the PHF’s Metropolitan Riveters this season and instead played with Brynäs IF in Sweden, is another player who could make a solid impact in a bottom-six role.

Czechia’s only goal-scorer in the bronze medal shootout, Klára Hymlárová, has completed her college career at St. Cloud State. If she declares for the draft, she will also be a real threat to make a roster next season.

Her linemate Natálie Mlýnková has finished her career at the University of Vermont as the Hockey East Player of the Year. She has another year of NCAA eligibility and could spend it with another college, but she would also be an impressive pro prospect.

And finally… you can watch this team’s stars as they host next year’s Women’s World Championship in Czechia.

Bonus Thought: The Vibes

While the tournament didn’t end the way Czechia wanted it to, sports are, at the end of the day, entertainment, and that is something that this team did very successfully.