A relentless will to compete.
That’s what drove the Czech Republic to the semifinals against Japan on Sunday night. In the second placement game of the day, which would determine seeding with the medal round nearing, the Czech’s, led by Alena Mills, fought for every inch gained at Calgary’s Winsport Arena.
“I think it comes from all the girls,” she said. “They all played relentlessly throughout the tournament, so we push each other and we try to do our best, and Daniela [Pejsova] had a great snipe, so it gave us that chance in the end, but I wish we had that push a little earlier in the game, and maybe had a 1-1 game, so it didn’t have to come to the last minute where we’re trying to score and we only have a minute or thirty seconds, and I would definitely say that all the girls worked hard.”
Currently ranked seventh in the world, the Czech’s entered 2021 with new hopes abound in their pursuit to make history. With the women’s worlds followed by centralization, there was a renewed sense of confidence following a one-year hiatus.
While COVID-19 may have pushed back the tournament, the importance of playing wasn’t lost on the players. “I think we had good games, we had some not so good games, we just have to learn from our mistakes,” Katerina Mrázová said following the defeat. “We have to play, stick to our game plan, and when we do that, we know it works for us, we just have to focus on small things, and when we do that, we know that we’re a really good team. We just have to bring that for our next tournaments and next games, we just have to learn from it, and we’re a good team, if we can stick to the game plan, we can be really good.”
While they may not have performed for an entire 60 minutes, they showed a glimpse of that promise in an attempt to write their wrongs. Much like Saturday’s tilt against the Germans, it wasn’t until later in the game where that display rung true and they came out in full force.
“I think that’s our main thing, learning from our mistakes and not being able to play 60 minutes everyday,” an emotional Mills explained. “We had some ten-minute breaks where we didn’t really stick to the game plan, and I think that what we need to learn going forward, no matter who we play against, is it Japan, is it Finland, is it whoever, just sticking to our game plan all 60 minutes, I think that will really help us going forward.”
While enjoying their best display at the tournament, it just wasn’t enough to phase Nana Fujimoto. Hitting the goal post three times in a valiant effort, they proved the future is bright, just falling short by one goal.
“We know that the Japanese team is really good, these are not easy games,” Mrázová expressed. “When we were losing one goal, of course, we wanted to push and try to score and they got on the board, and in the last ten minutes, I think we started late in the game when we could have played earlier and just didn’t go how we wanted it, and the Japanese did really good, and we just have to learn from it.”
The last these two teams met in the group stage, the Czechs, who held a 4-2-0 record, shutout Japan 4-0 to make their mark on Pool B. In the rematch, Japan sought opportunity, as they wasted no time, creating chances on the power play.
That was a shock to the Czech’s system, as they arrived at the worlds owning the most effective power play. (22.7 percent, 5-for-22)
“We know they’re fast and we have to skate with them,” Mrazova said of her country’s late efforts. “I think we had too many penalties and they got momentum out of it.”
Led by Rui Ukita and Akane Shiga, the Czechs were pushed to their breaking point, which would make all the difference. It was a matter of skating a full 60 minutes, which the Japanese did, and thus, would lock down the victory.
“I thought Team Japan deserved to win,” said Czech bench boss Tomáš Pacina. “Japan lost 10-2 [to the U.S.] yesterday [and] came back flying and were better-prepared. That’s life. That’s the tournament. There’s no excuses. Japan was the better team.”
Now setting their sights on the Olympic qualifiers, the Czech Republic will host a tournament in November, in which they’ll take on three teams, including Norway and the Hungarians.
Whereas Japan has already qualified for Beijing, the Czech’s are ready to battle and follow suit in their native Chomutov.
“Every single game is extremely difficult,” Pacina affirmed. “Every team is very well-prepared. We are not going to surprise anybody. They know we are a good team and they will be prepared for us.”