David Pastrňák celebrated the ice hockey world championship gold like a true Czech: with a cold beer! Source: Instagram @davidpastrnak
David Pastrňák celebrated the ice hockey world championship gold like a true Czech: with a cold beer! Source: Instagram @davidpastrnak

Golden Czechs: there’s no “I” in team

Ice hockey OlyBet 27.05.2024

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Czech hockey fans were really hoping for the Boston Bruins to exit the NHL playoffs as early as possible. Naturally, they wanted one of the league’s best players, David Pastrňák, to succeed, being their fellow countryman, but at the same time, the world championship was being played in Prague and Ostrava…

The Bruins’ season ended on May 17, exactly seven days after the start of the world championship. Both Pastrňák and Pavel Zacha rushed to join the national team, despite fatigue from the club season. They both announced that, as long as they were reasonably healthy, they would always be there for their country. Pastrňák joined the team with a nagging hip injury, and before the world championship, he was told by the club that he should definitely undergo surgery.

Pastrňák, who had scored over 100 points in the last two NHL seasons with the Bruins, had two big goals before the season: to win the Stanley Cup or the world championship gold. In four games at the world championship, he only managed to score one goal, but he saved his firepower for the right time.

After the semi-final victory against Sweden, which ended 7-3, Pastrňák was asked if he has kept his only goal of the tournament for the final. “We haven’t needed my goals, and hopefully we won’t need them in the final either,” he began his answer. “I don’t really care about goals. I help the team as much as I can and don’t think about my statistics at all. Of course, it would be nice to score, but if it doesn’t happen, it would only bother me if we lose the final.” Luckily for the Czechs, their biggest star was relieved of that pain.

In the final between Czechia and Switzerland, the score was 0-0 halfway through the third period when Pastrňák shot the puck past Swiss goalkeeper Leonardo Genoni. The whole country rejoiced, and when David Kämpf scored the second goal 19 seconds before the final buzzer into an empty net, the celebrations began.

Zacha’s contribution in the gold medal match cannot be underestimated either. Czech hockey experts noted that he was the one who neutralized Switzerland’s stars Kevin Fiala and Nico Hischier the best. The duo had a terrific world championship: the former brought 13 and the latter 11 points. Fiala was also named the tournament’s most valuable player, becoming the second Swiss player to earn this award after Roman Josi in 2013 when Switzerland again won silver.

Czechia won their seventh title on Sunday and the first since 2010.

Drew inspiration from Germany and Latvia

Of course, much praise is also due to the winning head coach Radim Rulik. The 58-year-old coach has been involved with various age groups of the Czech national team for a long time and was an assistant coach when the national team was crowned world champion in 2005.

However, this year’s world championship was his first as head coach of the men’s national team. Despite a fantastic debut, Rulik didn’t even want to hear talk throughout the tournament that he was a fantastic coach and that he played the biggest role in the success. He only praised the players, who in turn praised only the coach and their teammates.

Rulik understood perfectly well that there were high expectations for Czechia at the home world championship, which put great pressure on the players. In order to see who would crack under pressure, the coach invited more players to the final training camp held in Brno than he took to the tournament to see how they would cope with mental pressure.

According to the coach, he treated the players very harshly and was extremely demanding. “I wasn’t like that at the world championship. I chose the players in Brno, and I’m glad they proved their high level,” Rulik said to the media after the final.

To avoid stress himself, Rulik did not use the internet during the tournament. He took this step after the Brno camp, after which he read an article stating that he made wrong decisions in selecting the players for the tournament. Well, some opinions sour with hindsight…

Rulik stayed true to another decision as well. He talked throughout the World Championship about how Czechia had to play as a team and hinted, after beating Switzerland, that he took inspiration from last year’s surprise packages, Germany and Latvia – with the former surprisingly winning silver and the latter bronze. “When I watched them, they were successful only because they played cohesively,” the coach noted.

The team spirit of the Czechs was also emphasized by defender Radko Gudas: “During the tournament, world-class players joined us, but they adapted to the system, and no one played individually. There was always a five-man unit on the ice acting together.”

Legendary Jaromir Jagr summed it up best. He said: “Not everyone believed in our team, and that probably helped them to gel together. The fact that Pastrňák, Zacha, and Martin Nečas joined from the NHL raised our level significantly. However, despite their joining, the team’s fighting spirit and desire to achieve something remained.”

Czechia is a hockey nation

The world championship ended well not only for the host team but also for the tournament organizers. Approximately 800,000 spectators attended the matches of the tournament held in the hockey nation, setting a new attendance record for the world championship, which had been held by Czechia since 2015.

This is a great example of how important ice hockey is for the Czechs, as also demonstrated by the fact that 76% of Czech TVs were tuned in to Saturday’s semifinal against Sweden.

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Luc Tardif said that every time the world championship is held in Czechia, one thing is crystal clear – the country’s heart beats to the rhythm of hockey. “When we have IIHF congresses, people are very surprised and actually a little envious that the Czechs’ passion for hockey is so great.”

With the world championship gold in their pocket, the Czechs now turn their eyes to winning the olympic games. The next winter games will be held in Italy in 2026, where the fresh world champions hope to end a 28-year drought – their only olympic gold so far comes from the 1998 Nagano games, where Jagr, Dominik Hašek, and other greats made history.

Of course, it is still far too early to predict how the Czechs will fare at the olympics because it is not yet clear, for example, whether the NHL will pause for the winter games or not.

However, Czechia is a hockey nation, and they have a very strong team anyway, but with Pastrňák leading the way, it would be much better to aim for olympic gold.


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