When these teams met last time at the World Juniors, Team USA blanked the Czechs 7-0 in the quarter-finals two years ago. Photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Americans, Czechs play for plenty
No one wanted to play for bronze the day before the game, but on this day the players should be motivated and ready to go.
The U.S. couldn’t get it done against Sweden, and the Czechs were blown out by Canada. These are the facts. Once the players get beyond the disappointment, they can realize that finishing third is a great showing at a world-class tournament.
Although both nations have played in several bronze-medal games, they have faced each other for third place in the U20 only once, that in 2005 when the Czechs won in overtime.
The U.S. is 3-5 all time in bronze games while the Czechs are 1-4.
Whether they finish third or fourth, the Czechs will finish higher than at any time since they won bronze in 2005. Regardless, this has been an excellent tournament for them.
The Americans have won seven medals since 2004—four gold and three bronze. This period has been their most successful in U20 history.
Since the peaceful separation of Czechoslovakia in the early '90s, the teams have played 21 times. The U.S. holds a slight advantage with 12 wins, a tie, and 8 losses, scoring 70 and allowing 60.
Playing before the home fans, the U.S. will have both the pressure of “having” to win and the pride of wanting to win.
The top-two scorers will be in this game. American Casey Mittelstadt and Czech Martin Necas both have 10 points to lead all tournament scorers, but the similarities end there.
Mittelstadt is on a team that has four lines that can contribute to the offence. Indeed, a balanced attack is one of the U.S.’s greatest strengths. Kieffer Bellows and Brady Tkachuk are also among the leading scorers, and captain Joey Anderson has chipped in with three goals.
The Czechs rely almost wholly on Necas and linemate Filip Zadina. Zadina is tied with Canada’s Drake Batherson for the tournament goalscoring lead with seven, and as this pair goes, so goes the Czech offence.
Yet, at the end of the day, the U.S. has scored 26 goals so far and the Czechs 24, so both teams have gotten the goals, just in different ways.
Statistically, the Czechs have the better power play, converting 37 per cent compared to 26 per cent for the U.S., but the flip side is equally telling. The Czechs are the most penalized team in the tournament and the Americans among the least.
And, the American penalty killers have allowed just four goals so far while the Czechs have conceded 10. In short, if special teams will play a part in the game, the U.S. has a decided edge (although, strangely, the U.S. has conceded three short-handed goals; the Czechs none).
As for goalies, the two Joes are in recovery mode. Both Joseph Woll and Josef Korenar didn’t have their best games yesterday, but both have been key elements of their team’s success throughout the 2018 U20.
The Czechs have been skating through the tournament under the radar and playing surprisingly well. The Americans are expected to play well and have had several lapses to the contrary, but they have that determination a home team has when playing the runner-up game. It’s theirs to win, but as we have learned in the last two weeks, don’t count the Czechs out.