Czechia edges Sweden in shootout
by Lucas AYKROYD|28 APR 2024
Adam Jecho (#19) celebrates after scoring a second-period goal in Czechia's 3-2 shootout win over Sweden at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
In a hard-fought affair, Adam Titlbach scored the shootout winner as Czechia nipped Sweden 3-2 at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey Ice Hockey World Championship in Vantaa on Sunday.

Petr Sikora and Adam Benak also beat Swedish netminder Love Harenstam in the shootout.

In regulation time, Sikora and Adam Jecho had the Czech goals. Victor Eklund and Linus Eriksson replied for Sweden, which rallied from a 2-0 deficit.

"We started way better than yesterday," Jecho said. "It was a team win. I think everybody just put everything on the line, and we played as a group."

Czechia outshot Sweden 31-28. This was the first game of the 2024 tournament to require extra time.

The Czechs had a stronger effort than in their previous 6-0 loss to Canada, where they looked mentally and physically unprepared. Meanwhile, even though the Swedes showed character to come back, their discipline was questionable, their passing was less crisp than usual, and they had a harder time getting to quality scoring areas than in their 7-0 romp over Kazakhstan.

"I think we need to work on the defensive side of things, and then, as everybody says, get the puck deep and score goals," Eklund said.

Both teams have something to prove on Finnish ice. The Swedes have won this tournament twice, in 2019 and 2022. The Czechs’ best result was a silver medal in 2014.

A senior-level Swedish-Czechia game is often a defensive duel. This battle of wits between Czech coach David Cernak and Swedish coach Johan Rosen had a similar tight-checking feel in the scoreless opening period.

Czech goalie Jakub Milota set a good tone, foiling Jack Berglund from the doorstep and Alfons Freij on a dipsy-doodle run down the middle. Harenstam was likewise alert when Marek Danicek pounced on a Swedish defensive-zone turnover and fired from the hash marks.

The Czechs had the tournament’s least-effective power play through two games, clicking at just 7.1 percent (1-for-14). They thought they’d changed that trend on their first man advantage with Gabriel Eliasson off for interference. Near the 13-minute mark, Tomas Poletin put in a rebound from close range, but video review nullified the goal as it was kicked in.

Early in the second period, Eliasson returned to the sin bin when he caught Danicek with a questionable hit near the benches. This time the Czechs made Sweden pay. Coming off the left-side boards, Sikora snapped a high one past Harenstam for a 1-0 lead at 5:58. It was the Trinec-trained forward's first U18 Worlds goal and he whooped it up with arms spread wide.

"We don't shoot a lot on the power play, so I just took it on myself to shoot," said Sikora. "I shot it and I scored. A little bit of luck that it went in! "

Jecho doubled the Czech lead at 12:38 on the rush with a high glove-side wrister that soared over blueliner Viggo Gustafsson's attempted shot-block.

"There was a broken play," Jecho said. "My teammate passed me the puck and we went on a 2-on-1. And I just decided to shoot, thankfully, because I need to shoot way more."

Eklund gave Sweden some life with 28 seconds left in the middle frame. He went to the net and cashed in Valter Lindberg's saucer pass from the left corner. It was the Djurgarden prospect's second goal in as many games.

The third period saw Harenstam denying Titlbach on a breakaway off a shot-block at the Czech blue line. The Lulea netminder delivered again with a stick save on a penalty shot taken by Benak after Gustafsson tripped up Maximilian Curran on a clear break.

The Czechs tried to clog up the neutral zone as the clock ticked down. But the Swedes equalized when Eriksson blasted home a power play one-timer from the right faceoff circle at 13:47.

"It was good to come back here, and it's something we can take into the playoffs with us," said Eriksson, the Swedish captain.

Czechia completes its preliminary round slate against winless Kazakhstan on Monday. The Swedes get a day off before facing Switzerland on Tuesday.

Jecho spoke about his team's approach toward the Kazakhs: "Don't underestimate them. They're a really good team as well. With full focus for our game, hopefully we'll get the win."

Sweden’s all-time U18 Worlds record versus Czechia improves/drops to 10 wins, one tie, and five losses.