Few expected anything other than a resounding defeat for the hosts, but the Czech fans’ enthusiasm and passion for the game is as impressive as the power and skill of the Canadians. Lines had already formed at the Breclav stadium ticket office a full hour and a half before the face-off, and when the teams stepped out onto the ice, a near-capacity crowd of 4,500 was waiting to greet them.
Before the game got underway, there was a minute's silence in memory of the Czechoslovak hockey legend, Ivan Hlinka, in whose honor the tournament was renamed in 2007. Exactly ten years ago, on August 16, 2004, the outstanding player and coach lost his life in a road accident near Karlovy Vary.
After the hooter had heralded the end of the tournament, the rink was the stage of a unique spectacle in which the joy seemed equally shared between the victors and the vanquished. While the Canadians headed for the center for a celebratory dance around their captain, Travis Konecny (who has Czech roots, incidentally) as he held aloft the golden trophy, the proud home players circled around in a lap of honor, greeted by the most sincere and fervent applause from their compatriots in the stands. Seldom in world sport has a final finished with both teams in such high spirits.
And then there was another moving spectacle. The young champions, from the nation which gave this sport to the world, formed a thin red line on the rink’s blue line, then turned to face the flags of the participating countries and gave a stirring rendition of their national anthem, while their proud coaches eagerly recorded the emotional scene on their cellphones.
The play-off for bronze in Piestany turned out to be a much closer encounter with many twists and turns in the plot, and indeed, it was the only match of the entire tournament to go to overtime. The Americans were hit by two early goals from the Swedes, but fought back to take a 4-2 lead and seemed to be coasting to victory. Then the Scandinavians halved the deficit ten minutes from the end and drew level with 90 seconds remaining. The USA was to have the last word, however, when former CSKA lad Dennis Yan settled matters with 57 seconds of overtime left on the clock. Yan’s fellow American, Thomas Novak (bottom photo), scored his team’s first goal of the game and finished as tournament top scorer with 11 points (5 + 6).
Oleg Vinokurov, Yury Kuzmin (photo), in Breclav/Piestany