Today it’s the semifinals for the 2018 World Junior Championships, and in one game we’ll see five Tampa Bay Lightning prospects play, not all for Team Canada.
Canada vs Czech Republic
8:00PM - KeyBank Arena, Buffalo, NY
TV: NHL Network, TSN, TSN GO
As we know, team Canada will have Cal Foote, Taylor Raddysh, Brett Howden, and Boris Katchouk playing for them and the Czech Republic will have Libor Hajek playing for them.
This is the first time in 12 years that the Czechs have made it into the semi-final round, and the last time they made it this far they lost 3-1 to Canada in the 2005 semi-finals. They did win the bronze that year, beating the US 3-2 in overtime so perhaps this year will also be their first medal. Canada is a bit of a glory hog, having won 10 medals (6 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze) in that period of time.
Scott Matla, staff member of Habs Eyes on the Prize, interviewed some of the Lightning prospects at the tournament.
Hajek and the Czechs pulled off a huge upset of the the team many picked to win the entire tournament, eliminating Finland in the quarter-finals.
Scott: What’s it like to go into a big game like this and pulling off that kind of upset?
Hajek: It was hard, Finland is a very good team, and we didn’t play very well at the first period. After that we started to get going better and better. It was a really hard game and they were a really good team again. And our goalie was amazing today, and it helps lots.
Scott: Was your goalie playing like he did a big boost for you and your teammates out there?
Hajek: Yeah, I think the first period when we scored a goal, it was like, YEAAAAH, and it feels better. We talked in the dressing room between periods that we have to play better, and the coaches also helped.”
Scott: You spent sometime in [Lightning] camp playing alongside fellow Czech Andrej Sustr, did he pass anything along to you?
Hajek: I played with him for a game on the same pairing, so I just learn like a little bit, on how he plays and how he is a good player. Also learn how to play in like men’s leagues, but it was just one game, so.
Scott: Is there experience and other things you can take back to the WHL with you when this tournament is over?
Hajek: Yeah, for sure, hopefully we [Saskatoon Blades], can make the playoffs this year, so I can do some of the experience from the games here to help my team then.
Scott: Is there anything you’re going to focus on in your game against your next opponent?
Hajek: Same style, just play our best and play 100%.
Foote has been a solid defender for Canada so far this tournament, his first time playing internationally for Canada. Scott spoke with him after Canada’s quarter-finals game vs Switzerland.
Scott: How do you guys [Team Canada] prepare for a game like this coming off the outdoor game and round robin play?
Foote: Yeah, no I think it was very important for us to build our game in the first four games of the tournament and try to get better and better each game and build our, then bring that momentum into the final three games.
Scott: The lineup changed a little bit tonight, how did you guys adjust to Victor Mete’s absence?
Foote: [Mete] is a big part of this team, and a big part of the back end, so to have a guy like that out, it does suck, but other guys have to step up and play more. Yeah like tonight, Cale [Makar] obviously had a great night tonight.
Scott: What kind of things from this game can you take into the next round against the Czechs in the next round?
Foote: Yeah, we’ll debrief this one and look at things we need to get better on, and we’ll just try our best to get ready for the next one.
Scott: Since the Combine and the Draft what have you been working on in your game, areas you’ve focused on?
Foote: My main focus this past year or so has been working on my quickness and my feet, trying to work on my acceleration, and everything in that category has been my main focus.
Scott: I asked Cal Foote this earlier, but how do you prepare for a game like this?
Raddysh: Yeah, it’s just at a higher stakes in this round, and it’s do or die games from here on out. You have to play like every game is on the line and show what you’ve got and come ready to play. Tonight we worked hard and it was in our favor.
Scott: With the depth that Team Canada has, is that an advantage that any line can be dominant in any game?
Raddysh: Yeah that’s the goal, we want to be a four line team and in this tournament all four lines have been scoring in different games. Tonight Howden’s line was the big driving horse for that, and they played a hell of a game and we’ve got to continue and follow that.
Scott: You had a deep Memorial Cup run last year with Erie, can you take some experience from this tournament and use that to bring a Memorial Cup back to your team this year?
Raddysh: Yeah, for sure last year was a fun time, and whether being here or there, every team you go to you want to win. Right now I’m here and focused on this and I want to win a World Junior Championship. Whether I go back to Erie, or if I get traded, I’ll focus on that then, but for now I’m set on this right now. Going back I can take the speed and skill of everyone here, everyone is the best in the world, and in their countries so, they’re all here and it’s a good learning experience to see the talent from all the other countries.
Scott: Anything you can take into your next game with the Czechs?
Raddysh: Yeah, we can’t take our foot off the pedal, we let in two goals there, and those are something we have to clean up, and try to play as much of a perfect game as we can.