Czech Selects go ‘from worst to first’ in impressive playoff turnaround
In one of the more stunning outcomes in World Selects Invitationals history, the Czech Selects shocked the girls youth hockey world last week, winning the 14U championship.
After the conclusion of pool play, the Czechs were fifth out of six teams in the standings, and it’s only regulation win was over the sixth-seeded Alps Selects. When the elimination rounds began, the Czechs needed a 2-0 win over Germany Selects in the quarterfinals. That win gave them a rematch with top-seeded Sweden Selects; a team that had beaten them 4-1 just three days earlier. The Swedes had dominated their way to the top spot, out-scoring opponents 26-3 in round-robin action.
It was a tough semifinal, but a pair of goals from Alena Luxemburgová would change the tides in the rematch. That early offensive surge helped the Czechs knock off the No. 1 team 3-1 and advance to the gold medal game.
The stage was set for the Czechs to take on the No. 2-seeded Finland Selects; another team they lost to earlier in the tournament. Again, this rematch would be all about the Czechs as Merkéta Kafková scored four goals to lead the team to a 6-1 victory and WSI championship.
A pair of Finns Yenna Kolmonen and Julia Kuhta led round-robin action in scoring with 12 points and 10 points respectively. Eventual champion Aneta Florýková also had 10 points. Goaltender Wilma Hallbeck played 139 minutes of scoreless hockey and didn’t allow a single goal against until playoffs. France Selects Lysa Nogaretto had a .914 save percentage, stopping 53-of-58 shots.
It’s just the second time that the Czech Selects have won a girls WSI event and the first time since 2015. This tournament in particular is a unique accomplishment after the WSI had been on pause for the past two years. Circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and international travel had made such events virtually impossible to operate. However, in 2022, the situation was such that several European countries were able to travel in some capacity and the six-team event was able to go off without a hitch.
The early success of this event — and the 12U Boys Elite event — is an encouraging step back towards normalcy regarding WSI. The World Selects Trophy in Nashville will feature 30 teams from eight different countries next week as well. Coupling all that together with the remaining slate of WSI events this month, and it adds up to a lot of progress for a series that was on hold for the better part of 24 months. After a full slate of tournaments this spring, the goal for 2023 will certainly be to have a full slate of teams in the competition, and the return of North American programs in European events.