RIGA - The gold medal game of the World Hockey Championships, held in Vienna, Austria on May 15, saw changing of the guard as the Czech Republic snatched the top spot from the Canadian team, winning by a final score of 3-0. The Czech team, led by Jaromir Jagr who suffered a broken pinky finger in the game against Sweden the previous day, never let the Canadians catch up in a match that surprised more than a few fans.
The Czech team started the game with a quick goal by Jaromir Jagr at 4:13 in the first period and the Canadians, who had been hoping to make this their third consecutive world win, struggled from behind from then on. Despite many power play chances, the Canadian team lacked the fire to even the play and the Czechs just kept coming.
The Canadians rallied in the second period led by Dany Heatley. Top players Joe Thornton and Rick Nash put pressure on the Czech defense, but Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun was masterful and, with his strong defense, denied all Canadian efforts. To his credit, Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur managed to hold back the Czech offense in the second period. In the end, he allowed only two goals from the 26 shots the Czechs fired at him during the entire game.
The second Czech goal occurred early in the third period as Jagr set up a play for teammate Martin Rucinsky, whose slapshot eluded a surprised Brodeur. This gave the Czech team a comfortable 2-0 lead. At this point, the Canadians came undone and a series of penalties involving the team's best players ensued. The result was that the airtight Czech defense could not be broken for the rest of the game.
The third and final goal at the end of the third period came as the Canadians took a chance with a sixth skater on the ice. But the opportunity failed to pay off. A scrum in the Czech end resulted in a shot by Josef Vasicek, which slid clear down the ice and landed in the empty Canadian net to essentially end the game with less than a minute left. It was pure magic for the Czech team which has not seen a medal since their gold in 2001.
For the Canadians, who had until Sunday held the Junior Men's, Olympic Men's and Women's and World Men's and Women's titles, losing the world title is just one more addition to what's been a weak hockey season. With the NHL dispute and their loss to the Czech Republic, Canadian fans might just feel like someone has put them in the penalty box. But a little perspective is certainly needed - walking away with silver isn't all that bad, is it?