Czechia rejoices Moose Jaw success

Zelinka, who scored the Czech Republic’s game-winning goal against China, says the historic bronze was the reward of team effort 28 Jun 2023
Czech players celebrate after the end of the bronze medal game against China.
Czech players celebrate after the end of the bronze medal game against China.
ⒸErica Perreaux / Hockey Canada Images / WPIH
By Stuart Lieberman | For World Para Ice Hockey

Czechia’s Para ice hockey team have been rejoicing all month since winning the nation’s first-ever World Championships medal in Moose Jaw, Canada. 

On the verge of making an international podium for the last half of a decade, Czechia finally broke through to take the bronze medal after defeating China, 3-2, in the third-place game. Radek Zelinka scored the game-winning goal with 1:14 left in the contest and was named Best Defenseman of the tournament after leading all skaters at his position with three goals. 

“I will always remember the joy of everyone who were there when the whistle blew for the end of the match and the bronze medal was ours,” Zelinka said.

“It was a team effort all season; the work of everyone involved in Czech Para ice hockey and an excellent group that stuck together the entire time. For the team it means a lot, especially for the older guys who have been waiting for this moment for a long time, and for us youngsters it is mainly a reward for the work put into it.” 

Team Effort 

In a total team effort under new head coach Jakub Novotny, nine different players from Czechia registered points during the tournament, including captain Michal Geier who led the squad with four goals and three assists. 

The podium finish was more than an overnight’s work. Czechia had been ranked no. 4 in the world entering the World Championships A-Pool and have finished in fourth place three times previously at the event, including a fourth-place finish in 2012 when they upset the US in the preliminary round. 

Czechia had hosted the two previous World Championships A-Pool in Ostrava, finishing fourth in 2019 and fifth in 2021, and used that as a platform to solicit funding and resources to build up the sport in the country.

Development camps

Zelinka insisted this new burst of resources and recruitment of younger players has made the difference. 

“We recruit people through development camps for newcomers and we try to reach out to new Para ice hockey players,” he said. “Now we train differently than in previous years, and I think it is visible on the ice. A big thanks goes to Team USA who showed us the way.”

Two-time Paralympian Martin Kudela, who had an 84 per cent save percentage and 2.67 goals against average mark between the pipes in Moose Jaw, has really made a difference since he joined the team nearly a decade ago.

“We organise development camps in the Czech Republic every year, thanks to which we find new talents,” he said. 

“But now, nothing changes, as the preparation will still be intense because defending the medal itself will be difficult.” 

Kudela also stressed that mental readiness will be important as the team move forward with a medal in their pocket, and that they should not let that get to their heads.

You can watch all games from Moose Jaw 2023 and find more information and results here.