When assessing European women’s teams, there are some that are always penciled in as medal contenders—Finland, Russia, Sweden. Then, there are some teams that play with a different, yet no less important measure of success in mind—not getting relegated. This year, the Czech Republic is one of those teams. The Czechs first reached the top level at Worlds in 2013, and were promptly relegated again that tournament. They came back up in 2016, so this is their third time participating at the top level of IIHF Worlds. Last year, they finished second in Group B and got to move onto the quarterfinals for the first time (where they were promptly handed a 5-0 loss by Finland, but, progress!). This year, they’ll be in Group B again, along with Sweden, Germany, and the Swiss team that just beat them in Olympic qualifications.
Why Should I Watch Them, Then?
Because they’re a developing team, with some young, fun forwards who might do cool things.
More than most teams in the tournament, the Czechs will be relying strongly on their youth. There are only two players on the roster born before 1990, and they have seven current NCAA players, more than any other country. They also boast the youngest player in the tournament in defender Adela Škrdlová, who was born in February of 2001 and barely slides in under the age requirement of sixteen years old. She skated for the Czechs in Olympic qualifiers, so hopefully she’s able to take care of herself when playing with grown women.
They’re bringing a trio of NCAA standouts in Michaela Pejzlová, Denisa Křížová, and Tereza Vanišová. Pejzlová just won a national championship in her freshman year at Clarkson University, scoring 32 points in 37 games on a very good college team. Vanišová, a freshman at the University of Maine, also ended her year with some hardware, albeit on a team at the other end of the standings. Despite Maine finishing last in Hockey East and only winning ten games, Vanišová was awarded Hockey East Rookie of the Year after scoring 28 points in 28 games. It’s easy to see why, watching her—on a Maine team that often struggled to get out of its own zone, Vanišová’s speed and offensive instincts stood out.
This is her first goal in the NCAA, and it’s gorgeous, for the pass to herself through the defender’s legs alone. Group B should watch out—she’s fast, agile, and (as obvious above) a major breakaway threat.
Křížová might not be as offensively flashy as Vanišová, but she’s been a consistent producer as a forward for Northeastern University, scoring at over a point per game all three years of her college career. This past season as a junior, she put up 45 points in 34 games, good for first on her team and fifteenth in the NCAA. To put that in context, she scored at a higher point-per-game pace than Emily Clark, who’s representing Canada. Don’t let the lack of hype and Czech flag next to her name fool you into thinking Křížová’s not highly skilled.
Another young, talented forward for the Czechs is Kateřina Bukolská, who hasn’t even hit the NCAA yet—she’s a Merrimack commit, as what I can only assume is a slow Czech takeover of Hockey East continues apace. She spent the last year playing for the Ottawa Lady Senators of the PWHL, and while she only had 14 points this year, that was good for second on her second-to-last-place team. Bukolská led the Czech team in scoring at the Nations Cup this year—please enjoy this (helpfully highlighted!) recruiting video that shows off her skills in a game against France, particularly the nice point shot at around 0:50.
What About Defense and Goaltending?
Their defense, as one might guess from the sixteen-year-old, also skews young—they’re bringing four defenders from the team that won the bronze medal at the World U18 Championships in 2014, including the University of Vermont’s Samantha Kolowratová and Dynamo St. Petersburg’s Aneta Tejralová. Vanišová and Pejzlová were also on that team, as well as the Czechs’ oldest goaltender, Klára Peslarová. Peslarová had an uncharacteristically poor performance in Olympic qualifiers, but her stats for her SDHL club SDE HF were decent (0.926 SV%, good for sixth in the league), so it’s possible she’ll be sharper this tournament.
The most exciting thing about the Czechs, right now, is where they sit in the process of developing an national women’s hockey program. Bukolská, the top scorer on their development team, hasn’t even started her NCAA career. Křížová, who led the team in points in the Olympic qualifying round, is only 22. Like in men’s hockey, women’s hockey players don’t usually peak until their mid-to-late 20s, so we’re not even close to seeing what these women are capable of.
The Czechs might not be in serious medal contention, but that’s also not really what they’re aiming for—they’re trying to maintain their position in the top level at the World Championships while their players get international experience. They don’t have a jaw-dropping superstar like Lara Stalder, a world-famous goalie like Noora Räty, or a history of senior-level international success like the Swedish team. They do have a core of young women who’ve played together since the Czechs’ first trip to the World Championships in 2013, and who are only going to improve in the future.
Who knows? In five years, you might be able to say that you liked Tereza Vanišová before it was cool.