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Czechs off to a good start ; Strong second period overcomes Norway

It took a bit of time for the Czech Republic to warm up, but a dominating performance in the second period helped the team start off its World Junior tournament with a solid 2-0 win over Norway in front of 1,381 at Dwyer Arena Tuesday night.

The Czechs defeated a Norwegian team that was bruised Monday night in its 7-1 opening loss to Sweden. And the Czechs know all about those bad opening losses to Sweden. Last year they dropped a 10-1 decision to the Swedes in their first game of the tournament. But they were determined to set a different tone this year.

The tone came in the second period, when the Czechs came out skating strongly and controlling the Norwegian zone. Their forecheck and pressure earned them back-to-back power plays early in the second, but they failed to break a scoreless tie.

Coming out of an official timeout with 6:05 to play, the Czech Republic got on the board. Antonin Honejsek won the faceoff in the Norway zone and Tomas Rachunek went to the net, got the puck and scored.

In the third, Honejsek offered his own individual effort, carrying the puck the length of the ice and netting a short-handed goal for a 2-0 Czech advantage.

"We won the hardest game probably, our first game," Rachunek said. "We just tried to play hard. We want to be a surprise the whole tournament. We play hard games against Russia, Sweden and Canada. We want to feel good after this tournament. We want to play as hard as we can and we will see."

Indeed while getting the opening win in a tournament is crucial, there are bigger tasks at hand in the ultra-competitive Group B. The Czechs don't have much time to celebrate this win, facing Canada at 4 today in HSBC Arena.

"We were nervous before the game a little bit but we win, 2-0, so we are happy now," Honejsek said. "We play against Canada [today] so that will be different. I play in Canada in the WHL [for the Moose Jaw Warriors] so I play with and against Canadian guys so it will be a really special game."

In last year's tournament, the Czechs lost to Sweden and Finland, rebounded with a win over Austria then fell to Russia to close out the preliminary round. They went on to win three games in the relegation round to keep their status in the top division.

The Czechs glory days were back-to-back gold medals in 2000 and 2001 and they last won a medal at the 2005 World Juniors when they took third, defeating the United States, 3-2 on Petr Vrana's goal at 2:38 of overtime. It's been a rebuilding process ever since with the majority of their young talent leaving for playing opportunities in North America where they will have a better chance to be seen by NHL scouts.

It was the second straight loss for Norway, which will have today off before facing Canada on Wednesday.

"I can say we played with heart today but we can't score goals right now and that's a problem for us," Norway captain Andreas Stene said. "We just have to keep working."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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