Czechs fly into semis
By LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun
The Czech Republic's Marek Zidlicky and Martin Straka celebrate after scoring against Sweden's Mikael Tellqvist during their World Cup of Hockey quarterfinal win at the Stockholm Globe Arena, Tuesday, Sept. 7 2004. (AP photo/Jonas Ekstromer)
In the span of 16 minutes, Mats Sundin's "dream" of leading Sweden into the Air Canada Centre became a fiery Viking funeral.
Vladimir Ruzicka's Maple Leaf connection is much thinner, a fourth-round pick in 1982 whom Toronto couldn't spring from the communist clutches at the time. But Ruzicka wrote his ticket back by coaching the Czech Republic from disarray to dynamo, culminating with yesterday's shocking 6-1 win.
After Sundin's line put two shots on Tomas Vokoun in the opening minute, the Czechs gave up 16 all night, ganging up on Leafs goalie Mikael Tellqvist for three first-period goals.
"They had better legs, they were sharper mentally and physically," Sundin said. "When they get the lead by two or three ... it's impossible to win against these guys."
Ruzicka, handed the job when Ivan Hlinka died in a car crash just before training camp, made frequent lineup changes that didn't pay off until blasting Germany 7-2 as a warmup for yesterday.
"They showed the true face of the team," he said through an interpreter. "They played with heart, the players felt a hunger ... We moved so well that we didn't have to take penalties (as they did in last week's loss to Sweden)."
Tellqvist could have strengthened his case for the No. 1 job here and impressed the Leafs brass at home, but was inconsistent in three starts after usurping Tommy Salo.
"This is a good experience for Mikael," Sundin said on Monday when the media spotlight on the 23-year-old intensified. "Being a first-string goalie in the NHL is never easy. Hopefully, he learns from watching Ed Belfour and playing in the World Cup is going to be a great experience."
Tellqvist walked by the media yesterday, but he'll have to be better next time to fend off the next Swedish hope -- New York Rangers pick Henrik Lundqvist.
This was an anti-climactic end to The Final Battle, as the Cup was billed here.
Likely the final time the 1990s class of stars would play together, the Swedes disappointed a crowd of 11,957 at the Globen Arena.
With two losses to Canada in the gold-medal game of the past two world championships, a fifth and sixth finish, respectively, at the 1998 and 2002 Olympics and now this.
Nine of Sweden's 14 goals in the World Cup were on the power play. Peter Forsberg, who gave mixed signals on his health, played well only in spurts and was a minus-five, while Markus Naslund and Nicklas Lidstrom were relatively quiet.
"It would've have been a dream to play in front of the hometown fans and especially if it was Canada," Sundin said. "Unfortunately, the Czechs were the better team."
The Globen was pumped with a pre-game salute to Borje Salming, a floral tribute for Daniel Alfredsson's 100th national team game and the early chances by Sundin's line.
But the Czechs fortified their side of the blue line Danube and scored early for the first time in the World Cup.
"With what happened to Ivan, we didn't play with a lot of passion at the start," Vokoun said. "But we have good players and showed that (yesterday). Everyone here plays for the team and not for the name on the back of the jersey."
The Czechs fly to Toronto today.
"We certainly have a chance to go far," Vokoun said. "It's always exciting to play in Toronto. Even when it's the Leafs, it's always a full building and the fans are excited.
"If it's Canada we play, it will be a neat experience. We have as good a team as they do. You live for moments like this."
Ruzicka played for the Oilers, Bruins and Senators. There's certainly no draft-day picture of him proudly in a Leafs sweater.
"The Leafs and the North Stars first contacted me at the 1981 world junior championship in Minneapolis," Ruzicka said.
"The Leafs wanted me to (defect) and play right away. But I'd been married for three years and then had a daughter in August of 1982.
"When they drafted me, I didn't even know until some journalists told me at the national team training camp in July.
That was just the way it was in the communist era. The Leafs contacted me again, but I didn't want to go to Canada."
This time, there's nothing stopping him.