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Czechia puts on defensive clinic on way to Para Hockey World quarter-final win over Italy

Italy held to only four shots as Czechia advances to Saturday’s semifinals with 4-0 victory,

There have been impressive defensive performances through the past week during the World Para Hockey Championship at the Moose Jaw Events Centre, but none stood out more than what Czechia put together against Italy in their semifinal match-up on Friday afternoon.

Czechia hemmed Italy into their own zone almost the entire game and would hold their opposition to a total of four shots -- one in the first, one in the second and two in the third -- on their way to a 4-0 victory.

As a result, Czechia will now face Canada in the semifinal on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“I think we knew that Italy plays this way, they are a very good defensive team and they were waiting for breakaways, so we wanted to play with the puck the whole game,” said Czechia forward Zdenek Habl, who scored his team’s opening goal late in the second period.

“Every game we want to play 100 per cent, every player, and this game was up to us. We were supposed to have chances and it's good that we did.”

Thing is, even though Czechia had held Italy to a single shot through the first period and a half, things were still scoreless heading into the last five minutes of the second.

That was a product of Italy’s impressive defensive zone coverage and a stellar showing from goaltender Gabriele Araudo, who made a host of big saves and finished with 29 stops on the afternoon.

Habl brought a huge sign of relief when he scored Czechia’s first goal with 4:56 remaining in the second, and once the dam broke, things came fast and furious. Pavel Kubes made it 2-0 49 seconds later and Michal Geier extended the edge to 3-0 with a shorthanded goal 52 seconds after that mark. 

“The first period wasn’t our game as much as we wanted, but after we scored the first goal, we loosened up a lot in our minds and it went well from that point,” said Czechia head coach  Jakub Nototny. “We told the guys that if we have the puck, they can’t score, and that was the way today.”

For their part, Italy made no bones about their strategy heading into the game -- play as well as you can defensively and take advantage of openings as they come. Problem is, Czechia didn’t give them many chances, hence the lopsided shot clock.

“It’s a point of pride for us, in this sport everything starts from the defence,” said Italy forward Andrea Macri. “So we enjoyed the first part of the match, we wanted to make it not an easy game, but they made so few mistakes and were really good in the moment.”

Italy head coach Mirko Bianchi was of much the same opinion, especially with how they were able to frustrate Czechia through the first half of the game.

“I’m so proud of the team, we played really good defensive zone coverage and we work a lot on that, so we’re really happy about that,” he said. “Then we have to move, we have to move the puck and play under pressure, so we have to do something more. I’m happy, but there are some things we have to do to improve as a team.”

Czechia now has the unenviable task of facing the host Canadians in the semifinal. The teams met in the round robin and had an absolute barnburner of a game before Canada escaped with a 2-1 win.

“I want to stay humble, because it was a great performance the last time we met, but I want to be cautious because Canada has something more to offer,” Novotny said. “So we’ll have to be even tougher against them, hit them even harder and get in their minds.”

Italy, meanwhile, moves on to face Korea in the fifth-place game Sunday and will aim to turn in as solid a showing as possible while letting the chips fall where they may.

“I don’t think about fifth place, I’d like to see a good game on defence like we had today and then we’ll see what happens,” Bianchi said.

Saturday starts with the seventh-eighth place game between Norway and Germany at 11 a.m., followed by the United States and China semifinal at 3 p.m and Canada and Czechia semifinal at 7 p.m. 

Tickets for all three games are available on

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