The neighboring cities of Lovosice and Litomerice played host to the 2017 World Ball Hockey Federation World Championship in the Czech Republic. The two cities are nestled in a valley with beautiful mountains as far as you can see and was unquestionably one of the most picturesque host cities that Team Canada has visited.
Complete with nightly entertainment and the hospitality was second to none, and would be a memorable experience for many reasons, not the least of which were the games!
We must first start with our appreciation of the tremendous work of Jiri Skrivanek and his staff for the superbly organized hosting at both sites and all the players, team staffs and spectators thank you.
There were so many highlights throughout which included the enthusiastic showing of the Hungarian women, providing inspiration to aspiring female athletes in other nations with their songs and chants supporting all the teams.
The arrival of Russia and en route to winning the Men’s B-Pool Gold medal which demonstrated their remarkable progress over the seven day period as they adapted their skills to the sport of ball hockey and we look forward to welcoming the women at the next championships.
The overall strength of the Czech teams at every level as a corner stone nation of the sport. Capturing silver in Men, Women and Masters, the world renowned Czechs did not disappoint and are certain to challenge for the foreseeable future at WBHF championships.
Any ball hockey recap must include the high flying United States of America and no matter what the score, they are always in the game led by the sports current greatest player, Bobby Housser who led by playing centre or defence for his team. What a show the cardiac kids put on and they will be stronger at the next World Championships and in contention for gold.
The three finals were of outstanding caliber, drama and excitement. The Masters champion Czecho-slovakia required a late goal to avert overtime and claim Gold.
The Canadian women fell behind early and were struggling with the Czech defence and goaltending for a long stretch of the game, however their steady persistence eventually grinded out a 4-1 win, for a third consecutive gold medal.
Men’s Team Canada had used their speed to go undefeated in the round robin portion of the tournament with wins over Slovakia, Russia and Czech Republic.
Canada’s 3-0 round robin record was of little surprise as both Slovakia and Russia were dispatched with little effort. Their most physical contest was against the home favorites, Czech Republic in front of a hostile 2500 fans. This tough back and forth game took an early third period goal to give the Canucks a 3-2 lead it would not relinquish towards the 5-3 victory.
The momentum and confidence they gained from this point on would carry them through the rest of the tournament, as they overpowered Hungary in the quarter finals with a barrage of goals and half way through the game began to set its sights on the winner of the Slovakia/USA winner.
The most challenging game Team Canada would play was the semi-final against the United States of America due to their style of play and if there was a team that could run with Canada, it would be the US. The team was well aware of the vaunted offence they were facing and a good start and team defense would be crucial in this match up. The team shocked the US with a goal in the first minute opening up a four goal lead by the twelve minute mark and 8-2 lead after two periods. If you have ever played against a John Stamas led team, you would know this game was far from over and sure enough the US battled back to within four goals in the first six minutes of the third period.
Having struggled with this opponent on several occasions, head coach Mauro Cugini, employed a defensive system that would engage a 5on5 system using their team speed and asked the defence to push the ball up the floor in attempts to play the game in the US zone. The team responded using their speed and tremendous ball sense to take control of the game from the defensive side of the ball.
The Four Horseman (defenceman) helped to orchestrate a dissection of the trap and opened up Canada’s offense to take command of the game. The 9-5 final score was certainly not reflective of the scoring chances and goaltender, David Di Gironimo was called on to hold off the US.
The Rematch – Championship Final
Canada v Czech Republic II
The biggest fear in playing a strong European team is the notoriously strong defensive play they employ if they score first and Canada found themselves down 2-0 late in the second period.
The story was starting to sound the same, Canada dominates throughout the tournament but cannot score in the big game.
The 2-0 score certainly seemed like history was repeating itself. However, with the confidence the Canadians had in their stalwart goaltender Paul Zarnett, they upped the tempo in the second and third period, lead once again by The Four Horsemen who continued to push the pace.
Until the middle of the second period the Czech Republic was controlling the tempo with their suffocating trap and the brilliant netminding and this approach kept the Canadians close but trailing through the entire match until the final minute in the second period where they would score their first goal of the final on a goal mouth scramble.
All the lines that the coach had been patient with all week finally began meshing nicely together and the zone play changed and goals followed suit. Nicolas Parker would tie the game after a full minute of pressure and forechecking keeping the Czechs hemmed in their zone.
The Goal: JP Harvey and Marcel Lafortune tandem flourished all week with their 200 foot game and would be key in the game winning goal. With under two minutes to play and score tied Dylan Churchwell took the ball up the right wing and dumped the ball in the rugged wingers corner with Lafortune covering the point. He charged into the corner and with a defender on his hip, faked sending the ball up the boards to Lafortune and spun towards the net hitting a breaking Jesse Churchwell in the slot who put the ball in the top of the net in one motion.
The final result… a 3-2 victory of the Czechs and a spectacle that produced standing ovations from the 4,000 strong Czech fans.
The scariest part of Team Canada’s performance at WC’17 was that this team was supposedly in a rebuilding mode after not returning many veterans from the 2015 tournament.
The Team Canada braintrust was faced with the task of adding several new players to the team for 2017, with many of them in their early twenties. The coaching staff did a great job in having the team peak at the right time, while the support staff, Amanda and Rick Spence were instrumental in keeping the players healthy, cool, and properly hydrated.
The emergence of stronger European nations competing in the WBHF WC are part of the maturation of the association. The WBHF’s clear path has been defined to lead the way in international competitions. In addition to this 5vs5 WC, the WBHF has also held two 3vs3 and will launch the first ever 4vs4 WC in 2019.
Canada remains the only multiple gold medal winner and looks forward to the next Championship.
Final Thoughts from Jesse Churchwell…..“From watching our women's team start the party, our staff keeping us upright to play the game, the pregame speech from our leader Mauro, the captains in game composure never wavering, believing we had what it took to make this happen, to all the unselfish plays from the boys who left it all on the floor to get the W and a little bit of "ole, ole" to get us going.”
He continued, “I can say without a doubt that the winning goal was a culmination of everyone's hard work.”
“Last but not least, our national anthem... no words left to express that moment on the blue line hearing us, Women's Team Canada and our die hard fans singing O Canada”
Here’s to the 2017 WBHF champs!
Congratulations go out to all of the teams who participated.
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