The Czech Republic has been playing to prove they are more than just the “best of the rest” in the box lacrosse world. They have been trying to make everyone think of them in the same breath as the Canadian, Iroquois Nationals, and American squads when talking about who are the elite countries in the sport.
While the final score did not help this case much, anyone who watched the game, especially early on, would have no problem including them in this group
This game started out in a way that very few would have imagined. Each side would find themselves in the penalty box twice, leading to some extra man opportunities, and one would think some easier scoring looks.
Instead, both defenses played tough, but not overly physical, and limited high percentage shots. Of the shots that did go through, none found their way past the pipes. Goalies Mike Poulin and Angus Goodleaf made some outstanding saves. Poulin in particular had a game’s worth of saves for the Czechs in just the first half of play including 16 in the first quarter while Goodleaf would record nine of his own.
Needless to say, I do not believe anyone in the building or watching online could have guessed that the high-powered Iroquois offense would be tied with the Czechs at zero after a quarter. The Czechs proved that even if just for a quarter, they belong at this level.
The empty scoreboard would not last very long into the second. It took only 35 seconds for Lyle Thompson to convert a pass from Randy Staats and put the Nationals up 1-0. Two minutes later, it was Lyle again from Roger Vyse before brother Miles Thompson made it 3-0. With those three goals happening over 10 minutes, it did not feel like the Iroquois had “solved” Poulin as much as they just finally had some shots fall.
Poulin actually increased his save count from 16 in the first to 22 more in the second. Just before half, Mr. Offense for the Czechs, Dominik Pešek, would give them their first point of the evening and bring a close 3-1 score into halftime. Only being down by two to the host Iroquois had to have the Czech team excited.
In what was a great move for their national team’s future, the Czech coaches started their young keeper Tomáš Čekal in the second half. Giving the goalie time in the cage against an offense as potent as the Iroquois will pay some spectacular long term dividends as the opportunity to face shooters like this does not present itself very often, if ever, in Europe.
The game did not just turn into shooting practice for the Iroquois, though. The first five minutes would be a back and forth affair. Randy Staats would score a pair of goals, alternating with two by the Czechs. The first was Jan Skokan before Pešek scored his second of the night. From that point on, the Iroquois took over. Jeremy Thompson made a great play at midfield to keep possession for the Iroquois, and Jeff Shattler quickly fed Austin Staats on the lefty side to go up 6-3. Roger Vyse, Miles Thompson, and Tyler Garrison each notched a goal to close out the quarter at 9-3.
Austin Staats took another Shattler feed to open scoring in the fourth, just over a minute in.
Brandon Goodwin followed with a transition goal before the Czechs would go down a man due to an Illegal Substitution. During this Iroquois man-up opportunity, it was actually none other than Pešek who would score a short handed goal which doubled as what may have been the goal of the game. He set himself up behind the Iroquois next and leaped from behind to dunk it over the crossbar and past Goodleaf.
The last ten minutes would see the Iroquois Nationals put in six more goals and settle on the final score of 17-4.
A big moment that took place before the game showed how important this tournament is, specifically concerning where it is. The Czech coaches took some time right before faceoff to present the Iroquois coaches and players with a few gifts that included and handmade lacrosse stick and a Czech jersey.
Moments like this are what make lacrosse the great and unique sport that it is. The significance of an international lacrosse championship being held on the very ground which saw the history of the sport develop before many of these nations existed can get lost in the fight to rack up goals and wins. The further removed everyone is from the opening ceremony, the more it can become just another lacrosse tournament. The Czech team taking the time to honor and thank the Iroquois before the game shows that this significance is not lost on them.
Another major outcome of this game was cementing the seeding for the blue division. The Iroquois secured a bye to the semifinal and will face the winner of Ireland and the United States. The Czech Republic will face Israel for the right to advance into a semifinal matchup against Canada.
Photo Credit: Coyote Magic Action Shots