CALGARY – A quick start helped the Czech Republic finish the World Junior Championship on a positive note.
A motivated Czech team scored three first-period goals and didn't look back on the way to beating rival Slovakia 5-2 at the Scotiabank Saddledome Wednesday night, sending the Czechs home with fifth place.
Not a lot was expected from the Czechs before the tournament. But despite a solid performance, they were disappointed to be going home without a medal.
"We would've been happy before tournament, but now we're not happy because we wanted a medal," said Radek Faksa, who was named player of the game for the Czech Republic after scoring the game's opening goal.
Goaltender Petr Mrazek, who could be in line to earn the tournament's top goalie honor, agreed.
"If somebody told us before the tournament we would be fifth place we'll take it, but it was a little difficult after the Russia loss (in the quarterfinal)."
The spirited Czechs got a shot past starter Juraj Simboch before Slovakia could manage a shot on goal.
Seconds after Tomas Hertl missed a one-time opportunity while staring at an empty net, Faksa hammered a shot over the right shoulder of the Slovak goaltender to make it 1-0 just 5:45 into the game. The goal came a full two minutes before Slovakia's first offering on Mrazek, a shot from outside the blue line at 8:10.
"I saw it was a free puck so I shot for the first time and I didn't see it," said Faksa, named the player of the game for the Czechs. "I just listened to the fans. I was excited. It was important because we were a little nervous because it's Slovakia."
Petr Holik made it 2-0 at 13:37. Taking a pass from Petr Straka in the slot, Holik fired the puck over Simboch's glove to give the Czechs a two-goal lead.
They added another before the period was out. With both Marko Dano (goaltender interference) and Adam Janosik (cross-checking) whistled for infractions on the same sequence, the Czechs went to work quickly with the two-man advantage. Vojtech Mozik wired a low shot past Simboch's glove with 3:14 remaining for a 3-0 lead.
Mrazek, who faced an average of 35.4 shots in his prior five games, had to stop just six shots in the opening period -- three of them from outside the blue line.
"There were a couple of tough shots there, I had luck," Mrazek said. "We played very well the first 15 minutes."
The teams traded goals in the second that saw the Czech Republic outshoot Slovakia 14-8.
The Slovaks cut the deficit lead to 3-1 after Milos Bubela corralled a blocked Martin Daloga shot and slid it between Mrazek's pads at 14:17. Marek Tvrdon came within inches of making it a one-goal game 34 seconds later. Tvrdon took a pass on the half wall and fired a shot that beat the Czech goaltender but not the post.
Dominik Uher restored the three-goal advantage with 3:37 remaining in the period. After taking a pass in his feet from Hertl, Uher spun around and fired a shot that beat Simboch, chasing him from the game in favor of backup Richard Sabol.
Tomas Filippi gave the Czechs a 5-1 lead at 2:32 of the third with another power-play goal. With Tvrdon in the penalty box for slashing, Filippi's laser beat Sabol over the glove.
Slovakia's Matus Chovan closed the scoring with his fifth of the tournament, banking the puck into the net off the leg of Mrazek from below the goal line at 6:24.
With the loss, Slovakia finished sixth, a result Martin Gernat is proud of.
"It's positive for Slovakia," said Gernat, a defenseman drafted by the Edmonton Oilers last June. "After three years, we played in the quarterfinal so that is good."
The win puts the Czech Republic in Group A next year along with the winner of the gold medal game between Sweden and Russia on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. They will also be joined by the loser of Canada and Finland in the bronze medal match, also Thursday (3:30 p.m. ET). Switzerland and Germany, who won the 2012 Division I Group A in mid-December, round out the grouping.