Jakub Vrana, one of the top-rated European prospects eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, scored a goal in regulation and had the winner in a shootout as the Czech Republic Under-18 Select Team rallied to beat Switzerland 4-3 on Tuesday in the preliminary round of the Ivan Hlinka memorial tournament in Breclav, Czech Republic.
After spotting Switzerland a 3-0 first-period lead, the host country got on the scoreboard midway through the second when Vrana uncorked a wrist shot that beat goaltender Gauthier Desclaux. While the goal ignited the home fans, the Czechs couldn't solve Desclaux again until the final minute of regulation, when they scored a pair of shorthanded goals 35 seconds apart to force overtime.
With the teams skating 5-on-5 after the Czech Republic pulled goaltender Jan Pechek while killing a penalty, Pavel Jenys took a feed from Pavel Zacha and beat Desclaux with a wrist shot to make it 3-2 with 58 seconds remaining. The Czechs kept the pressure on before Filip Pyrochta took a pass from Jenys and connected again to send the game into OT.
After a scoreless overtime, Vrana opened the shootout with a goal on a slick backhand deke. Pechek stopped the first two Swiss shooters before the Czech Republic's third shooter, Vaclav Karabacek, connected to end the game and give his country its first win of the tournament.
Vrana, a Czech-born wing, has improved tremendously since moving to Linkoping in Sweden. The 6-foot, 183-pound left-handed shot had 20 goals and 32 points in 32 games in the SuperElite league with Linkoping's junior team in 2012-13 before appearing in five games in the top Swedish league late in the year. He stood out for the Czech Republic at the U-18 World Championship in Sochi, Russia, and is considered a top European prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft.
"Jakub is a solid, complete player with no real weak points," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "He's smart, has a great understanding of the game and is a sniper with a good selection of shots. His speed and mobility are far above average and he's a useful two-way team player."
Switzerland opened its big lead in the first period on goals by Noele Trisconi, Damien Riat and Kevin Fiala.
Switzerland, which is atop the Group A field with four points (one regulation win, one shootout loss), will look to rebound on Wednesday against second-place Canada (three points) at 9:30 a.m. ET. The Czechs, who are fourth in Group A with two points, will face third-place Sweden (three points) at 1 p.m. ET on the final day of preliminary-round play in Group A. Sweden edged Canada 4-3 earlier in the day.
The semifinal round will be contested on Friday and the bronze and gold medal matches on Saturday.
In other action on Tuesday:
Finland 5, Slovakia 1: The Finns moved into first place in Group B with five points (one regulation win, one overtime win) after receiving goals from five players in Piestany, Slovakia. Joel Kiviranta, who was named Finland's player of the game, Joona Jaaskelainen, Juho Lammikko, Antti Kalapudas and Mikko Rantanen all scored for the Finns. Lammikko and Kalupudas scored in the second period to give Finland a 3-0 edge.
"We said that we did not have to skate hard in the third period because we had the lead," Finland coach Rauli Urama told the tournament website. "We played good defense and try to protect our net. [On Wednesday] we play at [8 a.m. ET], so we have to save our energy. If they scored an early goal in the second it may be a different game. That's why we slowed down and tried to protect the neutral zone and net."
Fourth-place Slovakia snapped Kaapo Kahkonen's shutout bid with 6:32 left in regulation when forward Adrian Holesinsky's shot trickled over the goal line.
"The Finns were quicker in their build up play and, technically, they are more skilled," Slovakian coach Anton Bartanus said. "This was apparent and our players suffered as a result."
Kahkonen, who finished the game with 15 saves, has stopped 40 of 43 shots in the tournament and sports a .930 save percentage through two games. He may be the top-rated European goalie available in the 2014 NHL Draft next June.
Finland will play third-place Russia (three points) on Wednesday in the final game of preliminary-round action, while Slovakia faces the second-place United States (four points). The U.S. earned its first victory of the tournament by beating Russia 4-2 earlier Tuesday.