Calgary, AB - Slovakia and the Czech Republic split their round robin schedules, recording two wins and two losses each prior to the medal, relegation and placement rounds; and, as luck would have it, they'd be slated to meet to determine who would rank 5th and 6th.
While it was expected to be a close and hotly contested closer, it was anything but in a 5-2 Czech triumph.
Once tied as one, the split nations competed hard in the opening 20, but it quickly became obvious who the superior on-ice squad was. At 5:15 and with the losing side still without a shot, a dominant minute-long sequence saw the Czechs get on the board.
Radek Faksa pounced on a loose puck at the near hash marks, and he wasted little time in unleashing a bullet upstairs on the opposition netminder, setting the score 1-0 and establishing early control.
In a blink, it was 2-0 as Petr Holik corralled a centering pass in the slot, rifling a shot bar-in to develop a daunting advantage 13:37 into the game.
Slovakians Adam Janosk and Marko Dano were each assessed minors late in the period, putting the Czechs' dangerous 5-on-3 power-play on the ice for an entire two-minute period. The two-man advantage was prosperous, as the winning team cashed their third goal 22 seconds in.
"The period was all bad," said Oilers prospect Martin Gernat, who concluded his night with two shots on goal and a +2 rating. "We allowed three goals and it was important. We played bad and didn't play as well as we wanted; and once they scored three goals, beating them was hard."
Through 20 minutes, the 3-0 lead on the scoreboard was explained by an equally as tilted shot clock, as the Czechs led with a 21-6 advantage.
Slovakia showed up in the second, registering an additional seven shots while their opponent tallied 14. Just as vital, they notched a goal, too, and showed a pulse in an otherwise disappointing outing.
At 14:17, Slovakia's Milos Bubela was quick to ambush a goalmouth scramble, popping the puck through Petr Mrazek's wickets to bring his club within a pair.
"In the second period we played a little bit better," said 19-year-old Martin Marincin. "We skated hard, but the Czech Republic is a good team, and it was hard to come back and make it 5-5."
Moments later and with the trailing team energized, a mid-period push helped Marek Tyrdon orchestrate a scoring chance; his shot caught iron on Mrazek's glove side, however, keeping the Czechs' 3-1 lead on the board.
As such, a surge was propelled the other way. It took 2:06 for the winning team to rebound, potting the 4-1 goal as Dominik Uher cashed at 16:23.
It was the game's turning point and it was as close as Slovakia would come.
"I'm not very happy because we lost," Marincin added.
Each team tallied in the third, as the Czechs stamped a 5-2 win while leading 46-31 in shots. It was a disappointing way to end the tournament, but Gernat and Marincin are pleased with the experience and with what playing against the world's best has taught them.
"We're happy with the tournament and in the games we played," Gernat said. "We're now happy, but this game wasn't good."
"I'm happy because we're a good group," No. 21 explained. "We played good with Switzerland and we can look back this tournament and know that we're a good group; and we're strong, but the end to the tournament was bad."
On the other side, it was a great conclusion for David Musil's Czech Republic. Ending on a high note usually does that, placement round or not.
"It was a pretty good game," he said. "We won, which is important and 5th place is still pretty nice. We had a chance vs. Russia, which is still pretty disappointing for us, but we moved on well and won the last game of the tournament, so it feels pretty good.
"If you told us before the tournament that we were going to be 5th, I think everyone would be happy," Musil added. "But now that we saw that we had a chance to beat Russia, it's disappointing."
Even in victory, there can sometimes be an unbearable sting. It's gold or nothing at the 2012 World Junior Championship.