Emerging as the feel-good story of the 2022 IIHF Women's World Championship, the Czech Republic claimed its rights to sparkling bronze medal honours. Having never finished higher than sixth place in the IIHF's top division, the country's historic medal win marks a change in the balance of power within the women's hockey world.
Finishing first in Group B play, sporting an undefeated 4-0 mark, the Czechia proved highly dominant. Outscoring their opposition in preliminary round play by a cumulative mark of 21-2, including a pair of shutout wins, a big test awaited them in the quarterfinals.
Opposing Finland, having earned a bronze medal earlier in the year at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, an intense affair required overtime. Aneta Tejralova, who calls the Boston Pride her club team, scored the game-winning goal. Goaltender Klara Peslarova recorded 36 saves, helping the Czech reach the medal round.
Czechia players celebrate after Natalie Mlynkova scored, during the IIHF World Championship Women's hockey bronze medal match between the Czech Republic and Switzerland in Herning, Denmark, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. (Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)
A 10-1 loss to the top-ranked United States saw Klara Hymlarova, who played NCAA hockey in St. Cloud, Minn., spoil Nicole Hensley's bid for a shutout.
Facing off versus Switzerland for the bronze medal, the first period saw plenty of action, as three goals were scored. Czechia grabbed the first lead of the game, as Natalie Mlynkova, a member of the University of Vermont Catamounts, scored against Andrea Brandl at 7:03.
Representing the future for Switzerland, 18-year-old Alena Marti tied the game, capitalizing on a power-play opportunity. Before the period expired, Daniela Pejsova, Czechia's leading scorer in the tournament, rose to the occasion, restoring the lead.
Having outshot the Swiss by a 12-2 mark in the first period, Czechia added to its lead. Racking up another 12 shots, Vendula Pribylova, a Maine Black Bears alumna, and Mlynkova, provided a 4-1 advantage for Czechia, the prospect of an historic medal clearly within reach.
Regrouping for the third period, Switzerland pelted Peslarova with 13 shots. With Kristyna Patkova serving a tripping penalty, the Swiss managed to take full advantage. Nicole Vallario, a 20-year-old blueliner, scored at the 49:11 mark.
Despite their best efforts, Switzerland was unable to chip away at Czechia's lead. With the Czech remaining poised on defence, complemented by the strong play of Peslarova, the score remained 4-2, clinching the team its first-ever women's worlds medal.
Adding to the luster of this historic feat involved an exciting trend for the game. Carla MacLeod, a gold medal winner for Canada at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., served as head coach.
With former Canadian teammate Delaney Collins in a similar capacity for Hungary, the acumen of such women's hockey greats has translated into compelling coaching careers, allowing for a more competitive game on a global scale.