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Practice Report

Team Czech Republic knows it can be better

Faces must-win situation against Team Europe after loss to Team Canada

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Team Czech Republic had known that it would not be favored against Team Canada in its opening game in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. The team knew that it was a longshot to win, that it would probably not do so in the end. And, though the players did want to come out on top of course, they thought they would have accepted a certain type of loss.

That was not the type of loss they suffered. 

"If we go down with our heads up, that's fine," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said after practice at MasterCard Centre on Sunday. "But I don't think [Saturday] night - we weren't proud of the way we played, the [way the] game ended. That's not us. That's not how we want to be remembered in this tournament.

"Our fans at home cheering for us, we don't want to be that team. You can lose, but playing the right way, and I don't think we played the right way [Saturday] night."

But why not?

This was a team that had played two close games against Team Russia in the pretournament slate, winning one in a shootout, and defeating Team North America. And then came Team Canada, and a game that Team Czech Republic lost by a 6-0 score, including a back-breaking goal with fractions of a second left in the first period when Team Canada was already up by two.

"I think it got into our heads a little bit," Michalek said. "We felt good about our game after preseason games, then we went down 3-0 in the first period. We saw that we actually played OK first 10 minutes, and all of a sudden it was like boom, boom, boom, and we were down 3-0 after first period.

"It was a tough break, I think, mentally, and we didn't react to it properly. We let it get in our heads. Just got away from our game completely from there on. We just waited for the game to be over, basically, and that's not how we want to play."

Video: Plekanec interview video

They don't have much time to turn it around.

Monday brings the second game of the tournament for Team Czech Republic (3 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports), against Team Europe, and it is a must-win. There is no room for error for Team Czech Republic. The team needs to defeat Team Europe, which looked better than expected in a tournament-opening win against Team USA, in order for Team Czech Republic's game against Team USA on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports) to mean anything.

"I think good teams learn from the mistakes and come out with good effort, move on and get better," Michalek said. "So I think that's going to be a big test for us [Monday], show what we are made of, if we are a real team and we have a chance to compete in this tournament or not.

"This is a short tournament and you need to realize that you're going to run out of time really quickly."

For now, the plan is to forget Saturday. To forget Canada. To forget everything that happened. But maybe the loss to Canada will help, that it was against the team picked by most to win it all. It was a concept voiced by a couple of players on Team Czech Republic on Sunday. As defenseman Jakub Nakladal said, "Tough day for us: 6-0 is a bad result. But we knew that we play against best team in the World Cup."

"Nobody really thought that we were going to beat them," Michael Frolik said. "Obviously we want to be better ourselves than this. I think it doesn't matter if you lost 2-1, or 6-0. A loss is a loss."

It's hard to argue with that sentiment. (Well, except for goal-differential purposes.)

But with that behind them, the players on Team Czech Republic now need to figure out where they stand in the tournament, and whether they'll be around much longer. They need to determine whether they can return to playing the right way and return to the team they believe themselves to be.

To do that, the plan is to take a different kind of outlook on their game, on their position, on their team.

"It's a sunny day," assistant coach Jaroslav Spacek said, "so we've got to stay alive. It's another day tomorrow."

Or, as Frolik said, "We just need to be proud that we are playing for Czech and leave everything else on the ice."

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