Thursday, April 28, 2005

 

World Hockey Championships: Check out the Czechs

(just how many bad puns can we derive from the name 'Czech'?)

The Czechs, after some major successes in the 1998-2001 period (Olympics, World Championships, World Junior Championships) have struggled in recent years to win medals. After 3 straight Golds from 99-01, the Czechs haven't reached the podium at the WC's.

With the NHL lockout, the Czechs had almost every big star to choose from in order to return to some former glory...and unlike Canada, the Czech players have all been playing hockey in a high level this season.

Let's have a look at the roster as it stands right now. The Czechs and Canadians are getting set to play in an exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena in Prague.

Goaltenders:
Tomas Vokoun (Helsinki/Znojmo)
Milan Hnilicka (Liberec)
Adam Svoboda (Nurnberg)

Defence:
Jiri Fischer (Liberec)
Marek Zidlicky (Helsinki)
Jaroslav Spacek (Slavia Prague)
Frantisek Kaberle (Kladno/MoDo)
Pavel Kubina (Vitkovice)
Tomas Kaberle (Kladno)
Jiri Slegr (Litvinov)
Jan Hejda (Moscow)

Forwards:
David Vyborny (Sparta Prague)
Petr Cajanek (Zlin)
Radim Vrbata (Liberec)
Radek Dvorak (Ceske Budejovice)
Ales Kotalik (Liberec)
Vaclav Varada (Vitkovice)
Martin Rucinsky (Litvinov)
Petr Sykora (Magnitogorsk)
Vaclav Prospal (Ceske Budejovice)
Josef Vasicek (Slavia Prague)
Jaromir Jagr (Omsk)
Petr Prucha (Pardubice)
Ales Hemsky (Pardubice)

As of now, the forward lines look like this:
Prucha, Prospal, Martin Straka - P. Sykora, Vyborný, Hlavac - Dvorak, Cajánek, Rucinský - Vrbata, Vasícek, Varada

Of course, these lines are subject to immediate change at the whim of head coach Vladimir Ruzicka.

Notable Players Missing:

Even with the lockout, not every great Czech player was available for the squad or was even named to the team.

Robert Lang - Lang did not play professional hockey this season, citing injury rehab and 'spending time with the family' as reasons to take the year off. It was obvious that he wasn't going to be in consideration.

Patrik Elias - Apparently recovering from Hepatitis...that's what he gets for starring in porn.

Martin Havlat - He was with the team for the prepartion camp and some of the exhibition games, but did not make the final cut. After an uninspired playoffs, it looks like Havlat needed some tough love and couldn't coast on his immense talent.

Roman Hamrlik - Roamin Roman was outplayed by his non-NHL brother, Martin, for the entire season. Roman is just not at the level of the other top Czech d-men right now and this may represent a permanent career downturn.

Karel Pilar - Like Havlat, Pilar was one of the final cuts from the roster. With Zidlicky and Slegr around, the Czechs didn't need another offensive-minded Dman.

Robert Reichel - Recovering from a nasty hand/wrist injury suffered during the season, Reichel seems to consider his International career over. He could still help the Czech squad in a positive way, but he's more concerned with his off-ice responsilibies with his Litvinov club (as Sporting Director).

Petr Nedved - Traitor

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Looking at this roster, the obvious weakness in goal could deflate a rather powerful roster from succeeding. Tomas Vokoun was horrible in Czechia, but then took off like a rocket in Finland. Which Vokoun will show up?
Behind him, Milan Hnilicka may have won the Top Goaltender award for the Extraleague, but he is truly a shaky goaltender and not one you want to depend on in a tournament like this (and he finished friggin 10th in every meaningful statistic!!).
3rd stringer Adam Svoboda better not see a minute of action. If he does, expect any shot from over 50-feet away to go in a la Chris Osgood.

The defence and forwards have the traditional Czech balance of strength, skill, and skating. I know some pundits question the 'smallish' defence of the Czechs (Slegr, Zidlicky, and Spacek won't scare even my mother), but they have succeeded with similar type groups in the past.

With the Canadians and Americans in poor game shape, and the Swedes weakened by many stars declining the tournament, the Czechs still look like one of the absolute favourites to win gold in Austria.

* Keep an eye on little Petr Prucha. At last year's WC event, Prucha was paired with Jagr on the Power Play and had 4 goals in 6 games. The little waterbug could be the next bright light to dazzle on Broadway if the lockout ever ends and the Rangers give him a real shot.

Comments:
Hmmm - you left Martin Erat off your notable no-pick list. What's it going to take for the kid to get a chance to shine on the international stage?
 
That is true, I totally forgot about Erat...just like Czechia :) He wasn't even considered, I don't believe.

Erat needs to improve his discipline (he took a lot of penalties this year) and just keep doing well (this was his first notably GOOD season in the eyes of the Czechs, probably). Perhaps in the future, when the coaches don't have the same quality pool of players to pick from and the Preds are out of the playoffs early enough...than Erat will make it.
 
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