The Czech Republic has been inconsistent in their last few Olympics. They won the gold medal in 1998 and bronze medal in 2006, but in both 2002 and 2010 they finished seventh. Last time around in Vancouver, the Czechs lost to Finland in the quarterfinals 2-0. A lack of scoring against top competition did them in in Vancouver, as their leading scorer was defenseman Marek Zidlicky with five points. They’ll need their bevy of high-end NHL forwards to produce to walk away with a medal in Sochi.
A lot has changed from that gold medal-winning Czech team in 1998, but Jaromir Jagr remains as a constant. The 41-year-old winger will take one last kick at the can in the NHL anyway, and will probably decide to hang up the skates for good at season’s end. He’ll be highly motivated to bring another gold back to his home country, although he’ll need a lot of help from his younger teammates to carry the offensive load.
Here’s how I see the Czech team breaking down:
Things I think I think:
- Yeah, that’s a stacked group of forwards. So stacked that skilled forwards like Martin Havlat and Jiri Hudler didn’t make the cut, and I didn’t even include Hemsky in the top-12. The reason for that is simply because I think both Fleischmann and Vrbata deserve spots over him. Hemsky has struggled with injuries and hasn’t put up the type of points that the other two have in recent seasons. If he comes out flying to start the season, that’ll probably change.
- I was very confused when I saw the list of defensemen who were invited to the Czech orientation camp. Polak and Kindl were absent from the list. Am I missing something here? Polak has been a mainstay on a very good St. Louis Blues defense for years now. Kindl was finally able to crack the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup last year and performed well. For that reason (and if you read my Slovakia projection, you’ll know I reserve the right to choose any players who were snubbed from orientation camps), I’m putting both these guys on my roster. Tomas Kaberle played only 10 games for the Montreal Canadiens last year before being placed on waivers and eventually bought out. The 35-year-old has most likely played his last NHL game. Ditto for 36-year-old Radek Martinek. It’s time for a youth movement on the Czech blue line.
- So things look pretty good for the Czechs, right? There’s a good mix of veterans and young talent on this roster. But…what about the goaltenders? Good question. Pavelec is widely considered one of the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL, but at least he’s a starter. Neuvirth showed promise early in his career but has since faded. Pavelec is most likely to win the job, but I honestly wouldn’t discount young Petr Mrazek. The 21-year-old saw two games with the Detroit Red Wings last year, allowing only four goals and posting a .922 save percentage. OK, so he’s only played two games. I wouldn’t count him out on possibly winning the backup job over Jonas Gustavsson at Red Wings’ camp. If he wins the job, then plays great early in the season, suddenly the decision becomes harder for the national team brass. Keep your eye on that Mrazek kid. He could turn heads this year.