LIBEREC, CZE — The most anticipated sports event of this year, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, are over, at least the part that we are interested in – the hockey tournament. Some countries can call it a disappointment, like Slovakia or Switzerland, both looking to score a medal, but eventually falling short of quarterfinals.
Other countries have surprised. Strong team play got Slovenia to quarterfinals. That’s a country with population smaller than that of Montreal agglomeration. Latvia, led by coach Ted Nolan, played a tight game in the quarterfinals with Canada. Amazing things happen at the Olympics.
The Czechs, on the other hand, can be neither too happy nor too upset about the outcome. Their team got to the quarterfinals as well and there it got eliminated by the United States, one of the front-runners for the gold medal. Their play improved with every game – from a mistake-filled encounter with the Swedes all the way to an almost-perfect outing in some parts of the quarterfinal game.
It sure is a team game even though it’s much harder to build up a chemistry for the Olympics than it is elsewhere. Each individual has to play well if the team wants to win and some have, others have not. Let’s evaluate their individual performance.
Ondřej Pavelec (G, Winnipeg) – Nobody was really sure prior to the Olympics of who was going to be the starter. Pavelec wasn’t initially, but climbed to that spot quite fast. Not many, if any, goals can be called as „his“ as the defense made too many mistakes. The Jets goalie did a great job in Sochi, but only won 50 percent of his games. Mark: B+
Alexander Salák (G, St. Petersburg) – A darkhorse among goalies, Salák played quite well, too, even if it wasn’t too much. He never started in a game, but found his way to two of them. He always managed to make some great saves, but it wasn’t enough for his team to turn the game around. Mark: B
Jakub Kovář (G, Yekaterinburg) – After a great Euro Hockey Tour tournament in Sochi in December, Kovář got the call to start in the opening game against Sweden, but let in too many shots. Some of those he could have saved, but didn’t. Big surprise as he’s considered just as good as Salák. Well, not anymore. Mark: D
Marek Židlický (D, New Jersey) – Veteran blueliner provided what was expected from him – couple of goals, couple of assists, great offensive play and some unexpected physical play, too. Defensively, however, he was awful. He blew coverage way too many times and some of those times, the whole team paid as the opponent took advantage and scored on it. It was just painful to watch him in his own zone. Mark: C-
Radko Gudas (D, Tampa Bay) – Might be a rookie in the NHL, but he sure is effective. Keeping his emotions in check in Sochi helped him and he provided the forwards with loads of great shots from the blue line. Physically, wide ice might have hurt him and he even made a couple of defensive mistakes, most of them were not bad mistakes though. Mark: B-
Ladislav Šmíd (D, Calgary) – Big-time stay-at-home defenseman did what he was supposed to do and I can only imagine how great he’d be in a defensive couple with Židlický. Šmíd won’t help you in the offensive zone, but he can block almost any shot and is not afraid to get rough around the net. This is the player who hasn’t made single defensive mistake. But, he’s way too one-dimensional. Mark: B
Tomáš Kaberle (D, Kladno) – Another veteran defenseman and a former Canadien, Kaberle was simply a bad choice for Sochi. He ended up with three assists, despite the fact that his offensive play wasn’t really that great. However, -5 in the +/- rating is as awful as it gets. And if I said watching Židlický in his own zone was painful, Kaberle almost tortured me out there. Enough said. Mark: F
Michal Barinka (D, Vítkovice) – Head coach Alois Hadamczik was criticized for inviting Barinka, his son-in-law, to Sochi. The first game was not perfect, but he got better and better until his tournament got ended by an injury. Barinka surprised, even though he was no huge player out there. He just played better than people thought he would. Especially in his own zone. Mark: C-
Zbyněk Michálek (D, Phoenix) – The older of the two Michálek brothers played a solid tournament. He did have a lot of ice-time, but most of it you wouldn’t know he’s out there. He did what he had to do in his own zone and supported the offense, too. Not as much as others, but he did. Mark: B
Lukáš Krajíček (D, Minsk) – Now, talk about a bad choice. Krajíček, who was in the Stanley Cup Finals just a couple years ago with the Flyers, has turned into an awful defenseman. His mistakes led to a goal or two in the opening game with Sweden, then he played as the seventh defenseman with Barinka out injured. He did almost nothing well on the ice. Unfortunately. Mark: F
Michal Rozsíval (D, Chicago) – Big-time defensive defenseman in last year’s playoff with the Blackhawks, Rozsíval had a bad tournament. He was just as bad as Krajíček against Sweden, but picked it up later and started playing some hockey, eliminating most, but not all of his mistakes. But, he saved himself from total humiliation. Mark: D-
Milan Michálek (W, Ottawa) – Really tough to evaluate this big Senator. Michálek didn’t play bad, but didn’t create much in the offensive zone either. Defensively, everybody knew he was coming in with a -22 rating from this NHL season, so not much was expected there either. But, he provided space for his linamares, so he wasn’t completely useless. Mark: C-
Roman Červenka (F, St. Petersburg) – He failed as an NHLer, but he somehow keeps some of us believing that he belongs to the Olympics. Actually, he played quite well. He played well against Sweden and against Slovakia, scoring two goals against the latter. He always worked hard to create something in the offensive zone, but sometimes you could just see he’s not as good a player as you need to have out there. Mark: C
Martin Hanzal (C, Phoenix) – This big forward who’s having the best season of his career has played amazing to the point where people have started questioning why coach Hadamczik benched him for the opening game. Really, why did he do that? Hanzal might not be a player you’d expect to excel in an Olympic-sized rink, but he’s done just well during the lockout playing for his hometown. And he did a great job in Sochi providing space and stealing space in front of the net. Mark: B
Jiří Novotný (F, Lev Prague) – Usually a leader, Novotný only disappointed in Sochi. He had a big role in the opening game against Sweden, but totally failed in almost everything he did. In three other games, he was the thirteenth forward. Off the ice, he might have been big for the team, but I only saw what was on the ice and I was not impressed. Mark: F
Tomáš Plekanec (C, Montréal) – „Pleky“ deserved to be the captain even though some would rather give that captaincy to Jaromír Jágr. He played solid hockey. Not the best player on the ice, but always played his game and four points in five games is a good outcome. Good performance with no mistakes and ability to make thing happen in the offensive zone. Mark: B+
Ondřej Palát (LW, Tampa Bay) – Another Czech rookie from Tampa, Palát wasn’t given much ice-time from coach Hadamczik. Well, he plays with Martin St. Louis in the NHL so if you don’t give him Jágr as a linemate, he’s not going to be as good as with the Lightning in recent weeks. Palát was good at the Olympics though. He didn’t make much happen, but he didn’t make many mistakes either and he battled for every puck out there. Mark: C+
Patrik Eliáš (F, New Jersey) – This veteran forward had his Olympics cut short by an injury so he was only limited to the preliminary round. He would have wanted more than just one assists from that though. He played quite well, but you know he was supposed to be one of our key players and you need more from guys like that. If you remember my Sochi lineup, you know that Eliáš wasn’t on it. Mark: C-
Michael Frolík (F, Winnipeg) – Finally, the one who used to be nicknamed „Baby Jágr“ has become a great hockey player. Last year in Chicago changed him into a great character forward with the ability to fight out there and combined with his fast skating, he’s your perfect third-liner. Jets know it. He played just like that in Sochi, just the way he helped the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. Mark: B
Jaromír Jágr (RW, New Jersey) – Maybe it’s because I’m Czech, but even though I have utmost respect to all the great players from Canada, USA, Sweden or Finland, Jágr is special in a way. He’s just a legend and if it doesn’t look like he’s the one who could play longer than Gordie Howe, than nobody does. His playoffs last year with the Bruins might not have been good enough, but he’s doing amazing with the Devils now. If he’s the key player, he excels. But the older he gets, the better he looks out there. And he’s all ours. Mark: A
Aleš Hemský (RW, Edmonton) – Hemský got to play the role he’d want to play in the NHL and did quite well in Sochi. I’m not his biggest supporter, but I really liked him at the Olympics. He ended up scoring three goals and adding an assist and proved that he can be a big-time player. Mark: B
Jakub Voráček (RW, Philadelphia) – This explosive forward played like a devil out there and it’s good to see that his style of play can be effective at both of the rink sizes. He might have ended up with only one goal and a -5 rating, but defensively he wasn’t as bad as it looks. Mark: C+
Martin Erat (W, Washington) – For a late callup and for somebody who has just about two goals in the last 365 days, Erat played really well in Sochi. Getting a little rough, playing responsible defense and even scoring another of his rare goals. Nothing was expected from him and he delivered. Not big-time, but at least something. Mark: C+
Petr Nedvěd (C, Liberec) – In what’s probably his last season, Nedvěd received a great gift of having the opportunity to play for his country at the Olympics. He didn’t look perfect out there, lost a couple of pucks and took a couple of bad penalties, but ended up with good stats. Somehow, he really played well against the Americans in the quarterfinals. Mark: C