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Czech List, North American Edition: Plekanec Leads Czechs to Sochi

By on February 7, 2014 in North American with 0 Comments

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE — The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games are knocking on the door and we’re all almost ready to let them in. The Czechs are actually anticipating them and have done so quite anxiously for the past four years. But, there have been some controversies. Let’s look at the lineup of the team.

(Photo by SI.com)

(Photo by SI.com)

In the net, there’s no surprise. Winnipeg Jets’ number-one goalie Ondřej Pavelec was chosen to start for the Czechs, or at least is expected to, even though head coach Alois Hadamczik won’t confirm that for now. Pavelec’s had his fair share of bad games in this season and some fans are doubting the decision because of that, but there’s just nobody better than him available.

Michal Neuvirth of the Washington Capitals is in an even bigger slump and Penguins backup Tomáš Vokoun hasn’t fully recovered from what could be a career-ending injury. Marek Mazanec couldn’t be sent to Sochi because he hadn’t been invited to the pre-Olympic summer camp of the national team.

So the rest of the crease is made up of KHL-based goalies who apparently even have a chance of dethroning Pavelec from his starting position. Former Flyers prospect Jakub Kovář and former Blachawks prospect Alexander Salák are in the same position. Both play in Russia and have top-notch stats – GAA below 2.00 and save percentage above 93 percent in 44, respectively 31 games.

There’s no doubt the two are amazing netminders, but it still feels like Pavelec should become the starter.

In front of any of the three will be a good defensive front that has everything from experience (Tomáš Kaberle, Marek Židlický) to toughness (Ladislav Šmíd, Radko Gudas). And there have been controversies.

The most controversial name on the list is that of Michal Barinka. He appeared in 34 NHL games with Chicago, but has spent the vast majority of his last eight seasons playing for Vítkovice of the Czech Extraliga. That’s the team coach Hadamczik led a couple times, but that’s not it. Barinka’s wife is actually coach’s daughter.

Barinka’s stats aren’t really impressive, but he’s known to have some great defensive moments. We could only specualte of how much the personal relationship has been a factor here, but people also criticize the addition of Kaberle and Lukáš Krajíček instead of a trio of candidates who look a little better on paper.

Both Jan Hejda of the Colorado Avalanche, who’s had a spectacular season this year, and tough St. Louis Blue Roman Polák, have been left off the team. And then, Petr Čáslava, not known much in North America, is the most discussed omission as he’s a long-time KHLer and captain of his team in Cherepovets and has played in each of the last seven World Championships.

What’s there to like is the fact that blueliners like Židlický, who is a well-respected NHL veteran, will be backstopped by rearguards like Gudas, Šmíd or Michal Rozsíval who will be there to cover their backs.

Up ahead, one name has been discussed as if it could be a lethal omission. Well, it could be. Jiří Hudler has been the hottest Flame in Calgary this year. Ever since not making the Olympic team, he’s been a little off his game.

The reason why Hadamczik didn’t invite Hudler to the Olympic Games is simple. Hudler’s history. The Czech forward used to behave like a spoilt brat who’d go where there’s money for him and who wouldn’t play for the national team unless on the top two lines. Something has changed in 2013 though.

Hudler’s father passed away and Jiří returned to Cowtown a changed man. He took on a leadership role and even decided to let highly-touted rookie Sean Monahan move in with him. Flames Coach Bob Hartley praised him for that and than defended Hudler after being omitted from the Olympic team. And you know he wouldn’t do that if Hudler still was that spoilt brat he used to be.

Also a focal point of debates have been veterans Jaromír Jágr and Petr Nedvěd. Jágr actually was expected to go to Sochi, but Nedvěd’s invitation was not really sure and some were surprised by it. Now, everybody is just waiting for the former long-time NHLer to show what he’s got. As they should be.

plekanec_czechrepCaptaining the team will be Canadiens forward Tomáš Plekanec and some other top names include his Bruins nemesis David Krejčí, Devils veteran Patrik Eliáš, Senators cold gun Milan Michálek and Coyotes giant centre Martin Hanzal.

Roman Červenka, who totally blew his opportunity to become a regular NHLer last year in Calgary, is also on the lineup, as is Capitals winger Martin Erat who has less goals this year than Mike Smith, the Phoenix goalie. Erat was added to replace injured Blues forward Vladimír Sobotka just a couple days ago. Also missing due to injuries is Sharks rookie Tomáš Hertl, one of the front-runners for the Calder Trophy.

It’s tough to make a prediction here, but most expect the Czechs to advance from second place. In their group, they meet Sweden, Switzerland and Latvia. Not much is expected, but the situation is identical to that before the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The outcome back then? Gold.

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