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Winter Olympics 2014 Preview: Czech Republic men's hockey team

Heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic games, we'll be previewing the main competitors for gold in both men's and women's hockey. Our first stop is the Czech Republic.



Jaromir Jagr RW 41 NHL New Jersey Devils
Tomas Plekanec C 31 NHL Montreal Canadiens
Patrik Elias C/LW 37 NHL New Jersey Devils
Milan Michalek LW 29 NHL Ottawa Senators
David Krejci C 27 NHL Boston Bruins
Jakub Voracek LW/RW 24 NHL Philadelphia Flyers
Ondrej Palat LW 22 NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
Martin Hanzal C 26 NHL Phoenix Coyotes
Ales Hemsky RW 30 NHL Edmonton Oilers
Vladimir Sobotka C/LW 26 NHL St. Louis Blues
Roman Cervenka C 28 KHL St. Petersburg SKA
Michael Frolik RW 25 NHL Winnipeg Jets
Petr Nedved LW 42 Czech Liberec Bili Tygri HC
Jiri Novotny C 30 KHL Prague Lev
Zbynek Michalek D 31 NHL Phoenix Coyotes
Marek Zidlicky D 37 NHL New Jersey Devils
Michal Rozsival D 35 NHL Chicago Blackhawks
Radko Gudas D 23 NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
Tomas Kaberle D 35 Czech Kladno Knights
Ladislav Smid D 28 NHL Calgary Flames
Michal Barinka D 29 Czech Vitkovice HC
Lukas Krajicek D 30 KHL Dinamo Minsk
Ondrej Pavelev G 26 NHL Winnipeg Jets
Jakub Kovar G 25 KHL Yekaterinburg Automobilist
Alexander Salak G 27 KHL St. Petersburg SKA


While they lack the star power of Russia, the goal scoring of the Americans and Sweden's puck possession skill, they have a competitive core of good all round players.

At centre, the Czechs are short on flash, but long on reliable two-way skill. David Krejci leads the way offensively as a high end playmaker with above average puck possession and defensive skill. Following him is a duo of world class defensive pivots with Olympic calibre offense in Tomas Plekanec and Martin Hanzal.

On wing, the Czech's boast a group of well rounded players. On the right side, national team stalwart Jaromir Jagr leads the way. He is ancient and slow, but still incredible at puck protection and is a full package threat in the offensive zone. Next, Voracek is a solid all round winger, albeit not a renown sniper.

On the left, they are led by one of his generation's great two-way forwards in the aging Patrick Elias. He is still a high level scorer and defensive player into his late 30's and should be a cornerstone of this Czech squad. Milan Michalek is having a disastrous season in Ottawa, but is a pure goalscorer on a team that is not particularly strong in that element.


A full line of credible top line NHL forwards was left off the roster in Juri Hudler, Tomas Fleichmann and Radim Vrbata. In particular, Vrbata forms a ready-made duo with center Martin Hanzal, while Juri Hudler has had a particularly solid campaign in Calgary. These omissions seem wrong-headed but are at least justifiable on the basis that the Czechs are able to stack three forward lines with first line, if not game-breaking NHL talent.

The truly glaring omission is Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda, one of the few Czech's with a justifiable claim to be able to handle top 4 defenseman duties in the NHL. This leaves the Czech's down to only four defensemen who average 18+ minutes a game in the NHL, with Zidlicky and Michalek the only ones cracking 20 a night.

The Czech's puck-moving looks to run through Marek Zidlicky (who is still a top four defenseman in the NHL) and Tomas Kaberle (who isn't). Kaberle is the team's 2nd best offensive defenseman and he's been exiled from the NHL for being a bottom pairing NHLer at best. The remaining NHL talent in Rosival, Gudas, Michalek and Smid are all more of the stay-at home breed. This is not an impressive group from a puck possession standpoint. Michalek is a proven quantity as a quality stay at home defenseman in Phoenix, but the group lags after him. Michal Rosival is a depth defenesman these days on a stacked Chicago blueline. Ladislav Smid appears to have fallen off a cliff this season, currently getting murdered in hard minutes in Calgary. Finally, Radko Gudas is the worst puck possession defenseman on Tampa Bay. The depth is rounded out by two European leaguers, unfamilar to North Americans.

Continuing on the theme of the Czech Republic's defensive woes, their situation in net is likely the weakest in the tournament's top eight. Beyond Ondrej Pavelec, who is one of the worst starters in the NHL, they have brought Alexander Salak, who could not crack either Florida or Chicago's lineup and is now a starter for St. Petersburg and Jakub Kovar who plays for Yekaterinburg Autombolist. As all the other contenders down to Switzerland can start a potentially world class goaltender, this must be seen as a major weak point for the Czechs.

X Factor

Plekanec, Jagr, Krejci, Elias, and Voracek are known quantities for international tournaments, but the Czech's third line of Palat, Hanzal, and Hemsky has the potential to be a difference maker. According to Jonathan Willis of Oilers Nation, Hemsky is the only Oilers forward this season to have a positive scoring chance differential, which is astounding considering the criticism laid at his feet.

If Hemsky can find chemistry with the gigantic Hanzal and the emerging Palat, it's possible that the Czechs won't miss Hudler, Fleischmann, and Vrbata as much as advertised.