2016 World Cup of Hockey: Team Czech Republic preview
They’re not a top contender for the World Cup trophy, but other teams dismiss a crafty Czech squad at their peril.
The Czech Republic has been a team in the middle in recent international competition: good enough to be classified among the world’s top teams, but not quite talented enough to come away with a medal.
Upon the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic emerged as the greater of the two resulting nations when it came to hockey. The team went on an impressive streak in the late 90s through the early 00s, including a six-year medal run at the IIHF World Championship from 1996 to 2001, with the latter half all championship titles. In the midst of that stretch, the Czechs also surprised a lot of people by winning Olympic gold in Nagano in 1998.
|Petr Mrazek||NHL||Detroit Red Wings|
|Michal Neuvirth||NHL||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Ondrej Pavelec||NHL||Winnipeg Jets|
|Michal Kempny||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Tomas Kundratek||KHL||HC Slovan Bratislava|
|Zbynek Michalek||NHL||Arizona Coyotes|
|Jakub Nakladal||NHL||Calgary Flames|
|Roman Polak||NHL||San Jose Sharks|
|Andrej Sustr||NHL||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Michal Birner||KHL||Traktor Chelyabinsk|
|Roman Cervenka||Swiss NLA||HC Fribourg-Gotteron|
|Radek Faksa||NHL||Dallas Stars|
|Michael Frolik||NHL||Calgary Flames|
|Martin Hanzal||NHL||Arizona Coyotes|
|Ales Hemsky||NHL||Dallas Stars|
|Dmitrij Jaskin||NHL||St. Louis Blues|
|Milan Michalek||NHL||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Ondrej Palat||NHL||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|David Pastrnak||NHL||Boston Bruins|
|Tomas Plekanec||NHL||Montreal Canadiens|
|Vladimir Sobotka||NHL||St. Louis Blues|
|Jakub Voracek||NHL||Philadelphia Flyers|
Signalling the end of the era for that golden generation is the fact that the country’s greatest player to ever play the game, Jaromir Jagr, will not be in attendance at the World Cup of Hockey as he focuses his training efforts on getting ready for his 29th professional season.
While they may not have any superstars, they do have a forward group full of experienced players who've been steady contributors at the NHL level. The can't put together a top line to outperform the best trio the other teams will create, but each possible line is still top-six calibre, and that will help them keep the pressure on their opponents for a full 60 minutes.
Tomas Plekanec and Jakub Voracek will be the main players up front, with the veteran Montreal Canadiens forward leading the team with three goals through the first three tune-up games. Used to playing with Jagr, Plekanec may not have the same production as he has in previous tournaments, but will need to be one of the key pieces if the Czechs are going to advance to the medal round.
The group alignment could benefit the Czechs in that regard. Although they did end up on Canada's side of the draw, Teams Europe and USA are both potential targets for wins in the short preliminary round. Those two games will be where the Czech Republic will focus the majority of its efforts.
Like the forward group, the defence corps is solid but not spectacular, made up mostly of bit players who have had decent NHL careers to this point. They do have the services of Michal Kempny, who will play with the Chicago Blackhawks for his first NHL season, and he has been relied upon to be the top defender through pre-tournament action. They could probably hold their own versus an NHL team, but they may not be able to contend with the constant attack of top-quality offensive players in a best-on-best tournament.
They’ve already faced a good test, going toe-to-toe with the elite Russian stars in their first two pre-tournament games, coming away with a one-goal loss and a shootout win. They used their persistent offensive press to break down the young Russian defence, and actually outshot their opponents in both games, launching 37 shots on goal in 65 minutes of play in the second contest. They were able to top the young Team North America in their final game before the meaningul matches begin, as well, despite being outshot 44-29.
Those are the kinds of effort the Czechs will need each and every game, and it will be their only chance of making it to the semi-finals. They’re not going to have any easy games, as each match will be a battle.
Backing up the median-level skaters will be Detroit Red Wings starter Petr Mrazek. He has shown he can compete with the best goalies in the league in his short NHL career, and he can be the determining factor in whether the Czechs suffer a devastating one-goal loss or effect a thrilling upset.
The Czech Republic, with its cast of minor characters, won’t be given much of a chance in this tourament by the pundits, but you can’t rule them out of medal contention just yet.