The Czechs’ best days are behind them and their modern roster relies on too many stars from an era gone by, but an easy preliminary round draw means they could do some damage if they get hot at the right time.
The glory days of gold in 1998 are far away for the Czechs. They might challenge for a bronze medal and win it as they did in 2006, but could also finish seventh as they did in 2010.
To do any damage in Sochi, they need their group of skilled forwards to inflict it. Greybeards Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias are on the downsides of their careers and there aren’t enough talented youngsters – like Jakub Voracek – to replace them. They’ll lean on Boston Bruins center David Krejci, Montreal Canadiens pivot Tomas Plekanec and Ottawa Senators left winger Milan Michalek for point production. It’s curious, to say the least, that they turned to 42-year-old Petr Nedved while Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler didn’t make the team.
The ‘D’ lacks the ability to intimidate, except for Tampa Bay bruiser Radko Gudas, but in Zbynek Michalek and Ladislav Smid, they’ll have some canny veterans on which to rely.
In goal, Ondrej Pavelec is the probable starter, especially since Michal Neuvirth was bypassed. Pavelec can get hot for stretches. If he struggles, the Czechs will turn to Jakub Kovar or Alexander Salak.
The Czechs tend to play down to their lesser opponents. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, they were nearly eliminated by Latvia in the qualification round after allowing two third-period goals and narrowly averted a crushing defeat thanks to an overtime goal from Krejci. If they remain unable to clamp down on the opposition after earning themselves a lead, their stay in Sochi will be short.
The Czechs received a favorable draw for the preliminary round in Sochi. They’re in Group C along with Sweden, Latvia and Switzerland. They don’t have an abundance of depth and aren’t led by an otherworldly talent such as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, but the Czechs can surprise. However, don’t be surprised if they don’t surprise anyone.
THN PREDICTION: 6th
WHAT HAPPENED IN VANCOUVER 2010
The Czechs played well through a tough preliminary round draw, recording wins against Slovakia and Latvia and losing to top-ranked Russia. After they gave up a 2-0 lead against the Latvians and scored in OT to win their qualification playoff, they faced Finland in the quarters. They were stonewalled by Miikka Kiprusoff, who blocked 31 shots for the shutout. Niklas Hagman scored the winner with less than seven minutes left.