It's Martin Rucinsky's first foray as GM of the Czech national team, and he put a unique stamp on the club when his country unveiled its first 16 of 23 players for its 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster Wednesday.
The 2014 Sochi Olympic Czech roster was notorious for its inclusion of grizzled vet Petr Nedved, then 42, and it finished in sixth place. The Czechs have just a single bronze medal at the Winter Games since their 1998 Nagano gold. Kudos, then, to Rucinsky for sending a strong message with his Sweet 16 for 2016. He loaded up on youth and speed.
The Czech roster has one teenager in right winger David Pastrnak, and center Tomas Plekanec is the lone player 30 or older among the first 16 named, though center David Krejci and defenseman Roman Polak will turn 30 before the World Cup commences in September.
“I wouldn’t say we did that on purpose, but we wanted to put a fast team on the ice, the fastest we could put," Rucinsky said via conference call. "As you know, our options are very limited. We don’t have as many players in the NHL as we used to. If you look at the roster, we still have to nominate seven players. They could be veterans."
This team belongs to Krejci, Plekanec and the emerging 20-something stars like right winger Jakub Voracek and left winger Ondrej Palat. The usual suspects like Ales Hemsky and Patrik Elias up front and Marek Zidlicky and Michal Rozsival on defense are far from locks. The exception to that rule, of course, is the legendary Jaromir Jagr, 44. A roster spot is his if he wants it, even though he retired from international hockey last year. Rucinsky will give Jagr extra time to make his decision and thus opted not to name him for the roster Wednesday.
“I’m not going to try to convince him," Rucinsky said. "Putting myself in his shoes, I wouldn’t be happy either if someone would come to me and try and talk me into it. 'Jags' deserves a lot of respect from all of us because of what he did for not only the national team, but for Czech hockey. That’s why we’re going to give him some time, see what he thinks, see how he feels after the season."
Jagr will focus on a playoff push with the Florida Panthers alongside newly acquired teammate and fellow Czech Jiri Hudler, who didn't make the Sochi roster and wasn't named to the first 16 Wednesday. Rucinsky isn't ready to rule Hudler out yet, however.
“He had a very, very good season last year," Rucinsky said. "I’m not sure what happened this year. He kind of slowed down a little bit. But that doesn’t mean anything. This roster we put together doesn’t mean Jiri Hudler won’t be on it June 1."
Playing alongside the nation's greatest hockey hero can only help Hudler's chances.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin