Another step closer to hockey season, and with the end of the Summer Olympics, the third edition of the World Cup of Hockey finally comes back. The last WCOH played in 2004 with the win taken by Canada, it has been 12 years since. I will be covering Team Czech Republic throughout this series, and as we look from their past roster in 2004 some familiar names speak to us hockey fans; forwards Jaromir Jagr, Jiri Fischer, Patrik Elias, and defenseman Marek Zidlicky. Out of these 4 players who played in the last World Cup, only 3 have played within the last season; Jagr with the Panthers, Elias with the Devils, and Zidlicky with the Islanders. Elias and Zidlicky are both currently on the UFA list while Jagr stays on the active roster with the Panthers.
Not to forget, Jiri Fischer who skated 6 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings during his entire NHL career, also playing during the 2002 Stanley Cup Championship. Although he is retired, Fischer continues to serve with the Red Wings organization as the Director of Player Development, entering his ninth season. A key history reminder for the Czechs’ during that 2002 Stanley Cup Championship, Fischer was present for his former teammates, the Czech Republic native Dominik ‘dominator’ Hasek era. As this era has passed a new question arises, will current goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings and Czech Republic Petr Mrazek have his era like Dominik Hasek did in his career? Only time will tell as his career and stats progress.
It’s no question that Team Czech Republic will have a difficult time in this short tournament, with missing key players such as Jiri Hudler, Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, and Tomas Hertl there will NEED to be a step up from the other veterans in this squad. Despite the missing offensive firepower, this remains a fairly potent group up front. Six players scored half-a-point per game or better this past season. Players Tomas Plekanec and Jakub Voracek are expected to be two of the offensive leaders, and should be in the run for strong games in this tournament. This (Plakanec/Voracek) pair led all Czech players in the World Cup in points per game last season, despite shooting the worst percentage of their careers. Their blue-line has plenty of experience in the league, with 1670 games played in the NHL.
Goaltending is going to be outstanding during the World Cup this time around. I would say that goalies in the league today are REQUIRED to be one of the top players on the ice, and with the talent that players possess nowadays their skills in net require tremendous amounts of practice. There is no shortage of skill that goalies have either, height and reflex have shown us that we are among the greats of todays league. Net minders such as Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, and Ben Bishop are just a few examples of really talented goalies that will be in consideration for other teams in the tournament to look out for. I say a few examples because teams such as US and Canada have 3 solid net minders to rotate from!
There is no doubt that all tournament teams are looking to shock the world which requires strong play in net, and the Czechs’ two main options can provide just that. Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth both stood better than their teams’ respective starters in the postseason after solid regular seasons. The pair was stellar in the playoffs, posting a .945 and.981 SV%, both being in incredibly small post season runs. Mrazek and Neuvirth were ranked 16th and 17th in even-strength save percentage last season, ahead of all but three goalies in Group A at the World Cup of Hockey that played at least 1,000 minutes last season; Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, Thomas Greiss, AND in front of all three American goalies.
Because the Czechs’ will be missing 3 top forwards from their lineup, some talent will be diminished from the team. Because the tournament is not too long, there is no say how the team will perform, experience may not necessarily be the deciding factor. But, because of the less depth that the overall team has versus other teams such as US, Canada and the new young squad of players Team North America, the Czechs’s will need control the tempo of their opponents. In result, the Czechs’ will undoubtedly face an uphill climb in this tournament, it will be no easy race. With that said, you still should not take them out of the race entirely. This is a group that has experience with international play and with each other.
Taking a Look at Team Czech Republic’s Roster
Missing due to injury: San Jose Sharks; Tomas Hertl, Philadelphia Flyers; Radko Gudas, and Boston Bruins, David Krejci.
Forwards: Michal Birner, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL); Roman Cervenka, Fribourg-Gotteron (NLA), Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars; Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames; Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes; Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars; Dmitrij Jaskin, St. Louis Blues; Milan Michalek, Toronto Maple Leafs; Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning; David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins; Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens; Vladimir Sobotka, Avangard Omsk (KHL); Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers.
Defensemen: Michal Jordan, UFA; Michal Kempny, Chicago Blackhawks; Tomas Kundratek, HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL); Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes; Jakub Nakladal, Calgary Flames; Roman Polak, San Jose Sharks; Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Goalies: Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings; Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers; Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets.
Ondrej Palat Tomas Plekanec Jakub Voracek
Milan Michalek Martin Hanzal David Pastrnak
Ales Hemsky Radek Faksa Michael Frolik
Michal Birner Dmitrij Jaskin Vladimir Sobotka
Michal Kempny Roman Polak
Andrej Sustr Zbynek Michalek
Michal Jordan Jakub Nakladal
Photo Credit: http://www.habseyesontheprize.com/2016/5/2/11554084/2016-world-hockey-championship-czech-republic-preview-tomas-plekanec-roster-david-pastrnak