Thursday, February 11, 2010
The second highest seeded team in Group B at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament is the Czech Republic.
The Czech Republic National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 6th in the IIHF World Rankings and will be a medal contender in Vancouver, having won a bronze during the last Olympics in 2006.
Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, the Czech Republic was automatically entered in the 2010 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.
The Czech Republic have participated in the Olympic ice hockey tournament four times since 1994 after the division of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Their best result was a gold medal in 1998 in Nagano, Japan thanks to the outstanding play of Dominik Hasek, the first Olympics with full NHL participation. In 2006, the Czechs won a bronze, their second Olympic medal since 1994.
Since becoming an independent nation, the Czech Republic have been regular participants in the World Championships, with a number of championship titles to their credit. Since 1993, the Czechs have won bronze three times, silver once and gold on five separate occasions, with the last being in 2005 when all the best players were available due to the NHL lockout. They are on a bit of a cold streak however, having gone without a medal for the last three years.
The Czechs have also participated in the World Cup of Hockey twice, reaching the semi-finals in 2004.
The Czech Republic enters the 2010 Olympics with 16 NHLers on it's roster, highlighted by Tomas Vokoun, currently playing outstanding in goal for the Florida Panthers. A strong defensive group should provide not only plenty of support for Vokoun, but generate some considerable offense from the back, with tons of experience and skill from the likes of Tomas Kaberle, Filip Kuba, Pavel Kubina and Marek Zidlicky.
The offense will be powered by Jaromir Jagr, currently playing with Avangard Omsk in the KHL, and the Czechs will need him to provide the offense, as only one of the Czech NHLers, Tomas Plekanec, is in the top 25 in league scoring and no one named to the roster even has 20 goals as of today. Others that the Czechs will rely on include David Krejci, Martin Havlat and Martin Erat. The Czechs also remain hopeful that team captain Patrik Elias will be back up to speed after returning from his recent concussion. Aside from the 16 NHL players, there are five from the KHL and two from the Czech Extraliga. Oddly, Vinny Prospal and Radim Vrbata, the #2 and #5 leading scoring Czechs in the NHL were left off the roster.
With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for the Czech Republic will be defeating rivals Slovakia in their opening matchup on February 17th. If the Czechs even tie that game, it will be a precious lost point that will likely cost them any chance of a bye into the quarterfinals, as one can expect at least one of the other two teams seeded second in their groups, the United States and Finland, to go 2-1 in the very brief preliminary round. If a win against Slovakia is achieved, they must take care of business against Latvia to set up a meaningful game against Russia on February 21 with the winner getting a direct route into the quarterfinals on February 24th and avoid having to play an additional game the day before.
Today's featured jersey is a Nike 1998 Czech Republic National Team Dominik Hasek jersey as worn when the Czech Republic captured the Olympic gold medal against Russia in Nagano, Japan.
The Olympics in 1998 were the first with the full participation of NHL players, as the league suspended it's regular season schedule for the occasion. Canada made several controversial decisions even before the tournament, as general manager Bobby Clarke chose Eric Lindros, who played for him in Philadelphia, as team captain over the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Ray Bourque. In addition, Mark Messier and Scott Niedermayer were left off the team.
The United States, who had won the World Cup of Hockey just two years earlier were a huge disappointment, losing to Canada and Sweden in group play and getting eliminated by the Czechs in the first knockout round.
The Czechs, who had the fewest NHL players on it's roster among the top six nations with 11, got off to a good start by shutting out Finland 3-0 in their first game before demolishing Kazakhstan 8-2. The lost to Russia 2-1 in group play, but then bounced back with an easy 4-1 win to eliminate the Americans. The semi-finals saw them matched up against Canada, a close fought game that ended with a memorable shootout, as Hasek stonewalled all five Canadian shooters, relegating them to the bronze medal game after Canada once more surprised everyone by not having either Gretzky or Yzerman make attempts in the shootout, a decision by coach Marc Crawford that is still being talked about to this day.
The final game came down to a rematch between the Czech Republic and Russia, with defenseman Petr Svoboda scoring the only goal of the contest at 8:08 of the third period as Hasek shut out the Russians as he concluded the tournament with an amazing 6 goals allowed in 6 games against the top professionals from Finland, the United States, Canada and Russia - twice - to finish with a goals against average of 0.97.
After the medal ceremony, Hasek said, "When I saw the flag go up, I saw my whole career flash before my eyes from the first time my parents took me to a hockey game until now."
Here is a look at the jerseys that the Czech Republic will be wearing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Another typical modern jersey with gimmicky, curving stripes on both the arms and waist. It's crested with the traditional Czech Coat of Arms, but will become dated in short order as time passes.
First up in today's video section, the full shootout between the Czech Republic and Canada, where Hasek stopped all five Canadians as the pressure climbed with each round of shooters. Be advised that it's 11 minutes long and the shootout doesn't actually start until the 4:00 mark.
This next video tracks the Czechs throughout the tournament as they advance to reach the finals and then capture the gold medal, complete with deafening screams of Gooooooooooooooooooaaaal!
Last up today, a nice video we are really happy to share that complies the championships won by Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic in the World Championships and Olympics, dating back to 1947 with some great rare footage and some classic old sweaters.
Dasherboard: Two links to direct you to today. First, there is an article on IIHF.com about the preparations of the jerseys that will be used for the Olympics that was an interesting read. The article is called The Joy of Jerseys, which sounds like a great name for this blog if we didn't already have one.
Speaking of the IIHF, the latest edition of their excellent newsletter IceTimes , which is naturally their Olympic preview issue, is now available online as a pdf file and is recommended reading.