Saturday, February 8, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Czech Republic

The Czech Republic National Hockey Team is currently ranked 4th in the IIHF World Rankings.

Czech Federation logo photo CzechFederationlogo.png

Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, the Czech Republic was automatically entered in the 2014 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 five 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, the first Olympics with full NHL participation, thanks to the outstanding play of goaltender Dominik Hasek. In 2006, the Czechs won their second medal, a bronze in Torino, Italy.

Hasek Nagano Olympics 1998 photo Hasek1998Czech.jpg
Hasek stole the show in Nagano

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 their first independent appearance in 1993, the Czechs have won bronze five times, silver once and gold on six separate occasions, with the last being in 2010 in Germany.

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 17 NHLers on it's roster, beginning at the back end with Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets in goal. A strong defensive group should provide not only plenty of support for Pavelec, but generate some offense from the back, with experience and skill from the likes of Tomas Kaberle and NHLers Zbynek MichalekMichal Rozival, Lasislav Smid and Marek Zidlicky.

Kaberle Czech photo KaberleCzech.jpg
Tomas Kaberle

The offense will be suspect, as 41 year old Jaromir Jagr is the highest scoring Czech in the NHL at 24th overall, while Patrik Elias (37) and Petr Nedved (42) do nothing bring down the average age of the team.

Jagr Czech photo JagrCzech.jpg
Jaromir Jagr

David Krejci ranks 29th, the only other player in the NHL's top 30. Other notable names are team captain Tomas Plekanec, Ales Hemsky, Jakub Voracek, Michael Frolik and Martin Hanzal. While experienced to be certain, the Czechs appear to lack firepower up front, with no player having reached 20 goals in the NHL this season and Jagr comes into the games with 17 as of February 5, barely enough to eke into the top 50 overall in a tie for 48th. Aside from the 17 NHL players, there are five from the KHL and two from the Czech Extraliga.

Plekanec Czech photo PlekanecCzech.jpg
Tomas Plekanec

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 both Latvia and Switzerland while taking at least a point out of their opening game against Sweden. If the Czechs can achieve this, they have a shot at one of the byes into the Quarterfinals, but they will not only need to find their offensive game quickly, but keep the Swiss and Swedes from exposing the shortcomings in their goaltending.

Czech fan photo Czechfan.jpg

Today's featured jersey is a 1998 Czech Republic National Team Dominik Hasek jersey as worn when the Czech Republic captured the Olympic gold medal in Nagano, Japan. This bold style of jersey was first worn in the 1998 Olympics and is associated with a golden era of Czech hockey, having been worn not only for the Olympic gold in 1998, but also for three consecutive World Championship gold medals in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

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, but the Czechs 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. They 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 hard fought game that ended with a memorable shootout, as Hasek stonewalled all five Canadian shooters to advance to the gold medal game and a rematch against Russia.

Defenseman Petr Svoboda scored the only goal of the contest at 8:08 of the third period as Hasek shut out the Russians to conclude 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."

Czech Republic 1998 H jersey photo CzechRepublic1998HF.jpg
Czech Republic 1998 H jersey photo CzechRepublic1998HB.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that the Czech Republic will be wearing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The home white jersey would be better with some arm and waist stripes, it's a good looking enough jersey as it is. The road jersey, on the other hand, is a risky affair, done in the colors of a Czech Republic flag hung vertically. The effect is, when seen from the right side a jersey which appears to be a home white, Time will tell if the half white, half red with blue shoulders will cause any confusion when worn against other teams wearing their home whites, Switzerland in particular.

 photo CzechRepublic2014jerseys.png

First up in today's video section, the full 1998 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 1998 Olympic 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: We wanted to call your attention to the the latest edition of the excellent IIHF newsletter IceTimes, which is naturally their Olympic preview issue, and is available online as a pdf file and is recommended reading.

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