PRAGUE – Drawn in a group alongside medal candidates Canada, Sweden and Russia, the last thing Czech coach Miroslav Prerost needs is adversity. Unfortunately for him the Czech junior national team’s preparation has gone anything but smooth.
It was only a few months ago, but it already looks so far away. In May the Czech Republic restored national pride by winning the gold medal game of the IIHF World Championship against Russia.
Not much later, the problems started.
The majority of the Czech national team players left the Extraliga for lucrative contracts elsewhere. Various general managers openly criticized each other in the media leading to a very cold atmosphere on and off the ice. And finally, there were two big scandals related to incorrect player administration which resulted in huge fines and point deductions for a number of teams as well as cracking the fragile confidence among teams and the league even further.
In this background, Miroslav Prerost had to prepare his team for the upcoming IIHF World U20 Championship. Prerost took over from Slavomir Lener, who saw his team drop to the relegation series last year and finished seventh.
Targeting to be underdogs in the group that consists of three major junior hockey powers and newly promoted Norway, the head coached suffered further setbacks.
First he learned that two major cornerstones of his team got injured. Dmitri Jaskin has been playing pro all season long with Slavia Prague but has been ruled out as of late November and is not expected to return until early 2011. Two weeks later towering defenceman David Musil of the Vancouver Giants was sidelined with a hairline fracture on the fibula of his right leg. The good news is that he might be able to play for the Czech team, question is how healthy he will be, not having played for quite some time.
On top of that, the Czech U20 team staff was not allowed to select goaltender Petr Mrazek and defenceman Adam Polasek. Both players have been impressive so far this year for the Ottawa 67’s (Mrazek) and Prince Edward Island Rocket (QMJHL).
The reason for the refusal is a contract conflict between the player’s former club team, HC Vitkovice Ostrava, and the players themselves.
Vitkovice demands financial compensation for both players lost to North America to cover their education costs. Without the existence of a transfer agreement between the NHL and the Czech Republic, the team is entitled to do so. When their contract ran out two years ago, Mrazek and Polasek decided to sign overseas despite receiving a late offer from their parent club. HC Vitkovice Ostrava is still unhappy about the loss of the players and now demands a fee around $200,000 for each player. If not paid, they will not release them to any Czech national team.
Mrazek himself had loved to be the starting goaltender for the Czechs in front of the North American scouts and media. “It is a big disappointment that I can’t play in the World U20 Championship, but it has always been a dream for me to play in Canada,” he says about his move abroad.
“HC Vitkovice has stated we did have a contract, but that is not true. My teammates say the current ban is like what happened in the communism era. Such things only occurred in the past. I can’t help it that there’s no transfer agreement in place. At least I’ll be home for Christmas now,” Mrazek points out a sole consolation.
Mrazek’s agent Robert Spalenka and Miroslav Prerost have both tried to un-edge the nerves between both conflicting parties but did not manage to resolve the issue.
“The kids wanted to represent their country and the coaches wanted them a lot,” said Spalenka, who could not believe his ears when he first heard about the ban. “This is a contractual issue that led to Czech Association upholding the ban. It’s a decision that we unfortunately have to respect.”
Without the two players, Miroslav Prerost moves on. “It’s been an endless problem last months,” hinting at the recent string of conflicts. “They have been about rules being followed or not. I can have my opinion but it doesn’t really matter. I have to follow the rules.”
The Czech selection consists out of 13 players currently playing junior hockey in Canada including highly rated Andrej Nestrasil and Martin Frk. The fact that more than half of the squad is playing outside the Czech Republic is most likely a direct result of the tournament being played in Buffalo on a smaller ice surface than in Europe.
Whether it will be the key to a place in the playoff round remains to be seen. The Czechs will enter Buffalo as underdogs and being wounded. But although a wounded animal can be regarded as an easy pray, it can also react unpredictable and find unknown strengths to save itself.
Prerost concludes: “Nobody expects us to make it to the next round, but perhaps that is a better outlook than that everybody expects us to qualify without problems.”
Let the nations hunting the Czechs been given a warning.
Czech Republic’s preliminary 28-man roster
Marek Mazanec, HC Plzen
Filip Novotny, Sparta Prague
Tadeusz Galansky, Saginaw (OHL)
Jakub Jerabek, HC Plzen
Peter Senkerik, HC Havlickuv Brod
Dalibor Reznicek, HC Zlin
Adam Sedlak, Ottawa (OHL)
Martin Planek, HC Znojmo
David Musil, Vancouver (WHL)
Oldrich Horak, Hradec Kralove
Marek Hrbas, Edmonton (WHL)
Bohumil Jank, HC Mountfield
Michael Zacpalek, Sparta Prague
Robin Soudek, Chilliwack (WHL)
Roman Horak, Chilliwack (WHL)
Andrej Nestrasil, P.E.I. (QMJHL)
Ondrej Palat, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Martin Frk, Halifax (QMJHL)
Peter Holik, HC Zlin
Jakub Orsava, HC Trinec
Michal Hlinka, HC Vitkovice Ostrava
David Tuma, Sparta Prague
Antonin Honejsek, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Jakub Culek, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Petr Straka, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Tomas Rachunek, HC Plzen
Tomas Filippi, Quebec (QMJHL)
Radim Herman, HC Mountfield