STOCKHOLM – The Czech Republic is aiming to get back into the gold medal game for the first time since 2010. The Czechs are always dangerous and perennial contenders for a medal at the World Championships.
Sure there was a stretch from 2007-2009 when they finished 7th, 6th and 5th respectively but over the past decade the Czechs have brought some of the best, most cohesive teams (and players) to this tournament.
Four gold medals, silver and two bronze since 2000 show the Czechs to be quite formidable and that they will likely be in contention here in Stockholm.
When it comes to a dependable, top-level goaltender the Czechs have Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec, a 2005 second overall pick by the then Atlanta Thrashers, is now firmly rooted as the starting goaltender for the Winnipeg Jets. Pavelec saw action in a career-high 68 games over the 2011/2012 season.
At the 2011 IIHF World Championship, Pavelec led the way with six wins in seven starts. His only tournament loss – and the Czechs' only tournament loss for that matter – came in the semi-finals against Sweden. He was also a member of the 2010 gold medal team, although he did not see much time.
Alexander Salak and Pavel Francouz are on the roster but neither has experience at this level. Francouz, though, logged 45 games for Litvinov in the Czech Extraliga.
The two defencemen with NHL experience are Ladislav Smid and Zbynek Michalek. Both have represented the Czech Republic before at the World Championships, with Michalek having done so on four previous occasions.
Smid is a big, stay-at-home defenceman who blocks a lot of shots. On an Edmonton Oilers team with plenty of young talents, Smid was one of the important contributors on the team on defence.
Petr Caslava was the top defenceman with two goals and five points in 2012. Caslava had a fine season with Severstal Cherepovets where he posted a personal career KHL high of eleven points. Also making the trip to Stockholm will be Marek Troncinsky, Jakub Nakladal, Zdenek Kutlak, Jakub Krejcik and Jan Hejda.
The Czechs will have at their disposal several NHL players who enjoyed highly successfully statistical seasons despite the shortened season.
Tomas Fleischmann’s 12 goals and 35 points led the Florida Panthers. Philadelphia Flyers Jakub Voracek will be a player to watch. The big improvement in his game this season has been in going to the net more and using his speed.
Jiri Tlusty scored a career-high 23 goals in all 48 games he appeared for the Carolina Hurricanes. Hulking centre Martin Hanzal will also provide some strength up front. Jiri Hudler, who left the Detroit Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent, scored 10 goals in 42 games for the Calgary Flames.
The Czech team can also count on the contributions Radim Vrbata who scored five goals the last time he appeared at the World Championships. 19-year-old prospect Tomas Hertl scored 18 goals for Slavia Prague this year. Zbynek Irgl, who was the hero for the Czechs in the 2006 World Championship against Russia, returns after a four-year absence from the national team.
Alois Hadamczik has held the position of national team coach twice. His first tenure from 2005-2008 led to a 2006 Winter Olympic and then World Championship bronze. Upon resuming the reigns in 2010, his teams have won consecutive bronze medals. Hadamczik is now seeking an upgrade on his achievements. Hadamczik previously coached Czech clubs Sparta Prague, Vitkovice, Trinec and Olomouc.
Since 2010, the Czech Republic has been in contention and knocking on the door to more than gold. Expect that they will once again be among the top teams. The Czechs are a steady group no matter who’s on the roster.
Since the Czech World Championship dynasty (yes, that’s right dynasty) of three consecutive gold medals (1999, 2000, 2001), the national team has been talented and never far from being considered a favourite in this tournament. This team could pull off a championship run but the competition will be tough.