Fifth Olympics for two Finns

Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Switzerland announce rosters

30.12.2009
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Jaromir Jagr is the only 1998 Olympic gold-medal winner on the Czech team for Vancouver 2010. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

Five more nations have announced their provisional rosters for the Olympic Winter Games with the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and (for both the men’s and women’s teams) Switzerland on December 30. The choices range from repeat Olympians to surprising newcomers.

Jagr the lone Nagano hero

The Czech Republic won the historic 1998 Olympic hockey tournament in Nagano. That was the first time the NHL took a break for the biggest winter sport event. Twelve years later, one player from '98 remains on the Czech team: Jaromir Jagr.

Other 1998 heroes are still active, including Robert Lang, who wasn't even on the long list. Official candidates included Dominik Hasek, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky and Milan Hejduk. But only Jagr made the 23-man roster for Vancouver 2010.

The former NHL superstar, who notched 1599 points in 1273 NHL games, has been playing in Russia for Avangard Omsk since 2008.

For Jagr, it will be his fourth Olympic Games. Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Petr Cajanek and Patrik Elias will play in their third Olympics.

Nine players were on the team that won the bronze in Turin 2006. Twelve players represented the Czech Republic in the 2009 World Championship.

Currently, the top Czech NHL scorer is Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec, who is one of the most successful NHL centres with 44 points (8+36). He’s followed by Toronto defenceman Tomas Kaberle with 35 points (3+32). Kaberle is second overall in scoring among defencemen.

With dozens of NHL players, head coach Vladimir Ruzicka, who led the Czechs to the 2005 World Championship gold, enjoyed an abundance of choices.

Most players on the team (16) come from the NHL, while five are from Russia and two from the Czech Extraliga.

While Vitkovice goalie Jakub Stepanek will likely remain the third-stringer behind Florida’s Tomas Vokoun and Atlanta’s Ondrej Pavalec, the other player from the domestic league is forward Roman Cervenka. The 24-year-old is one of the youngest players on this experienced team, and played his first World Championship earlier this year. The Slavia Prague forward currently tops the Czech Extraliga scoring derby with 55 points (24+31) in 35 games.

Fifth Olympics for Lehtinen and Selänne

Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen had plenty of choices for his Olympic roster. He could basically have had a team full of NHL players, but he chose to go with 18 NHLers, four players from the Russian KHL and one from Sweden.

As expected, the team looks quite different from the 2009 IIHF World Championship squad. Only six players on the Vancouver 2010 roster played in that tournament.

Fourteen players from Turin 2006 will get another shot at winning the first Olympic gold for Finland. Four  years ago, they settled for silver with a painful loss to Sweden in the final.

Finland has world-class players at every position. In goal, Miikka Kiprusoff (19 wins) and Niklas Bäckström (18 wins) have had strong seasons so far. Kiprusoff’s 92.7 save percentage ranks third among NHL starting goalies.

Mikko Koivu is Minnesota’s and Finland’s best NHL scorer with 36 points (10+26) in 39 games. Seven Finns have at least 20 points this season, including defenceman Kimmo Timonen.

Two forwards, 36-year-old Jere Lehtinen (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006) and 39-year-old Teemu Selänne (1992, 1998, 2002, 2006), are Finland’s true Olympic veterans, as they will play in their fifth Olympic Games. It’s a remarkable number, although it will be hard to surpass Raimo Helminen’s record of six Olympics (1984-2002). Timonen, Saku Koivu and Ville Peltonen will play in their fourth Olympics.

On this squad, Lehtinen has the most Olympic medals with the Turin silver and two bronze medals.

Peltonen has played the most international games (243) and scored the most goals (78) for Finland.

Among the players that didn’t make the team is Jussi Jokinen, who played in Turin and is currently having his best NHL season in a Carolina jersey with 25 points (11+14).

Also, Hannes Hyvönen isn’t on the team anymore. This omission comes even after playing in two consecutive World Championships, and despite being the highest-scoring Finnish KHL player and Dynamo Minsk’s scoring leader.

Another missing Team Finland veteran is Petteri Nummelin, who was on the Turin roster and represented his country in 14 World Championships.

Germany rebuilding before hosting 2010 Worlds

After finishing 15th in the last World Championship, Germany coach Uwe Krupp will send a rebuilt team to Vancouver. It's also a chance for him to assess new players with the 2010 IIHF World Championship coming up on home ice (Cologne, Mannheim and Gelsenkirchen).

Germany’s roster features seven players from North America (6 NHL, 1 AHL), while the other 16 players come from the German league.

Several weeks ago, Krupp told the German sport agency SID that “if a player over there [in North America] plays a marginal role and gets only a little ice time, it’s absolutely possible that we will take a player [to the Olympics] who plays a bigger role in Germany”.

Well, the 23-man roster is out, and Buffalo’s Jochen Hecht and Atlanta’s Christoph Schubert are out too. But at least they’re on the reserve list. Both represented Germany in the 2009 World Championship, but Krupp wasn't sold on their merits for the Olympic roster.

Not choosing Hecht might come to a surprise to many observers. Even though he seems to be past the peak of his career, he remains the most experienced and highest-scoring current German NHLer behind Marco Sturm, who is the biggest name on the roster.

The other NHLers on the preliminary roster include goalie Thomas Greiss; defencemen Christian Ehrhoff, Dennis Seidenberg and Alexander Sulzer; and forward Marcel Goc.

Eisbären Berlin forward Stefan Ustorf is also missing on the list. It would have been his fifth Olympics. The player with the most international experience on the Vancouver 2010 roster is another Berliner: Sven Felski has played in 140 national team games, including the 2006 Olympics and nine World Championships.

A newcomer included on the roster is Czech-born Jakub Ficenec, who was naturalized recently and has played just three games for the national team, all in November in the Deutschland Cup. Korbinian Holzer, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday in Vancouver, has one more game than that to his credit.

Seven players on the preliminary roster represented Germany in Turin 2006, while 10 played in the 2009 World Championship.

Switzerland with young defence

Ralph Krueger will go into his third Olympics as the Swiss head coach with a roster full of familiar faces that have played for him in recent years.

The one big exception is defenceman Luca Sbisa, who has played 47 NHL games for Philadelphia and Anaheim. However, he was sent down to the junior Western Hockey League, and is currently participating in the World Juniors in Canada. Sbisa has never played for the senior men’s national team before. He will be joined by another 2010 World Junior player in Roman Josi, who suited up in the 2009 World Championship as an 18-year-old. Four of the eight defencemen are 24 years old or younger.

Eighteen players were on the team that represented Switzerland at the 2009 Worlds on home ice in Berne, while ten players participated in the 2006 Olympics.

The team’s marquee names include Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, former NHL netminder Martin Gerber, and defenceman Mark Streit of the New York Islanders, who played in the NHL All-Star Game in 2009.

Sixteen of the 23 players play in the Swiss National League A, and two each in the NHL and AHL.

Krueger had plenty of choices from the domestic Swiss league. It made international headlines when ZSC Lions Zurich first won the Champions Hockey League and then the Victoria Cup against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this year.

Some World Championship players of recent memory didn’t make the list or were announced as reserve players in case someone on the 23-man list gets injured. One absentee is Paul DiPietro, who scored both goals in Switzerland’s biggest victory in Turin 2006, the 2-0 win over Canada. Another Canadian-born player who was omitted is Ryan Gardner. But there’s a new Canuck expat in Hnat Domenichelli. The 33-year-old forward, who won World Junior gold with Canada in 1996, is playing his seventh season in Switzerland, and was naturalized after marrying a Swiss woman.

Switzerland also announced its roster for the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament. The team resembles the one that participated in the 2009 World Women’s Championship, as 17 returning players took part in the event in Finland last spring. Eight players were part of the Swiss women's team that played its first-ever Olympics in Turin 2006.

Click here for the men’s Olympic rosters.

Click here for the women’s Olympic rosters.

MARTIN MERK

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