QUEBEC CITY – Looking at Marek Zidlicky and Tomas Kaberle work the Czech blueline, it’s easy to think of them as two Disney characters where Zidlicky is the cunning fox who cooks up different schemes to get the rabbit. Kaberle is the big bear, the muscle to the fox’s brain.
Only, this dancing bear has shown in this World Championship once again that he can cook up pretty impressive plays himself. In the six Czech games in the tournament, he’s racked up ten points, which make him the team’s leading scorer, and fifth in the tournament scoring race.
Sure, he’s got fellow Kladno boys Zidlicky and Patrik Elias to thank for a few of those points, as Kaberle is quick to point out. Elias is the team's second best in points, with nine.
The Czech powerplay has been lethal in the tournament, with 11 goals out of 31 chances, behind only the Americans. The Czechs have so many skilled players that they can change their plays on the fly – if they have one thought out in advance in the first place.
“I’m an offensive-minded player and have managed to get some passes to the boys in front of the net. That’s what I’ve been doing all my life. I’m happy with the points, but they don’t mean anything. We don’t need to score five goals in every game, we just want to win, and I’d be happy with winning 1-0,” he says.
Not that Kaberle has emerged from nowhere to top all defensemen in the World Championship. He led the Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen in scoring, was ninth among defensemen in the NHL (ten points ahead of Zidlicky) this season, and has averaged 59.3 points in the last three seasons in the league.
He’s already got one World Championship gold, from Vienna in 2005, where he had the opportunity to celebrate it with a special teammate, his brother, Frantisek.
“My Dad’s happy that we both play in the NHL. Every time we play against each other, it’s a special game, with a little different atmosphere. Hopefully, we’ll stay healthy, and can play another few years,” says Kaberle.
The Kaberles, together with father Frantisek, Sr., are a prominent Czech hockey family with a total of eight World Championship gold medals. This year, Tomas is also the captain of the Czech team that boasts 16 NHLers on the roster.
“The national team is number one for everybody. If you get asked to play, you don’t really say no. You join the team, do it with pleasure, and you want to perform in front on your country,” Kaberle says.
“Coach (Alois Hadamczik) asked me before the tournament if I wanted to be captain, and I said ‘yes’. It doesn’t really change my status in the team, in the Czech national team everybody speaks up and they also show it on the ice,” he adds.
That said, sometimes the captain has to make sure things are going in the right direction by making sure everybody’s paying attention.
“Most of the time, I try to be the leader on the ice, but I will also speak up in the dressing room. I’m a quiet type but I’ve had to speak up a couple of times, here and there, between the periods. Even then, it’s pretty much the whole team that’s talking,” he says.
On Wednesday, the captain has to make sure everybody’s ready to play the tournament’s most important game, the quarterfinal against Sweden. A team that delivered Kaberle’s boys a 5-3 loss on Sunday.
“Yes, we lost the game but that doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s simple: we have to win the game to get to the semifinals. We won’t get any more chances. We know Sweden plays pretty defensively, and we have to be careful with that,” Kaberle says.
“They played the first game the way we expected. They have a good goalie and they play great as a team, it doesn’t matter if it’s their first or the fourth line,” he adds.
But the Czechs have that powerplay. The not-so-secret weapon.
“You can always get better. Wednesday’s game is one of those games that we hope to be successful on the powerplay but we can always add something new to it. We have a few set plays but we can also create new ones when we see what the opponent does,” says Kaberle, the winner of the accuracy competition in the 2008 NHL All-Star game, when he popped all four targets with four shots.
“I’ve never practiced that. I just tried to shoot hard. I just took it like a game situation,” he says, smiling.
Let that be a warning for the Swedes.