Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: Previewing the Czech Republic men's hockey team

Martin Rose

With the men's hockey portion of the Sochi Olympics set to kick off later this week, we preview the six nations with the best chance to medal. Up first is the Czech Republic.

2010 Olympic Performance: 7th (L) 2-0, Finland - Quarterfinals

Winnipeg Jets' representation: Michael Frolik (RW), Ondrej Pavelec (G)

Players to Watch: Patrick Elias (C), David Krejci (C), Jaromir Jagr (RW), Tomas Plekanec (C)

Tournament Dark Horse: Ondřej Palát (LW)

Schedule
DATE TIME EVENT
February 12, 2014 11:00AM CZE vs. SWE
February 14, 2014 2:00AM CZE vs. LAT
February 15, 2014 11:00AM SUI vs. CZE

Roster
NAME POSITION AGE LEAGUE TEAM
Jaromir Jagr RW 41 NHL New Jersey Devils
Tomas Plekanec C 31 NHL Montreal Canadiens
Patrik Elias C/LW 37 NHL New Jersey Devils
Milan Michalek LW 29 NHL Ottawa Senators
David Krejci C 27 NHL Boston Bruins
Jakub Voracek LW/RW 24 NHL Philadelphia Flyers
Ondrej Palat LW 22 NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
Martin Hanzal C 26 NHL Phoenix Coyotes
Ales Hemsky RW 30 NHL Edmonton Oilers
Martin Erat RW 32 NHL Washington Capitals
Roman Cervenka C 28 KHL St. Petersburg SKA
Michael Frolik RW 25 NHL Winnipeg Jets
Petr Nedved LW 42 Czech Liberec Bili Tygri HC
Jiri Novotny C 30 KHL Prague Lev
Zbynek Michalek D 31 NHL Phoenix Coyotes
Marek Zidlicky D 37 NHL New Jersey Devils
Michal Rozsival D 35 NHL Chicago Blackhawks
Radko Gudas D 23 NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
Tomas Kaberle D 35 Czech Kladno Knights
Ladislav Smid D 28 NHL Calgary Flames
Michal Barinka D 29 Czech Vitkovice HC
Lukas Krajicek D 30 KHL Dinamo Minsk
Ondrej Pavelec G 26 NHL Winnipeg Jets
Jakub Kovar G 25 KHL Yekaterinburg Automobilist
Alexander Salak G 27 KHL St. Petersburg SKA

Injuries
STATUS PLAYER NHL Team
IN Martin Erat Washington Capitals
OUT Vladimir Sobotka St. Louis Blues

Strengths

Lots of experience: With an average player age teetering just shy of 30 (29.76), the Czech Republic features one of the more veteran savvy rosters heading into the 2014 Sochi tournament. Jaromir Jagr will be appearing in his fifth (!) Olympic Games while his cohort Patrick Elias isn't far behind. The familiarity shared between their forward group could be of monumental importance, especially given the advantage of playing on an Olympic-sized ice surface. As a number of these players were part of the 2010 World Championship roster which won gold in Mannheim, Germany, General Manager Slavomír Lener will look to replicate from this past success.

Depth at centre: Tomas Plekanec, David Krejci and Martin Hanzal highlight the Czech's deepest pool of talent at any position. The trio will be tasked with producing offence for an underrated cluster of wingers who could be poised to surprise.

Weaknesses

Goaltending: While it's true that Ondrej Pavelec saves some of his best work for international play, the Czech's have backed him up with a pair of unheralded netminders from the KHL. Alexander Salak saw a brief stint in the AHL as a member of the Florida Panthers affiliate while Jakub Kovar has quietly put up sneaky good numbers playing in the KHL. But on hockey's grandest stage, you need sound goaltending in order to win. Of the top six countries in contention, the Czech's have the biggest question mark between the pipes.

Defensive defencemen: Despite having decent puck moving defencemen in Marek Zidlicky and -- shock of shocks -- Michal Rozsival, no other NHL blue-liner possesses a Corsi For % of over 50.0% this season; Ladislav Smid being the chief worst among them. The lack of offensive output from their rearguards could be yet another detriment to the Czech's reaching the podium.

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