August 30, 2016

World Cup of Hockey Preview: Czech Republic

It was not so long ago that the Czech Republic was the top hockey nation in the world.

Rewind your clocks 15 or 20 years back to 1996 to 2001. In that five year span the Czechs, backed by legends Dominik Hasek and Jaromir Jagr, famously won the 1998 Olympic gold medal. They also took four World Championships and two World Junior championships in that time frame.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.
  • They have not been a threat at an Olympics since.
  • They won the 2010 World Championship, but have averaged 5th place ever since.
  • Since 2001 they have medalled just once at the World Juniors. 
If this trend continues, by the time the World Cup of Hockey presumably returns in 2020, the Czechs might be part of the amalgamated Team Europe entry should that gimmick itself return. Perhaps Switzerland could take their place. The Czechs have some systemic issues that begin right at the grassroots levels, and that is now showing at the elite level.

The likelihood of the Czech Republic winning the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is not good, at best. 

Up front the Czechs feature some nice talent in the likes of Ondrej Palat, David Krejci, Jakub Voraceck, Tomas Plekanec and Tomas Hertl. They could really benefit from some early power play chemistry.

But do they have the depth up front to compete? They will be relying heavily on the likes of Martin Hanzal, Vladimir Sobotka and Radek Paksa to provide a 200-foot game and make things uncomfortable for the opponent.

You will of course notice Jaromir Jagr's absence. He has retired from international hockey, preferring to save his aging body for the long NHL season.

In net the names Petr Mrazek, Michal Neuvirth and Odrej Pavelec will not likely keep opposition shooters awake at night. Now obviously anything can happen in these short tourneys, but the Czechs may have the weakest goaltending in the tourney.

The no-name blueline certainly will not help out the goaltenders. The big bodied Canadians and Americans will likely feast upon this weak group. Andrej Sustr, Roman Polak, Jakub Nakladal, Michal Kempny, Michal Jordan? Hey at least we've heard of Radko Gudas and Zbynek Michalek.

The coaching staff will have to protect his blueline greatly and that will only be accomplished if the Czechs can control the neutral zone and avoid puck chases and the odd man rush. That means forwards playing low and their own scoring chances will dwindle because of it.

It could be a short tournament for the Czech Republic. 

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