It is official: The NHL, NHL Players' Association and International Ice Hockey Federation have announced there will be NHL players at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Prior to the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF, NHL.com had three writers select the team they would take to Sochi for each of the "big seven" hockey-playing nations. Note: This is not the team the writers project each country's hockey federation will select, but the team they would select at this point.
The Czech Republic has gone every other Olympics with a medal since NHL players started participating in the tournament: gold in 1998 in Nagano, Japan; no medal in Salt Lake City in 2002; bronze in Turin, Italy, in 2006; and a quarterfinal loss to Finland four years ago in Vancouver.
If the pattern holds true, the Czechs will be a team to reckon with in Sochi. They have been a more successful team on the bigger ice surface, and though the Czechs won't be considered one of the favorites in February, they likely will bring a talented roster to Russia.
There appears to be some certainty about who should make the roster in net, but choosing a starter from among Michal Neuvirth, Ondrej Pavelec and Tomas Vokoun could be tricky. Vokoun is a veteran with loads of international experience, but Pavelec has become a workhorse for the Winnipeg Jets.
Ten forwards appear on all three NHL.com rosters, with the final three spots split between Ales Hemsky (two votes), Jiri Hudler (two), Tomas Fleischmann (two), Vladimir Sobotka (two) and Martin Havlat (one). There is quality down the middle with David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec and Martin Hanzal; talent (and veteran leadership) on the wings with Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr and Milan Michalek; and some players who have taken significant strides forward since 2010 (Krejci, Jiri Tlusty and Jakub Voracek).
The defense appears a little less settled, with three players appearing on all three ballots. There could be some interesting youth vs. experience decisions to make on the blue line. Will the old guard of Tomas Kaberle, Rostislav Klesla and Marek Zidlicky continue to represent their country? Or will younger players Ladislav Smid, Radko Gudas and Jakub Kindl become first-time Olympians?
Here are the projected rosters for the Czech Republic:
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