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Jagr has a home on NHL.com's Czech roster

Sunday, 02.22.2009 / 10:00 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Will Jaromir Jagr suit up for the Czech Republic at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver?

Inquiring minds want to know if the nine-time NHL All-Star, who'll turn 38 the day before the Olympic hockey tournament begins next February, has been contemplating a fourth straight appearance for the Czechs.

Don't forget, at the time Jagr announced he would continue his career with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League last July, he also informed reporters he was eyeing a return to North America for the 2010 Games.

"Maybe," Jagr told the Canadian Press at the time, "I will see you in Vancouver in 2010."

That was music to the ears of current Czech Republic coach Vladimir Ruzicka. The odds of contending are certainly greater with Jagr on board. There's no denying the fact he's shown great loyalty toward his homeland, and if veterans like Colorado's Milan Hejduk, 33, and Montreal's Roman Hamrlik, 34, and Robert Lang, 38, can vie for a roster spot, than why not Jagr?

"He was a huge name when I was growing up and was my favorite player," Czech Republic hopeful and Boston forward David Krejci told NHL.com. "If ever I would get a chance to play with him on the national team, I would be really happy. If I do get there, I know I'm there to do a job for my country, though, and it's not to just be satisfied that you're there, playing with Jagr. I know I'll have to put those feelings aside and just play hockey."

From 2002-04, Ruzicka was an assistant of the Czech national team. Shortly after he left the team, then head coach Ivan Hlinka died and Ruzicka took the position, leading the Czechs to the Vienna World Championship gold medal in 2005. Ruzicka was on the gold-medal teams in the World Championship in 1985 and the '98 Olympics in Nagano.

Here at NHL.com, we're playing the role of general manager for each of the 12 teams gunning for gold in the Olympics. Today we'll look at the fifth-seeded Czech Republic, which will play in Group B along with second-seeded Russia, eighth-seeded Slovakia and 11th-seeded Latvia.

The Czechs earned bronze at the 2006 Games in Torino to become one of only three nations to medal twice in hockey since the NHL allowed its players to participate in the Olympics in 1998, the year the Czechs won gold. Contrary to what you may read or hear, the Czechs should not be taken lightly as they could once again find their way into bronze-medal contention, particularly if Jagr opts to give it a go.

"I think you have to put the best team together and, obviously, Jaro can play and if he does, then it's better for us," Devils wing Patrik Elias said. "He's still outstanding and would be more than a welcome edition to the team."

Goaltenders: Tomas Vokoun, Ondrej Pavelec, Marek Schwarz --
It's pretty much a given that Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun will not only earn a roster spot, but receive the majority of starts for the Czechs. Vokoun made seven appearances for his country in the 2006 Games, posting a 3-4 record with a respectable 2.46 goals-against average with one shutout.

Pavelec has the upper hand on Schwarz for backup duties as the more seasoned of the two. Pavelec has appeared in 11 games as the third goalie in Atlanta this season and Schwarz has played in six career games with the St. Louis Blues with a 0-2-0 mark and 4.32 GAA.

Defensemen: Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Marek Zidlicky, Michal Rozsival, Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, Zbynek Michalek -- The aforementioned players have donned the national team sweater at least once with the exception of Michal Rozsival and Phoenix's Zbynek Michalek. Rozsival, a native of Vlasim, admits it would be an honor to represent his country.

"It's everybody's dream to play in the Olympics and it would mean a lot," Rozsival said. "Anytime you can represent your country, it's a big event. Being from the Czech Republic and watching the team win the gold in Nagano was just amazing. That kind of set the tone for the young people. I know it really motivated me."

While there may not be a Norris Trophy candidate among the group, there's certainly some stability. Toronto teammates Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina, who have participated in the previous two Olympic Games, would certainly make a fine top pairing. Kaberle would be deemed the club's top defenseman. He's a consistent producer, averaging almost 60 points a season since the lockout.

Minnesota's Marek Zidlicky, who played for the Czechs in '06, would likely become the team's power-play specialist. He tops all Czech defensemen in the NHL, in fact, with nine power-play goals and three game-winners. Perhaps Zidlicky could work alongside Zbynek Michalek, the older brother of San Jose forward Milan. It would be special to have the Michalek brothers teamed up, that's for sure. While Michalek isn't a big scorer, he's steady on the power-play, stays out of the penalty box and is a fantastic shot blocker.

 
Buffalo's Jaroslav Spacek, 35, who has participated in all three Olympic Games, and Montreal's Roman Hamrlik, who played a part in the '98 and '02 Olympics, are the veterans of the group. Rangers blueliner Rozsival, who presents a good, accurate shot, would offer good depth. Hamrlik, the wily veteran, may have lost a step or two on the offensive end, but he remains a solid defensive-defenseman with a shot-blocker mentality.

Forwards: Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Ales Hemsky, Milan Hejduk, Martin Hanzal, Martin Havlat, Robert Lang, Vaclav Prospal, David Krejci, Petr Sykora, Milan Michalek, Jiri Hudler, Martin Erat -- While it's still too early to predict whether Jagr, Sykora or Lang will even join the team in Vancouver, we'll assume they will for this report. As a backup, however, we'll list a few extra players to consider among the forwards to make certain all bases are covered.

For starters, a line of Jagr, Krejci and Elias would certainly match up well with any top scoring line in the Winter Games. At last count, Jagr had 25 goals and 52 points in 52 games with Omsk. Krejci is in the midst of a career season with Boston and Elias tops all Czech players in the NHL with more than 64 points for the Devils. Krejci, who would center the line, has won 50 percent of his faceoffs this season and boasts the highest shooting percentage (19.0 percent) of any Czech player this season. He also has more than 50 hits and 30 blocked shots.

Elias, who scored a team-leading six goals for the Czech Republic at the World Championships last year, would look forward to playing for Ruzicka.

"He's not afraid to take responsibility and to play the young guys," Elias said.

Lang is a veteran of three Olympics and would certainly fill in nicely at center on the second line with a couple of young, dynamic performers in Detroit's Jiri Hudler and Edmonton's Ales Hemsky.

"A lot more guys from the Czech Republic are entering the NHL early and developing well but they never forget their roots."
-- Patrik Elias

Phoenix Coyotes sophomore Martin Hanzal is a multi-purpose performer with plenty of upside. What's special about the 6-foot-5, 218-pound center is the fact he's good on the power play, is fierce on the penalty-kill and enjoys playing physical. He could be flanked by San Jose's Milan Michalek and Colorado's Milan Hejduk. Hejduk, who represented the Western Conference at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal, has played a part in the past three Olympic Games for the Czech Republic.

Vaclav Prospal, who took part in the '06 Games, would make a fine pivot on the fourth line with Chicago's Martin Havlat and Pittsburgh's Petr Sykora. Havlat and Sykora were teammates on the '02 Czech team. Nashville wing Martin Erat, who represented the Czech Republic in the '06 Games and offers a flair for the spectacular, is a proven force on the international stage.

A few other players who could fill in for either the injured or absent could include wings Ales Kotalik of Buffalo, Tomas Fleischmann of Washington and Jakub Voracek of Columbus, and centers Michael Frolik of Florida and Tomas Plekanec of Montreal.

"A lot more guys from the Czech Republic are entering the NHL early and developing well but they never forget their roots," Elias said. "But everyone is different. You grow up in a different environment, so obviously you will have a little bit of a different style, but the Olympics are exciting and we've had pretty good results. Every year is different and every Olympics are different. I think right now the Czech national team is not doing as well as we would like to, but that's not to say we can't turn it around. The talent is there and, as we all know, it's all about how well a team comes together."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.