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Erat looking forward to another Olympic experience

Tuesday, 02.16.2010 / 1:54 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Erat looking forward to another Olympic experience
Martin Erat hopes with a greater role in Vancouver, he can have an unforgettable Olympic experience.
Martin Erat won't soon forget the first time he celebrated a goal in Olympic competition, as a member of the Czech Republic team during the 2006 Games in Italy.

It was the bronze-medal game against Russia and Erat, who had been relegated to fourth-line duty in seven previous games, was promoted to the second unit, alongside Martin Straka and David Vyborny.

"It was my first game where I actually played the whole game," Erat told NHL.com. "I was on that line with David and Marty and just went to the front of the net. David fed me the puck from behind the cage and I just put it high over (Evgeni) Nabokov.

"I remember from our games against San Jose that Nabokov would get high in the crease, so I just shot it quickly. I was surprised it went in -- it was an important goal since it was the first goal of the game. I was excited but knew we were playing Russia so the game was far from over."

Erat's goal at 4:48 of the first would prove decisive, however, as the Czechs defeated Russia, 3-0, on the way to take home the bronze. It marked only the second time in Olympic history a Russian hockey team was going home empty-handed -- the Soviet Union did not enter a team until the 1956 Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

"It's always an intense battle when we play the Russians," Erat said. "When I was growing up we didn't have good Olympic teams but would always compete with them in the World Championships -- we were always in the final four with Russia, Sweden and Finland, and even the United States. But whenever we play the Russians, it's always a special game."

When asked if he thought Alex Ovechkin was the most dominant Russian on the ice that day in '06, Erat smiled.

"I remember him, but I remember (Pavel) Datsyuk more," Erat said. "Datsyuk is one of those guys who, on a smaller ice surface, is so dangerous and skilled. I just remember him skating through the neutral zone and going right through us."

Erat most certainly will play a more prominent role for the Czechs this time at the Olympics. The eight-year veteran has 19 goals (5 power play) and 36 points in 54 games for the Nashville Predators this season.

"Everyone thinks Canada and Russia are the favorites, but I played in the last Olympics and know the experience there and in World Championships and it's all about one game," Erat said. "Everyone just has to put it all on the line for 60 minutes because in a short tournament like this, one bad bounce or one hot goalie can be the difference. I think there's no real favorite."

Erat doesn't consider having four productive lines that big a deal when it comes to Olympic competition.

"Everyone thinks you have to have four lines, but we're talking only eight games here," he said. "Two good lines could play a lot. It'll be tough, but it's not impossible."

The 1999 seventh-round draft pick (No. 191) ranks ninth in the League in shooting efficiency (16.7 percent) among players with 100 or more shots on goal this season.

"My coaches are always telling me to shoot more," said Erat, who needs 49 more shots to equal his career high (163) set two seasons ago.

Team Czech Republic Gear "I consider myself, and always will be, more of a passer than a shooter, but this year is a little different," he said. "We don't really have that one guy I can pass to, so I do have to shoot a little more. But it's in my blood to pass first. I don't think I'll change all that much, but I do know I have to get pucks on net and see what happens."

He's excited to prove that point and have another shot at medaling in Vancouver.

"Coming into the season, you know you have to make the playoffs but you were also thinking about the Olympics," Erat said. "It's a great feeling. You work for something so hard and to finally make it, it's rewarding. For me, it's different because I've been in the League for a long time and knew making the team was nothing you could really control.

"The (Czech) coaches had the hard decisions made even before the season, who will go in and who won't. The only thing they had to worry about were injuries."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com