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Spots remain up for grabs on Czech Olympic team

Sunday, 12.29.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2014 Olympics

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Spots remain up for grabs on Czech Olympic team
A knee injury for San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl has robbed the NHL of one of its great new stars but also could leave the Czech Republic without a key offensive weapon in Sochi.
Though Czech Republic coach Alois Hadamczik informed the local media of his intentions to reveal the country's Olympic roster no later than Jan. 7, many spots remain up for grabs at this juncture.

Hadamczik received some bad news this month when it was learned that Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek and San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl each would miss significant time, making their availability for the Olympics a major question mark. In fact, Hadamczik told a Czech media outlet that Hertl will not participate in the 2014 Sochi Games.

Hertl, who needs surgery to repair a right knee injury, is expected to miss at least a month. His absence will be a big blow for the Czech offense considering he leads NHL rookies with 15 goals and 25 points in 35 games.

Michalek sustained his injury Dec. 17 and has been ruled out indefinitely.

There has been some positive news: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda (knee) and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas (upper body) have returned from recent injuries, and goalie Michal Neuvirth (ankle) was recalled by the Washington Capitals on Dec. 18 following a conditioning stint with the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

The return of Neuvirth is significant considering the Czechs can ill afford to sustain any more losses between the pipes. The country's best goalie, Tomas Vokoun, was placed on long-term injured reserve by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 2 after undergoing an operation to fix a blood clot in his pelvis.

Here is how the Czech Republic lineup might look at the 2014 Sochi Olympics:

PROJECTED FORWARDS
Patrik Elias David Krejci Jaromir Jagr
Jiri Hudler Tomas Plekanec Jakub Voracek
Ondrej Palat Martin Hanzal Radim Vrbata
Tomas Fleischmann Vladimir Sobotka Roman Cervenka
Ales Hemsky Michael Frolik

WHAT'S CHANGED: There were two additions: Winnipeg Jets right wing Michael Frolik and Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat. Frolik, who has twice represented his country at the IIHF World Junior Championship, replaces a struggling Milan Michalek of the Ottawa Senators. Frolik already has accrued his highest goal and point total in four seasons. Palat, who ranks in the top eight on the Lightning in hits, blocked shots and takeaways, was added as Hertl's replacement.

The St. Louis Blues' Vladimir Sobotka, currently on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, should be healthy enough to play in Sochi.

PROJECTED DEFENSEMEN
Marek Zidlicky Ladislav Smid
Jakub Kindl Zbynek Michalek
Jan Hejda Petr Caslava
Tomas Kaberle Radko Gudas

WHAT'S CHANGED: Caslava, who serves as captain for Cherepovets in the Kontinental Hockey League, replaces Rostislav Klesla, the 2000 first-round pick (No. 4) now splitting time between the Phoenix Coyotes and the AHL. Caslava, 34, can assist on specialty teams, something the coaching staff may take into consideration. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he's a big-bodied defenseman capable of bringing grit and feistiness.

PROJECTED GOALTENDERS
Ondrej Pavelec Michal Neuvirth Jakub Kovar

WHAT'S CHANGED: Jakub Kovar supplants Jakub Stepanek as the third goalie. The 6-1, 193-pounder is 12-14-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 33 games for Yekaterinburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. He won a bronze medal with the Czech national team at the 2012 IIHF World Championship in Helsinki.

NEXT IN LINE
If Zbynek Michalek is unable to represent his country as a result of his injury, Roman Polak of the Blues would be an adequate replacement. Among the top five on the Blues in hits and blocked shots, Polak, 27, played five games in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He currently is on IR with an ankle injury but should be 100 percent by the time the Olympics starts. 

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2014 OLYMPICS POLL