There have been, Tomas Kaberle will remind you, some big Olympic wins for the Czech Republic.
The Leafs’ veteran defenceman is only one of two Maple Leaf skaters, Phil Kessel
is the other, and goalie Jonas Gustavsson
selected to play in the Vancouver Olympics. Two more, Team USA coach Ron Wilson and Brian Burke, Team USA’s General Manager, will work off-ice on behalf of the American side.
The 31-year-old Kaberle is heading toward his third and probably final edition of the Games and said the bronze medal 3-0 victory over Russia in the 2006 games was a highlight.
“It was an amazing feeling. We beat the Russians 3-0 in the semi-final game,” he said.
Of course, the Czech’s gold medal win in Nagano, backstopped by the great Dominik Hasek, retains a special place among the country’s hockey fans.
“Twelve years later, they are still talking about it,” Kaberle said. “No one expected that team to do that well. We will be the underdogs again and I like that.”
Kaberle has five points in a dozen Olympic games.
Tomas and Frantisek Kaberle are one of the rare brother acts to play together at the Games. Put it all together and you get a veteran player who has seen pretty much everything save for what he wants most: a gold medal.
“It’s a great experience to play against the best players in the world,” Kaberle said. “It comes around only once every four years. That’s the special thing.” - Tomas Kaberle
“It’s a great experience to play against the best players in the world,” Kaberle said. “It comes around only once every four years. That’s the special thing.”
Being a veteran, Kaberle said, helps.
“You feel more comfortable because you know what to expect from the media and stuff. It couldn’t happen in a better place. Hockey is Canada’s sport, it’s number one here and it’s going to be seen all over the world.”
While they will carry seven players not playing in the NHL, the Czech team has some formidable weapons. Five time NHL scoring champ Jaromir Jagr is back to represent his country. “Everyone knows Jags is 38 but knowing him, he will be ready to play,” said Kaberle.
Also on hand is former Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina and Ottawa rearguard FIlip Kuba.
“It all starts with the goalie,” Kaberle said. “Tomas Vokoun has been the number one guy in Florida and he has a lot of confidence right now. It’s nice to see Patrik Elias back from injury. He’s our captain and leader.”
The Czechs are best stocked at forward where they can throw Elias (New Jersey Devils) , Martin Havlat (Minnesota Wild) and emerging stars Milan Michalek (Ottawa) and Tomas Plekanec (Montreal).
Like Canada and the United States, the Czech Republic team will be noticeably younger this time around.
“I think this is the way to go,” he said. “The coach made great decisions. It’s really up to us. We have only a couple of practices before our first game but we always get great guys and have lots of fun. “
And while most countries list Canada as their number one rival, Czechoslovakia’s history of military dominance at the hands of the old Soviet Union makes Russia the number one target.
“If you can pick three teams who are the biggest rivals, it’s the Russians, Canada and Slovaks,” Kaberle said.
“The games between between the Czech Republic and Russia were big back even when my Dad played.”