August 5, 2004
They might have to win each game 6-5, but if that's the case, the Czech Republic might just have the horses to do it. With the goaltending of Dominik Hasek a distant memory, this year's team will have to rely on Roman Cechmanek, Tomas Vokoun, and Martin Prusek as the last line of defence. Tomas Vokoun has shown flashes of brilliance with the Predators, but therein lays the problem...he plays for the Predators. Until this past season when Nashville finally made the playoffs for the first time, Vokoun had never been above .500 in a season. This past year he went 34-29-and-10, gave the Red Wings a pretty good run for their money in the opening round, and could be the Czech Republic's best hope. Cechmanek has had a pretty good career in the NHL so far with the Flyers and most recently with the Kings, but has yet to prove he can carry a team all the way to a championship when the chips are down. Despite only 64 losses in 212 career games, Cechmanek has never been above .500 in any playoff year going 9-and-14 in 23 games. As for Martin Prusek, he's been using his equipment more for polishing one end of the Ottawa bench than stopping pucks. But, when he has played - he's been pretty effective going 28-9-and-4 in his 48 career games.
|Lang will be one of many talented forwards. |
Thanks to the "unknown" aspect of the Czech goaltending, the offence will have a certain amount of pressure on it to put the puck in the net. That being the case, it's nice to know that you can rely on guys like Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Milan Hejduk and Martin Havlat to carry the mail. But, let's face it, the Czech offence begins and ends with number 68.
When Jagr burst on to the NHL scene and won 2 Cups in his first 2 years, many predicted he would be the next great player in the history of the game. Only one problem, you can't always play with Mario Lemieux. Before the trade that sent him to the Capitals, Jagr was putting up some staggering numbers with the Penguins including 10 straight years of 30 or more goals, 3 seasons of 40 or more, 1 season of 50-plus, and even a season that saw him score 62. 4-times he has scored over 100 points, and 5 times he has led the NHL in scoring - in fact, he was the 1st European-born player to ever win the Art Ross Trophy.
His former teammate in Pittsburgh, and again in Washington, Robert Lang has solidified himself as one of the top scorers in the NHL as well. He split this past season between Washington and Detroit, and for a while looked like he might run away with the Art Ross Trophy himself. Unfortunately for him, injury limited him to 69 games, but he still managed to finish 9th in league scoring with 79 points.
You can't fault Milan Hejduk for beginning his career with a very talented Avalanche team, but there's no denying his abilities when you look at his numbers. He's a Stanley Cup winner, a 4-time 30 goal scorer, and won the Rocket Richard trophy in 2003 with his first 50-goal season. Thanks to a 35-goal campaign in '03-04, he's now only 3 goals shy of 200 for his career.
Adding to the fire-power up front for the Czech's is one of their talented young guns, Martin Havlat. Taken 26th overall in the '99 Entry draft Havlat debuted with 19 goals and 42 points in his first season and has since posted 22, 24 and 31 goal campaigns. Plus, in each of his 4 years in the league, Havlat has established new career highs in goals, assists and points. Add to that group the likes of Martin Straka, Patrick Elias and Martin Rucinsky, and the Czech offence will be very potent.
On defence, it's an interesting mix of youth and experience including the Kaberle brothers, Roman Hamrlik, Pavel Kubina, and Jiri Slegr. Despite the rich amount of talent on the roster up front, and on the back end, a number of things need to go right for the Czech's to win it all in 2004. But, any time you can ice an offence that includes four 40-goal scorers in the NHL...you have to like your chances.