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Czech Republic looks to repeat glorious Olympic past

by Phil Coffey /
NHL-sized rinks in a North American venue means success in the 2010 Winter Olympic hockey tournament is going to rely heavily upon NHL attributes.

Thankfully, the Czech Republic, bronze-medal winners in Torino, has a core of talented, NHL-trained players who will make some noise before all is said and done at GM Place in Vancouver.

That being said, with Canada, Russia and the Finns icing representative teams and Sweden back to defend the 2006 gold medal, teamwork will be vital for the Czechs to challenge for a medal.

On a somewhat related track, the Czech need to introduce some younger players into the mix, as many of the mainstays of past international tournaments are getting long in the tooth.

Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers --  Vokoun is a solid pro who stepped up for the Czechs when Dominik Hasek was unable to play in Torino. He appeared in seven games there, posting a 3-4 record and 2.46 goals-against average.

Ondrej Pavelec, Atlanta Thrashers --  A big presence in net at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Pavelec is seeing sustained NHL action for the first time this season as Kari Lehtonen is sidelined for the Thrashers. Pavelec has responded admirably, showing flashes of No. 1 potential,

Marek Schwarz, Mlada Boleslav (Czech Extraliga) --  Selected with the 17th pick of the 2004 Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues, Schwarz didn't find North American hockey to be his cup of tea. To be honest, had Hasek not gotten injured, he would have earned the nod here based on his ability to come in and steal a game.

Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs  -- Having the playmaking skills of Kaberle will be a boon to the Czechs. Kaberle has been one of the most dominating offensive defensemen in the NHL this season.. He can man the point on the power play and log lots of ice time, which he figures to do plenty of in Vancouver.

Marek Zidlicky, Minnesota Wild --  Another solid playmaker from the blue line, Zidlicky also is NHL-tested and has had seasons of 39, 37, 26, 38 and 30 assists and plays more than 20 minutes per game.

Pavel Kubina, Atlanta Thrashers --  Kubina is a moose, standing at 6-4, 250 pounds; so he is tasked with showing opponents the way out of the zone. He also is a capable point producer with five seasons of double-digit goals on his resume.

Roman Hamrlik, Montreal Canadiens --  Not the point producer he was as a kid in 1995-96 with Tampa Bay (16 goals, 49 assists), Hamrlik has matured into a very capable, very reliable presence on the back line who still logs a mountain of minutes.

Jaroslav Spacek, Montreal Canadiens --  Like Hamrlik, Spacek seems to have been around for ages and excelled at various tasks -- be it point man, playmaker and all-around defender.

Zbynek Michalek, Phoenix Coyotes --  At 26, Michalek is one of the younger players the Czechs need to integrate on to the defense. He has past experience in the World Championships, but 2010 would be his first taste of Olympic competition. He is now in his fifth NHL season.

Filip Kuba, Ottawa Senators --  Injuries have limited Kuba's start with the Sens this season, but he is worthy of his second Olympics based on solid play during the past eight seasons in Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Ottawa, where he scored 3 goals and 37 assists last season.

Roman Polak, St. Louis Blues --  Here is another kid, at 23, who needs to break into the big-tournament rotation for the Czechs. He has played in two World Junior Championships and one World Championship, so he is getting into the mix. In 69 games with the Blues last season, Polak had 1 goal and 14 assists.

Jan Hejda, Columbus Blue Jackets --  The Blue Jackets experienced life without Hejda earlier this season, due to an injury, and didn't like it. Unheralded and underrated, Hejda, 31, has been excellent for coach Ken Hitchcock the past two seasons and should add a third season to that resume now that he is healthy again.

Jaromir Jagr, Omsk Avangard (KHL) --  Jagr hasn't lost the scoring touch that saw him score 646 goals and 953 assists in 1,273 NHL games when he arrived in Russia. Once again, Jagr will be the offensive linchpin for the Czechs.

Vinny Prospal, N.Y. Rangers --  Prospal has thrived after being reunited with John Tortorella in New York. He has earned praise from the tough-to-please coach with his offensive production and a representative game in the defensive zone. Prospal scored 4 goals in Torino and would appear to be a lock to be in Vancouver.

Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers --  Another '06 vet, Hemsky is just 26 and has four-straight productive seasons in Edmonton and well on his way to a fifth, using outstanding speed and breathtaking moves to full advantage. He is a no-brainer for Vancouver.

Milan Hejduk, Colorado Avalanche --  A veteran of three Olympics, including the gold-medal winter of 1998, Hejduk, 33, is now a gray beard on the NHL and international scene. And he remains a productive presence with nearly 700 points in his NHL career.

Tomas Fleischmann, Washington Capitals -- Injuries slowed Fleischmann at the start of the season, but he has been gaining steam since returning to the lineup -- especially with the absence of Alex Ovechkin. He is on pace to best his career highs of 19 goals (2008-09) and assists (20, 2007-08) this season.

David Krejci, Boston Bruins --  Only 23, Krejci had a terrific sophomore NHL season in 2008-09, scoring 22 goals and 51 assists for the Bruins after a rookie season that saw him score 6 goals and 21 assists. Krejci has struggled early in 2009-10, but part of that slow start can be attributed to a bout with the flu in early November.

Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens --  Plekanec is coming off three-straight seasons of 20 or more goals for the Canadiens, netting 20 in 2006-07, 29 in 2007-08 and 20 in 2008-09. He is an underrated offensive talent that will give the Czechs some depth in their forward lines.

Jiri Hudler, Moscow Dynamo (KHL) --  Hudler bolted the Red Wings after last season for The KHL, where he is a point-per-game player for the Russian club. With Detroit last season, Hudler scored 23 goals and 34 assists in 82 games and 4 goals and 8 assists in 23 playoff games.

Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils --  Recovering from surgery scuttled the early going of 2009-10 for Elias, but he is back now and has too much skill and experience to overlook. Last season, Elias scored 31 goals and 47 assists for the Devils and has topped 30 goals in four NHL seasons. Plus, he is a solid skater and defensively responsible, as you might expect from a long-time Devil.

Ales Kotalik, N.Y. Rangers --  Played in four games in Torino while with the Buffalo Sabres, where he spent his first five full seasons. Kotalik was traded to the Edmonton Oilers late last season and combined scored his customary 20 goals and added 23 assists. He has been one of the Rangers best players in the early going this year.

Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators --  The No. 6 pick of the 2003 Entry Draft, Michalek, 24, is another foundation player for the Czech's future. He notched three-straight seasons of 20 or more goals with San Jose before being dealt to Ottawa in the Dany Heatley trade prior to the 2009-10 season.

Martin Straka, Plzen HC (Czech Extraliga)  -- A veteran of nearly 1,000 NHL games, Straka in all likelihood could still be playing in North America, but he opted to head home after the 2007-08 season. Last season, he scored 22 goals and 30 assists for Plzen HC and this season has 7 goals and 12 assists in 18 games.

Jakub Voracek, Columbus Blue Jackets --  Only 20, Voracek -- selected No. 7 in 2007 -- may be a spare part in Vancouver, but that isn't a bad thing for the youngster. He did not look out of place in the NHL during his rookie season, scoring 9 goals and 29 assists while going plus-11. He has been even more productive in 2009-10.

Phil Coffey,'s Senior Editorial Director, has covered the past two Olympics and has been around the NHL long enough to have covered Jaromir Jagr's rookie season.

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