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Devils' Elias, Jagr and Zidlicky could team up again

by Mike G. Morreale

There's something about having the captain's "C" stitched on your jersey at the Winter Olympics that instills an added sense of pride and responsibility.

It's the feeling Patrik Elias had during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics while making his third straight appearance in the Games for the Czech Republic. And despite the fact his country finished a disappointing seventh, Elias said he enjoyed the experience and the competition.

"Wearing that 'C' was something special to me," Elias told "But I just enjoyed the whole atmosphere [in Vancouver] because it's beautiful and you're playing hockey. It doesn't get any better."

The 37-year-old veteran of 15 NHL seasons, all with the New Jersey Devils, is looking forward to another special tournament at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Elias could be joined by three other Devils teammates on the Olympic roster: Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky and Rostislav Olesz.

Jagr is seeking his fifth Olympic appearance, Zidlicky his third and Olesz his second.

"I've been with [Jagr and Zidlicky] a few times before and we were part of the last Olympics, so it's not a big deal to us," Elias said. "It's just another event that we want to be part of. You always enjoy it; it's different hockey playing there than it is here. It's more puck possession and puck control; it will be enjoyable for the type of players we'll have."

Jagr has played in all four Olympics that have included NHL players. He had five points in six games for the Czech team that won gold in Nagano in 1998 and seven points in eight games to help his country win the bronze medal in Turin in 2006.

Jagr refused to talk Olympics at this stage in the season when questioned about it. The League's 1,230-game schedule will pause from Feb. 9-25 to accommodate the Games.

"I'm superstitious," Jagr told "I really don't want to discuss the Olympics right now. I'm liable to get injured."

Still, it's tough to ignore the fact the 41-year-old Jagr has worn No. 68 his entire career in honor of the "Prague Spring" rebellion that occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the fact that 2014 Olympics will be held in Russia. So there's no doubt a matchup pitting the Czech Republic and Russia in the medal round would be a huge draw, creating plenty of Olympic intrigue between the longtime international rivals.

"I think that you always like to play against those guys; it's always a challenge and on their home ice on an Olympic-sized ice surface, it'll be different hockey," Elias said. "I think that'll suit the Russians even more. They have very skilled players and they hold on to the puck. They can get away with a lot more than on small ice. Having the fans behind them is also a big deal, but at the same time it can put a lot of pressure on them."

Czechoslovakia beat the Soviets during round-robin play at the 1968 Olympics, and in 1969 the Czechs beat the Soviet Union twice at the World Championship, 2-0 and 4-3. It marked the first time a team would defeat the Soviets in the same international tournament on two occasions.

But the biggest triumph in the history of Czech Republic hockey occurred during the 1998 Nagano Games when it stunned Russia 1-0 for the gold medal.

"They still talk about [the '98 Olympics]," Elias said. "They call it their victory of the century. It was a huge achievement, huge for the country and everybody lived for it and the guys that were part of it are considered the best hockey team the Czech Republic has ever had. I think the reason they were so successful was because [goalie] Dominik Hasek was just outstanding and they scored at key moments."

Since the Czech Republic and Slovakia became independent nations in January 1993, the Czechs have had plenty of international success, medaling twice in ice hockey since the NHL allowed its players to participate in the Olympics -- gold in '98 and bronze in 2006.

"It'll be a big difference for us because we play so many games here on the smaller ice and I like that, but it is what it is," Zidlicky told "We have to be ready for big ice [in Sochi] and see what happens."

Zidlicky was asked about Elias and the type of leader he was at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"He's always got a way to help and support you on the ice," Zidlicky said. "He can push you a little bit more than you think. He's good for this position of captain or that type of leadership role."

Elias believes Czech hockey once again is headed in the right direction.

"I think it's getting better; there were those five or six years where we had a little drop and that's normal," he said. "We don't have that big base for young talent. So many kids play in North America and the sport is getting very expensive back home, so not too many people can enjoy playing like we did.

"You have your ups and downs but there are several young guys like Radko Gudas, Ondrej Palat and Tomas Hertl … they came out and have done very well in the NHL."


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