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Former NHL players help Czechs roll to inline gold

by Bill Meltzer /
For many professional hockey players, the early offseason presents an opportunity to rest after the marathon-like season before they prepare for their next training camp. A handful of players, however, opt for inline skates and the jerseys of their national team to participate in the Inline Hockey World Championship.

The recently completed 2011 Inline Worlds were held in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Among the participants were former NHL players forward Petr Tenkrat and defenseman Karel Rachunek. The two accepted an invitation to play for the host nation, and played pivotal roles in their squad capturing its first gold medal in tournament history.

Tenkrat, 34, played 177 NHL games with the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins over parts of four seasons. An offensive-minded player in Europe and the AHL, he posted a modest 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) during his stints in the NHL. He returned to Europe permanently in the summer of 2008. Tenkrat split the 2010-11 season between Karpat Oulu in Finland's SM-Liiga (17 goals, 33 points in 45 games) and Swedish Elitserien club Skelleftea AIK (nine games, 0 points). Tenkrat is slated to play in the Czech Extraliga next season for Sparta Prague.

Rachunek, who will turn 32 next month, had a more notable NHL career. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound blueliner spent parts of six seasons in the NHL, dressing in 371 games for the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. His best full season in the NHL came in 2002-03, when he posted 29 points and a plus-23 rating for Ottawa in just 58 games, and had 4 points in 17 playoff games. He left the NHL in 2008, and has played in the KHL the last three seasons, scoring 11 goals and 46 points in 50 games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2010-11.

Tenkrat and Rachunek have gained international experience playing for Czech Republic at the World Championship, and Rachunek was a member of the bronze medal-winning team at this year's tournament. While the world's top ice hockey players are not automatically the best inline players, the presence of Tenkrat and Rachunek made a huge difference for the Czechs, along with the play of long-time Euro league forward Ludek Broz.

In five tournament games, Rachunek racked up 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) and finished with a plus-13 rating. Tenkrat played in six games, scoring 7 goals and adding 3 assists. Meanwhile, Broz finished third in scoring at the tournament with 14 points (9 goals, 5 assists) in six games.

A heavily partisan crowd of 6,000 fans turned out in Pardubice for the gold medal showdown between the Czechs and the U.S team. The Czechs jumped to a 3-1 lead and held on to win 3-2. Czech goalie Roman Handl (who played three seasons of minor league ice hockey in his home country) nailed down the final victory with a 28-save performance.

"They deserve the win," U.S. coach Robert Chornomud told "The Czechs are probably the best European country. They acclimated to inline hockey with an ice hockey influence."

In the bronze-medal game, Canada defeated Sweden 13-7. Sweden played without former Detroit Red Wings prospect Dick Axelsson, who is considered the world's best inline offensive player.

Canada forward Dave Hammond, a former Junior 'A' ice hockey player, led the tournament with 11 goals and 17 points. Sami Markkanen, an active Finnish minor leaguer who developed in the famed KalPa Kuopio junior program, led all defensemen in the tournament with 9 goals and 15 points. During the ice hockey season, Markkanen usually plays as a forward.
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