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Olympic pattern could mean big year for Czechs

by Corey Masisak /

It is official: The NHL, NHL Players' Association and International Ice Hockey Federation have announced there will be NHL players at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Prior to the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF, had three writers select the team they would take to Sochi for each of the "big seven" hockey-playing nations. Note: This is not the team the writers project each country's hockey federation will select, but the team they would select at this point.

The Czech Republic has gone every other Olympics with a medal since NHL players started participating in the tournament: gold in 1998 in Nagano, Japan; no medal in Salt Lake City in 2002; bronze in Turin, Italy, in 2006; and a quarterfinal loss to Finland four years ago in Vancouver.

If the pattern holds true, the Czechs will be a team to reckon with in Sochi. They have been a more successful team on the bigger ice surface, and though the Czechs won't be considered one of the favorites in February, they likely will bring a talented roster to Russia.

There appears to be some certainty about who should make the roster in net, but choosing a starter from among Michal Neuvirth, Ondrej Pavelec and Tomas Vokoun could be tricky. Vokoun is a veteran with loads of international experience, but Pavelec has become a workhorse for the Winnipeg Jets.

Ten forwards appear on all three rosters, with the final three spots split between Ales Hemsky (two votes), Jiri Hudler (two), Tomas Fleischmann (two), Vladimir Sobotka (two) and Martin Havlat (one). There is quality down the middle with David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec and Martin Hanzal; talent (and veteran leadership) on the wings with Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr and Milan Michalek; and some players who have taken significant strides forward since 2010 (Krejci, Jiri Tlusty and Jakub Voracek).

The defense appears a little less settled, with three players appearing on all three ballots. There could be some interesting youth vs. experience decisions to make on the blue line. Will the old guard of Tomas Kaberle, Rostislav Klesla and Marek Zidlicky continue to represent their country? Or will younger players Ladislav Smid, Radko Gudas and Jakub Kindl become first-time Olympians?

Here are the projected rosters for the Czech Republic:

Projected Czech Republic Olympic roster
Corey Masisak Brian Hunter
Adam Kimelman
Patrik Elias Patrik Elias Patrik Elias
Martin Erat Martin Erat Martin Erat
Martin Hanzal Tomas Fleischmann Tomas Fleischmann
Ales Hemsky Martin Hanzal Martin Hanzal
Jiri Hudler Ales Hemsky Martin Havlat
Jaromir Jagr Jiri Hudler Jaromir Jagr
David Krejci Jaromir Jagr David Krejci
Milan Michalek David Krejci Milan Michalek
Tomas Plekanec Milan Michalek Tomas Plekanec
Vladimir Sobotka Tomas Plekanec Vladimir Sobotka
Jiri Tlusty Jiri Tlusty Jiri Tlusty
Jakub Voracek Jakub Voracek Jakub Voracek
Radim Vrbata Radim Vrbata Radim Vrbata
Radko Gudas Jan Hedja Tomas Kaberle
Tomas Kaberle Jakub Kindl Jakub Kindl
Jakub Kindl Rostislav Klesla Filip Kuba
Rostislav Klesla Filip Kuba Zbynek Michalek
Filip Kuba Zbynek Michalek Roman Polak
Zbynek Michalek Roman Polak Ladislav Smid
Ladislav Smid Marek Zidlicky Marek Zidlicky
Michal Neuvirth Michal Neuvirth Michal Neuvirth
Ondrej Pavelec Ondrej Pavelec Ondrej Pavelec
Tomas Vokoun Tomas Vokoun Tomas Vokoun

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