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Scores of NHLers will help Czechs score in Vancouver

by Phil Coffey
When the Czechs take the ice in Vancouver, opposing nations will want to pay strict attention to the team's forwards, who are one of the most talented contingents among hockey's elite at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Czech Republic announced its provisional roster Wednesday, and not surprisingly, there is considerable firepower on its way to Vancouver.

New Jersey's Patrik Elias, Washington's Tomas Fleischmann, Minnesota's Martin Havlat, Montreal's Tomas Plekanec, Nashville's Martin Erat, Ottawa's Milan Michalek and Boston's David Krejci all have shown the ability to score at the NHL level.

They will be joined in Vancouver by another winger who has shown the ability to score the odd goal or two, Jaromir Jagr, who now plays for Avangard Omsk in the KHL, but starred in the NHL from 1990 to 2008.

Augmenting those Czech forwards are former NHLer Petr Cajanek, now playing for SKA Petrohrad, Roman Cervenka of HC Slavia Praha, Tomas Rolinek of the KHL's Metallurg Magnitogorsk and former NHLer Josef Vasicek of Lokomotiv Jaroslavl, also of the KHL.

Plekanec, coming off three-straight seasons of 20 or more goals for the Canadiens, is the leading scorer among Czech NHLers this season with 8 goals and 36 assists in 41 games.

The Predators' Erat has 14 goals and 13 assists in 37 games, sitting third in scoring among Czech forwards behind the injured Vinny Prospal of the Rangers.

Injuries slowed Fleischmann at the start of the season, but he has been gaining steam since returning to the lineup. He has 14 goals and 10 assists in 28 games this season.

Now recovered from offseason groin surgery, Elias has re-established his game in New Jersey, primarily working on a line with Brian Rolston and Jamie Langenbrunner. In 23 games, Elias has 8 goals and 13 assists and is a plus-11. Elias also has shown the ability to make the players around him better.

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 total 6 goals and 21 assists. Krejci struggled early in 2009-10, but part of that slow start can be attributed to a bout with the flu in early November and offseason surgery. He has 7 goals and 12 assists in 36 games this season.

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. He has 16 goals and 6 assists in 39 games for the Senators.

Havlat has come around of late for the Wild after a very slow start for the perennial scoring star. He has 7 goals and 15 assists in 34 games for the Wild.

Among the Czechs' non-NHL players, Jagr needs no introduction. He scored 646 goals and 953 assists in 1,273 NHL games as one of the most dynamic players of his generation. This season he has scored 14 goals and 13 assists in 33 games in Russia.

In goal, the Czechs are going with Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers and Ondrej Pavelec of the Atlanta Thrashers. Jakub Stepanek of HC Vikovice Steel also is on the roster.

The Panthers' Vokoun is a solid pro who stepped up for the Czechs when Dominik Hasek was unable to play in Turin in 2006. He appeared in seven games there, going 3-4 with a 2.46 goals-against average. In 30 games with Florida, he is 11-11-7 with a 2.62 GAA and .922 save percentage.

Pavelec is a big presence in net at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. In 24 games with Atlanta, he is 9-10-3 with a 3.42 GAA and a .906 save percentage.

On defense, the Czechs boast a formidable array of skilled NHL defensemen in Toronto's Tomas Kaberle, Atlanta's Pavel Kubina, Minnesota's Marek Zidlicky, Ottawa's Filip Kuba, Columbus' Jan Hejda, Zbynek Michalek of the Phoenix Coyotes and Roman Polak of the St. Louis Blues. Also named to the Czech defense is Miroslav Blatak of Salavat Julajev of the KHL.

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. In 40 games with the Leafs, Kaberle has 3 goals and 32 assists.

Zidlicky also is NHL-tested. He has had seasons of 39, 37, 26, 38 and 30 assists and plays more than 20 minutes per game. In 39 games with the Wild, he has 3 goals and 19 assists.

Atlanta's Kubina is a moose, standing 6-4 and 250 pounds, he also is a capable point producer, with five seasons of double-digit goals on his resume. He is a solid plus-15 with the Thrashers and has 4 goals and 17 assists in 37 games.

At 26, Michalek is one of the younger players the Czechs need to integrate on defense. He has past experience in the World Championships, but 2010 will be his first taste of Olympic competition. He is in his fifth NHL season and is a plus-10 in 32 games with the Coyotes.

Injuries limited Kuba's start with the Sens this season, but he has bounced back nicely. In 31 games, he has 2 goals and 12 assists.

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 has scored a goal and 5 assists in 33 games this season.

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