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World Championship

Vinny Prospal, Martin Rucinsky showing way for Czech Republic

Former NHL players now imparting experience, inspiration off the ice at World Championship

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

PARIS -- The passion of the sport they love remains evident for retired NHL forwards Vinny Prospal and Martin Rucinsky.

And the two have found a way to feed that desire on the international stage.

Prospal, as an assistant coach, and Rucinsky, as the general manager, are helping navigate the Czech Republic team at the 2017 IIHF World Championship.

"The emotion goes through me when I'm a coach the same way as when I was a player," Prospal said. "It's still there. The fire is still there and I believe these guys have the same thing. Marty, [assistant coach] Jaroslav Spacek, [team leader] Milan Hnilicka, we're here in suits compared to being in the uniform on the bench.

"We can't put the skates on anymore and jump out there. But the fire's still burning inside."

Prospal, 42, retired from professional hockey in 2013 after he had 765 points (255 goals, 510 assists) in 1,108 games through 16 NHL seasons with seven teams.

He's approaching double-digits in games coached with the Czech national team after also serving as an assistant coach at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in September.

"It's still the same," said Prospal, who played for the Czech Republic at the IIHF World Junior Championship (1994, 1995), the World Championship (2000, 2004, 2005), the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and the 2006 Torino Olympics.

"It's still the same in the sense you don't want to lose," he said. "You want to go out there and you want to prepare these guys, within the role I have on this coaching staff, to make sure you can give them all the possible opportunities or resources to make them successful and help them to be winners.

"I think it's really, really important for our country to bring back the players that were successful and achieved quite a bit with the national team or to the NHL throughout their hockey careers, and not even give back but bring back what we've learned throughout the years and put it on the table for our team."

Rucinsky feels the same way.

After representing the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship (1991), the Canada Cup (1991), World Cup of Hockey (1996), World Championship (1994, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005), and the Olympics (1998, 2002, 2006), he has found another avenue to give back.

"I feel like I have a lot of responsibility towards the Czech Republic fans and people and the whole nation," said Rucinsky, who also was GM of Team Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

"It's a responsibility. Honestly, it was better to be on the ice and playing hockey and competing, but this is different. As we all know, nothing goes forever. It was time for me to do something else and I really enjoy it."

Rucinsky, 46, had 612 points (241 goals, 371 assists) in 961 games in 16 NHL seasons with seven teams, and played seven more seasons in the Czech Republic, retiring after the 2014-15 season. He said the most difficult part of his new role is not being on the ice.

"You're just watching a hockey game. You can't really do anything," Rucinsky said. "You can't help. You see everything from upstairs, from the stands, but you can't really help. You can't do anything but sit and watch. You're [helpless]. It's the toughest thing, toughest transition to do when you're not on the ice. You're emotional up in the stands. But that comes with the job."

That emotion is helping to feed Prospal's chase of a dream as a coach that he never realized as a player: winning the Stanley Cup.

"It's a long process to get there but I'm willing to work at it and willing to learn," he said. "I'm willing to keep going the same way as I went when I was a player showing up at 18 years old in the United States in Philadelphia (as a rookie with the Flyers).

"I was very, very fortunate. I understand it's a long road, but it's a start. It's a start. I have the dreams the way I had the dream as a hockey player. I still haven't achieved the ultimate goal, as a player, to lift the Stanley Cup.

"It still drives me."

Results from Wednesday:

United States 3, Italy 0: Center Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) scored two goals to help the United States win its third straight Group A preliminary round game, at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany. Center Anders Lee (Islanders) scored a power-play goal in the second period. The United States outshot Italy 32-9; goaltender Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings) got the shutout.

Finland 5, Slovenia 2: Forwards Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes) and Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche) each had a goal and an assist for Finland in a Group B preliminary round game at AccorHotels Arena in Paris.

Germany 3, Slovakia 2: Forward Dominik Kahun scored in the shootout for Germany in a group A preliminary round game in Cologne. 

Switzerland 3, Belarus 0: Goaltender Leonardo Genoni made 14 saves for Switzerland against winless Belarus in a Group B preliminary round game at AccorHotels Arena in Paris.




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