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Open competition for Team Czech Republic goalies

by NHL News / Detroit Red Wings

PRAGUE -- The decision on which goalie starts for Team Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 will be between Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth.

"The tournament is short and there is no time to let all three goalies play," coach Josef Jandac said. "We are planning to have only two goaltenders in the games and Ondrej Pavelec will be the third one."

Neuvirth and Mrazek each will play in one of the first two pretournament games, against Team Russia at Yubileyny Sports Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday (12:30 p.m. ET; ESPN3, SN, TVA Sports) and against Russia at O2 Arena in Prague on Saturday (10:30 a.m. ET; ESPN3, SN, TVA Sports).

Then a decision will have to be made about who starts the third pretournament game against Team North America at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Sept. 14 (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN3, SN, TVA Sports), followed by the naming of the starter for the World Cup.

"I see it as a bit of a battle between the two. We didn't want to say who would be No. 1 or No. 2 because we wanted to keep both of them motivated," Jandac said. "It's the start of the season and you never know in what shape and mood the guys will be. We want to see them on the ice and create some competition to keep them motivated."

Mrazek, 24, went 27-16-6 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .921 save percentage while playing a personal NHL-best 54 games last season. Neuvirth, 28, went 18-8-4 with a 2.27 GAA and .924 save percentage in 32 games.

They also played well despite their teams losing in the Eastern Conference First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mrazek played the final three games for the Detroit Red Wings against the Tampa Bay Lightning in place of Jimmy Howard, and went 1-2 with 1.36 GAA and .945 save percentage. Neuvirth went 2-1 with a 0.67 GAA and .981 save percentage in three games for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Washington Capitals after he replaced Steve Mason.

"I am ready and I feel good," Mrazek said. "This is my third week on the ice. We'll see how it goes. Games are something different than practices and that's why I'm glad there are some exhibition games before the tournament. But I have to say when I first went on the ice, I felt very well. It was one of the best summers and off-ice workout times I've ever had."

Pavelec, 29, has a longer international resume than the other two Czech Republic goalies. He was the backup goalie for the Czech Republic when it won the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Championship and a bronze medal as a starter at the 2011 Worlds. He been the starting goalie at the World Championship three times and at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

But a knee injury limited Pavelec to 33 games last season with the Winnipeg Jets and he hadn't been back in the lineup long when the initial World Cup rosters were released March 2.

Pavelec said before the announcement was made he spoke to general manager Martin Rucinsky, who asked if Pavelec would be comfortable as the third goaltender.

"I was aware of the situation and I'm cool with it," said Pavelec, who went 13-13-4 with a 2.78 GAA and .904 save percentage. "I'm glad I can be a part of all this and you never know what happens during the tournament.

"I spoke to the players who participated at the [2004] World Cup and they told me it was an unbelievable tournament. And I believe this time it will be unbelievable too. I've been to World Championships, to the Olympics and now I'll have it all complete. I'm happy to be here and I will do what's necessary to help the team."

Goaltending will be a key for Team Czech Republic, which lost center David Krejci, forward Tomas Hertl and defenseman Radko Gudas because of injuries days before the start of training camp, and is considered the biggest tournament underdog.

"We see our goalies as our big strength," forward Jakub Voracek, Neuvirth's Flyers teammate, said. "[Pavelec] has a lot of experience and is a great guy in the locker room. [Mrazek] has had a great season in Detroit and [Neuvirth] has played so well for us in Philadelphia too. All three are top-notch netminders who can help us win."

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