|Senators forward Milan Michalek will make his Olympic debut tonight, when the Czech Republic faces off against Slovakia at Vancouver 2010 (NHLI via Getty Images).
Olympic dreams abound at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.
Yet another one will spring to life later tonight, when the Czech Republic faces off against Slovakia (midnight, Rogers Sportsnet) in its opening game of the Olympic men’s tournament at Canada Hockey Place.
At some point during the night, Milan Michalek
will surely look down the Czech bench and flash a gap-toothed grin toward the player who knows him better than any other.
“I’m really excited about it,” the Ottawa Senators forward said about making his Olympic debut in Vancouver. “This is going to be really special for me, too, because I’m going to be playing with my brother (Zbynek, a defenceman with the Phoenix Coyotes). I can’t wait to get started.”
The Michaleks have both represented their homeland at the world hockey championship, but never together. Last summer, they began daring to dream about the possibility of changing all of that in Vancouver.
Needless to say, it was an exciting time when Zbynek, 27, and Milan, 25, learned they’ll be brothers in arms as the Czechs try to win a third medal in the four Winter Games tournaments held with full National Hockey League participation. They were surprise bronze medallists four years ago in Turin, Italy.
“We talked about it a lot,” said Michalek. “During the summer, too, we said it would be awesome if we could make the team together. We did and it’s going to be something special. Our parents are going to come, too, so it’s going to be very nice.”
The Czechs aren’t rated among the medal favourites in Vancouver, but the Olympics have been filled with hockey surprises in recent years.
"We talked about it a lot. During the summer, too, we said it would be awesome if we could make the team together. We did and it's going to be something special. Our parents are going to come, too, so it's going to be very nice." - Milan Michalek
“It’s only a two-week tournament, so anything can happen,” said Michalek. “There are six or seven really good teams that have a chance to win a medal, so we’ll see how it’s going to go.
“We’re going to be a really young team. But we’re going to work together and see if we can do something good.”
The Czechs can always draw on the memory of 1998, when goaltender Dominik Hasek led an unheralded team to a stunning gold-medal triumph.
“I think everybody still remembers that,” said Michalek. “Nobody in the Czech (Republic) was working and nobody was going to school. Everybody was watching that (gold-medal) game. It was great for a lot of young players, because they could see what you could do.
“They were my heroes and everybody’s heroes. It was unbelievable.”
Michalek uses the same word to describe the first Olympic tournament to be held in Canada with NHL players. Some have suggested it has the potential to be one of the sport’s most epic moments ever.
“Everybody loves hockey here,” said Michalek. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”