|Senators defenceman Filip Kuba (left) and Jaroslav Spacek are all smiles after the Czech Republic players received bronze medals following their third-place finish in the men's ice hockey tourney at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images). |
Undoubtedly, it is the most prized possession of Filip Kuba
's hockey career.
Unless, of course, the Ottawa Senators defenceman and his Czech Republic teammates go one better than the bronze medal they earned four years ago at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.
Whatever the result, it is certain that Czechs everywhere will be following closely when their team takes on Slovakia on Wednesday night in its opening game at the 2010 Winter Games hockey tournament in Vancouver.
"It's big," said Kuba, a 33-year-old native of Ostrava. "It's huge for international hockey for Czechs. This tournament is definitely better than the world championship. People are looking forward to it — not just the hockey, but all the other athletes there from the Czech (Republic)."
Not much was expected of the Czechs four years ago in Turin after they went 2-3-0 in the round-robin portion of the Olympic tournament. But they dumped the Slovaks in the quarter-finals and, after a semi-final loss to eventual gold medallist Sweden, rebounded to blank favoured Russia 3-0 for the bronze.
"Ending up with the bronze medal, that was great," said Kuba of his initial Olympic appearance. "But we really didn't have much chance to enjoy the Olympic spirit because of the travel (to Italy) from here. All the free time you had, you basically slept and tried to get some energy in you.
"So we really didn't have a chance to enjoy the other events, but it was a great experience."
Kuba expects more of the same this time, even though getting to these Olympics didn't require overseas travel. The Senators played back-to-back road games on the weekend, then arrived in Vancouver as a group earlier today after posting a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Sunday night. Each country gets one official practice session before the Olympic tournament begins on Tuesday.
"It's big. It's huge for international hockey for Czechs. This tournament is definitely better than the world championship. People are looking forward to it — not just the hockey, but all the other athletes there from the Czech (Republic)." - Filip Kuba
"It's pretty much the same as it was in (Turin)," said Kuba. "You have (some events) in Whistler two hours from downtown, when the skating events are. So I don't think I'm going to be able to see any of that."
Six players return from the 2006 bronze-medal winning Czech team, including Kuba, fellow blueliners Tomas Kaberle and Marek Zidlicky, forwards Peter Cajanek and Martin Erat, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun. They can only hope to duplicate the feat of the 1998 team, which won the first Olympic gold in their country's proud hockey history.
"That was probably the top of Czech hockey history," said Kuba. "I remember people back home celebrating and enjoying the moment with the Czech hockey players."
Kuba had his own moment back in 2001 as a member of a Czech team at the world hockey championship, an event he has participated in three times. He is always proud to wear his homeland's colours on the international stage.
"Every time I play for my country, it's a big honour for me," he said. "So I'm really glad I can play for the Czechs now, especially in a tournament like the Olympics and in Canada, where hockey is so big."