The World Cup of Hockey starts on Saturday, Sept. 17. While pre-tournament games have begun, the xHockeyProducts team is excited for the tournament to begin. That’s why we are breaking down every team and providing the chances every roster has to win it all.
Winners of the gold medal in the 1998 Nagano Games as well as the 2010 World Championships, the Czech Republic will begin play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in the second game of the tournament (Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. EST vs. Canada). The Czechs enter the tournament with a 2-6 record in the two previous World Cups, including a first-round win in 2004 against Sweden.
|Group A||Group B|
|Team Canada||Team Finland|
|Team Czech Republic||Team North America|
|Team Europe||Team Russia|
|Team USA||Team Sweden|
|Roman Cervenka – Fribourg-Gotteron (NLA)||Radek Faksa – DAL||Michal Jordan – Unsigned||Petr Mrazek – DET|
|Michael Frolik – CGY||Martin Hanzal – ARZ||Michal Kempny – CHI||Michal Neuvirth – PHI|
|Ales Hemsky – DAL||Dmitrij Jaskin – STL||Zbynek Michalek – ARZ||Ondrej Pavelec – WPG|
|Milan Michalek – TOR||Ondrej Palat – TBL||Jakub Nakladal – CGY|
|David Pastrnak – BOS||Tomas Plekanec – MTL||Roman Polak – TOR|
|Vladimir Sobotka – Avangard Omsk (KHL)||Jakub Voracek – PHI||Andrej Sustr – TBL|
|Michal Birner – Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)||Tomas Kundratel – HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL)|
Czech Republic has had some up-and-down international tournaments, often finishing in the top four, as well as not surpassing the first round of bracket play. The reason for the success is often similar tournament-to-tournament: physical play and a drive for the net.
With 44-year-old wonder athlete Jaromir Jagr sitting the tournament out, the team doesn’t truly feature a bona fide superstar (with Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek on the cusp). This means that the Czechs will rely on physical board play and battles in front of the net to defeat their opponents. It’s a formula that has worked in the past as Czech Republic’s rosters often rely on hard work and gritty play to win close games.
Unfortunately for the Czechs, some of the country’s greatest players have retired in recent years (Milan Hejduk, Petr Nedved, Martin Straka), while others are nearing that point and opted not to play (Jagr, Patrik Elias). This has allowed younger players (Ondrej Palat, David Pastrnak) the opportunity to step up, but it may not be enough of a scoring punch to keep up with the rest of the talent from Group A.
On defense, the Czechs boast some heavy blueliners, but much like the forwards, the pairings lack a top minute-eater. Although Andrej Sustr and Zbynek Michalek work as serviceable defensemen with great defensive know how, the Czechs may fall short without the big names the international team has included in the past (Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Kaberle, Jiri Slegr).
Player to Watch
Drafted 25th overall in 2014, David Pastrnak holds much of the future for the Boston Bruins’ offense. The crafty right winger tallied 15 goals and 26 points in 51 games in 2015-16, his second NHL season. He has the ability to work through any defender with his sturdy 6-foot, 181-pound frame and will likely be the skater his teammates will be looking for when on the power play.
With his booming shot and perennial stickhandling ability, Pastrnak could look to break out for Team Czech Republic. If he does, that could equate to great things for the Bruins’ 2016-17 season.
What It Will Take to Win
Comparatively speaking, the Czechs are lacking in a few areas. It’s a daunting task that their first game is against Canada. If they can jump on the tournament favorites early and get out to an early lead (as Canada has earned a reputation of being slow starters in key tournaments), it could get them an all-important first win. Their next two preliminary games, Team Europe and Team USA, could also work in the Czechs’ favor as these two opponents seem beatable on paper.
A lot will come down to goaltending. Petr Mrazek, the projected starter, has shown some brilliant play with the Detroit Red Wings, but can he bring that magic to the World Cup? He’s a bronze medal winner from the 2012 World Championships, but he did only appear in one game.
If Mrazek, Ondrej Pavelec or Michal Neuvirth can go toe-to-toe with the goaltender across the rink from them on a nightly basis, they stand a chance to advance to the semifinals. However, with holes throughout the lineup, it will be a tall order.
Saturday, Sept. 17
Team Czech Republic vs. Team Canada, 8 p.m., ESPNEWS
Monday, Sept. 19
Team Europe vs. Team Czech Republic, 3 p.m., ESPN
Thursday, Sept. 22
Team USA vs. Team Czech Republic, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Feature photo courtesy Douglas Family| Flickr
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