Wide Open Non-NHL Olympics Coming Up – Czech DarkHorse?
((This NHL-related story first appeared in our international newsletter Hockey Wanderlüst on Thursday, January 13th))
Czechs Present a Unique Olympic Look
By Rob Simpson
Gradually countries from around the ice hockey world are posting their non-NHL Olympic rosters. For European teams it’s players back home and for the North American rosters it’s a mixture of talent from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
One country in particular has presented a fascinating mix of past and present, of active and “inactive”. That would be the country that won the first ever NHL Olympics, the 1998 Gold Medal winning Czech Republic.
There is some NHL flavour on the roster announced Thursday morning.
Former long-time Boston Bruin David Krejci, a member of the club’s Stanley Cup team in 2011, will be a key centre with the Czech national team. Since leaving the NHL last year and returning home for family reasons, the 35-year-old from Sternberk has tallied 17 goals and 34 points in 36 games with Olomouc of the Czech league this season.
Kladno native and a man with 858 NHL games on his CV/resumé, Michael Frolik, plans to make an impact. In 16 games with the Swiss league’s Lausanne team this season, he’s tallied six goals and 13 points.
Frolik has the rare distinction of representing his country four times at the World Junior tournament back in 2005 through 2008. He won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.
Scrappy Vladimir Sobotka brings energy, grit and more than 500 NHL games to the line-up. More importantly, this season and last while playing 65 games for Sparta Prague, he’s rung up 17 goals and 41 assists. The Trebic native has just 34-year-old legs.
Also with Sparta is point-a-game right wing Michal Repik, a former Florida Panther. A year younger than Sobotka, this man from Vlasim brings a bit more of a scoring touch. He’s tallied 17 goals and 17 assists this season in 35 games.
Roman Cervenka is a name you’ve heard. Another elder statesman up the middle, he’s played the last six seasons in the Swiss National League, where this season he’s racked up 43 points in 35 games with Rapperswil-Jona Lakers.
Jakub Jerabek is a versatile left-shot, 30-year-old defenceman presently producing for Moscow Spartak. He had a brief taste of NHL calibre play in a stretch from 2017-2019.
One player who has yet to crack an NHL line-up but shows plenty of skill and promise is 24-year-old centreman Michael Spacek, a 2015 4th-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. He’ll slot in nicely behind Krejci in the Czechia depth chart. He’s played in Liiga, back home in the Elite League, and in Sweden over the last two seasons.
One important thing to remember, there won’t be a Dominik Hasek in net. The task of carrying Czechia will fall to three goalies playing in the KHL. Patrik Bartosak of Amur Khabarovsk, Simon Hrubec of Avangard Omsk, and Roman Will of Traktor Chelyabinsk. Will is presently the fifth best goalie in the Kontinental League with a .929 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.20.
Six of the seven Czech defencemen are playing in the KHL as well.
Expect similar depth from the defending Olympic champion Russians, with a heavy influence on the KHL. The Americans and Canadians will feature the strongest mixture of young NHL prospects, a few teenagers playing college or junior hockey and headed to the NHL draft in the not-so-distant future. That analysis to follow in future editions leading up to Beijing.
In the meantime, does Thursday’s roster announcement make the Czechs a legitimate threat? Darkhorses? With the NHL out of the picture, every country has a chance. Maybe the 24-year wait for their next Olympic Gold will end.