You know, if Czechoslovakia had never broken up, they would have one helluva hockey team. Instead, the split left two good but not great sides. Where the Slovaks seem to slowly getting better and better, the Czechs are certainly tumbling down the hill from their 1998 Olympic gold. They released their roster today and it will be competitive but really has little chance to medal.
There have been persistent rumours that former Ranger captain Jaromir Jagr wants one last kick of the can in the NHL before calling it quits. Whether it is with Edmonton, Pittsburgh or us, Jagr can raise his stock and prospective earnings with a good showing in Vancouver. He may be getting older and slower, but he is still one of the best offensive talents in the last 20 years.
Jagr will be far from alone on offense with Marty Havlat, Patrik Elias, Martin Erat and Milan Michalek all capable of scoring off the wings. I would be remiss if I left out Tomas Fleischmann, who keeps getting better and better for the Capitals but I must say I was suprised to see him and not Florida's Frolik. The Czechs aren't that deep down the middle but Tomas Plekanec has been great this season for Montreal, Boston's David Krejci seems to have bounced back from surgery well and Josef Vasicek knows the North American game all too well.
The defensive corps also is quite familiar with the smaller NHL ice as all but one of them play in the best league on earth. Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Filip Kuba, Milan's bother Zbynek Michalek and Jan Hejda - if he is healthy - are all capable of competing against top talent and getting the puck up to those wingers.
The Dominator won't be behind them but even without Hasek, the Czech net will be well defended. Florida's Tomas Vokoun has a solid 2.62 gaa and .922 thus far this season despite defensive beast Jay Bouwmeester jumping ship to Calgary in the offseason. And his backup will likely be Atlanta upstart Ondrej Pavelec, who has been nothing short of exceptional at times this season. That being said, those two will have their hands full with the elite offenses coming at them.
The Czech open with the Slovaks on February 17th, face Latvia on the 19th and Russia on the 21st so they could escape the opening round 2-1 if Vokoun can stop the high-powered Slovak offense with a almost-certain win and loss in their next two games. With Gabby on the Slovaks, I would say that is a big IF.