The Czech Republic won gold at the 1998 Olympics, which marked the first time NHL players participated in the men’s hockey event.
As the Czechs look to get back to the top of the podium in Sochi — following a quarter-final loss to Finland four years ago in Vancouver — hockey pundits were curious, then skeptical about some of the decisions when the roster was announced last month.
Say, for instance, 42-year-old Petr Nedved making the team. He last played in the 1994 Olympics — but for silver-medal winning Canada, after previously defecting from the former Czechoslovakia as a teenager.
Nedved hasn’t played in the NHL since 2006-07 when he was with the Edmonton Oilers. He’s spent the last seven seasons playing professionally in the Czech Republic.
“My life has been a strange journey,” Nedved said recently. “I knew that you guys didn’t think I was still playing … Here I am.”
As for other elder statesmen, it’s not a surprise 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr is on the team – he’s second among all Czech players in the NHL with 49 points in 59 games this season with New Jersey. It seems age isn’t holding him back.
But in comparing top Czech players in the NHL this season, at least in terms of points, we should discuss the decision to leave Calgary’s Jiri Hudler off the roster. It was a move that raised many eyebrows — in fact, it seemed chief among the omissions from the Czech squad.
“No Hudler on that team? The Czechs must be favored to win the gold medal because they must be awfully talented,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley told the Calgary Herald when the Czech roster was announced.
Hudler, a center, is third amongst Czech players in points with 43. Yet he was snubbed from the initial roster and omitted again when Vladimir Sobotka was removed from the competition due to injury.
“Disappointing. But there is nothing I can do about it. Just disappointed. A little sad,” Hudler, who has never represented the Czech Republic at an Olympics, told the Calgary Herald last month.
Instead of Hudler, the Czech team named Martin Erat of the Washington Capitals as the replacement.
Already a two-time Olympian, Erat, 32, isn’t exactly having a breakout season with the Capitals. He has one goal in 51 games. He was a healthy scratch last month, and in November he requested to be traded.
Erat made the Czech team not just over Hudler, but also the likes of Phoenix’s Radim Vrbata, San Jose’s Martin Havlat, Florida’s Tomas Fleischmann and Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty.
So there are snubs, and there are veterans. It appears the Czech team won’t rely too much on youth, but instead players getting fairly long in the tooth: Patrik Elias (37), Marek Zidlicky (37) Michal Rozsival (35) and Tomas Kaberle (35) to name a few.
As pointed out here on PHT, the Czechs have 12 players that are at least 30 years of age. Will they be able to keep up to younger legs on the larger international ice surface?
“I don’t think it really matters,” Jagr recently said. “All the players who play there, we play the same kind of minutes like everybody else in the NHL. You shouldn’t get tired because you play three games there. We are used to it.”