It’s unclear who the Czechs will start in goal for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.
But it’s very clear who they won’t start.
Head coach Josef Jandac told NHL.com that Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth are in a “bit of a battle” for the No. 1 gig, and both will get a shot at the job in the three exhibition games leading up to the tournament.
“We are planning to have only two goaltenders in the games,” Jandac continued. “Ondrej Pavelec will be the third one.”
Though it’s not a huge shock Pavelec’s in this position — he had a mediocre campaign with the Jets last year, going 13-13-4 with a 2.78 GAA and .904 save percentage — it still has to sting a little. He was the Czech starter three times at the World Championships (capturing bronze in 2011) and reprised that role at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
But if the news is bothering Pavelec, he isn’t showing.
“I was aware of the situation and I’m cool with it,” he said. “I’m glad I can be a part of all this and you never know what happens during the tournament.”
The Czechs play an exhibition against Russia in St. Petersburg on Thursday, then take on the Russians again Friday at the O2 Arena in Prague on Saturday. It’s unclear which goalie will get which game, but the two are reportedly going to split ’em, before Jandac makes a decision for the third game (versus Team North America on Sept. 14) and the tournament opener.
Whatever the case, this is arguably the Czechs’ biggest storyline heading into the World Cup. The team is coming in as major underdog, having lost the services of top flight players like David Krejci, Tomas Hertl and Radko Gudas.
Mrazek and Neuvirth will be counted on to keep the Czechs in contention.