Can Czech ice hockey rebound from disappointing Olympics?

26-02-2010

There were a few bright moments at Vancouver 2010 when the Czech hockey team was firing on all cylinders but ultimately the Czechs’ run at the Olympics was short-lived, notably the fourth time in a row in a major tournament that they have exited in the quarterfinals. Now some are suggesting that the Czech team is on the verge of crisis, facing lean years in which medal wins will be few.

Czech Republic - Latvia, photo: CTKCzech Republic - Latvia, photo: CTK The Czech national hockey team had a great run at the turn of the millennium, winning not only at the Nagano Olympics but three straight World Championships. Now, those days seem far away. In Vancouver, after exiting in the quarterfinal stage – yet again - the Czech team has lost its former lustre and many are saying substantial changes will now be needed. A little earlier I spoke to Martin Hosták, a respected Czech TV commentator and former NHL player; he agrees the situation needs to be faced head on.

“Every game is different and you can lose one game by coincidence, bad luck or not being prepared at exactly the right moment. But I don’t think the current state of things is a coincidence and we have a problem in Czech hockey and we have to face it and do something about it. The problem is the same in the junior team with poor results in the Under-20 or Under-18 championships. Basically, we are not among the top nations, we are not at the top right now.”

Czech Republic - Finland, photo: CTKCzech Republic - Finland, photo: CTK According to Hosták and others, one key factor is that up-and-coming players today lack the necessary motivation, compared to players who grew up under communism and saw hockey as not only financially rewarding but also as a means of making it abroad. By comparison, today’s coaches have to juggle lesser or less-driven players and only hope that someone will step up. Certainly new players of rarer calibre are missing, something evidenced by the drop in the team’s play at Vancouver when Jaromír Jágr, still a star at 38, was absent for much of the Czechs’ game against Latvia. At the same time, hockey commentator Martin Hosták says the outlook is not completely bleak: at Vancouver 2010 some on the Czech team played exceptionally well and registered on the radar.

“I am optimistic for young players who showed skills and boldness in the game, one on one, and made their moves, and weren’t afraid to get in front of the opponent’s net. Players like Krejčí or Fleischmann or Milan Michálek as well. These players are the future of Czech hockey. I hope that they will get better and better each year and that they will start to build up a new team.”

Martin Hosták, photo: www.ceskatelevize.czMartin Hosták, photo: www.ceskatelevize.cz The next big event on the calendar will be the World Championship in neighbouring Germany in May, which Martin Hosták points out will - by necessity - see a different (and arguably weaker) Czech roster than in Vancouver. Still, it could also be an opportunity for newer players to make their mark. Some would argue, given the team’s recent track record, that they have little to lose.

26-02-2010