With just a few days before the start of the hockey world championships in Slovakia, the Czech national team has shown good form. The Czechs beat Finland and Russia at the Czech Hockey Games held in Brno over the weekend, and although they lost their last game to Sweden, the team’s promising performance raises hopes the team will be able to defend last year’s world title.
Jaromír Jágr scored his first goal of the season for the national team against Russia in Brno on Saturday to the cheers of the sold-out Rondo arena. The game was the highlight of the Czech Hockey Games, which the Czechs won despite losing the final match 4:2 to Sweden. The 39-year-old Jágr marked his return to the squad with two goals and three assists and said this:
“I trained a lot back in Russia, I was afraid that would get out of the game routine. But it wasn’t that bad, and that’s why I played against Sweden as well. At the championships, we’ll be also playing one match after another, so I wanted to get into it. Maybe I should have had a rest instead, but I’m glad I played.”
The Czechs came out strong against both Finland and Russia. The team’s first line, with Jágr on the rightwing, Roman Červenka in the centre and Petr Průcha on the left, worked well together, and other lines put in promising performance as well. Several other NHL players, most notably Patrik Eliáš of the New Jersey Devils, are yet to join the team, but overall, the Czechs have significantly raised hopes they may repeat last year’s gold win. Karel Knap is a hockey reporter for a leading Czech daily, Mladá fronta Dnes.
“The team looked good. The goalie, Ondřej Pavelec, was well focused, so I think the goaltenders should be ok. Pavelec should be number one, and he looked like a veteran to me. I liked the way the forwards played, particularly the line with Jágr, Červenka and Průcha looked good, and also the third line with Voráček, Marek, Rolínek played exceptionally well. But there may be some problems in the defence.”
Coach Alois Hadamczik was hoping Marek Židlický would prop up the team on the defense but the Minnesota Wild defender recently renewed his knee ligaments injury, and might be out of the team. In that case, the coach would probably turn to another two experienced defenders from the NHL, Roman Harmlík and Jaroslav Špaček. But their club, the Montreal Canadiens, is still in the Stanley Cup play-offs, so Alois Hadamczik might have to do with the players already on the national team.
Sunday’s game against Sweden showed, however, that on their way through the tournament, the Czechs will have to show plenty of team spirit to break through some of the team’s tight defences. Karel Knap again.
“The chemistry, the team spirit and the ability to score in the most important moment will decide the championships. The Swedish defense is always difficult to overcome, but in the championship’s quarterfinal and semifinal will be similar to the game against Sweden in Brno. So the Czechs have to be strong mentally, clever and prepared for this kind of game.”
The Czech national team will kick off the world championships’ group stage against Latvia on Saturday, followed by games against Denmark and Finland.
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