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Czech-in’ In: Czech Republic Quiet Underdogs at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

Jakub Voracek (

Jakub Voracek (


It has been six years since Team Czech Republic struck gold at the IIHF World Championships in Germany. Likewise, the Czech Republic last medaled in 2012 at the World Championships in Helsinki/Stockholm. In 2014, Team CR was shut out by Sweden 3-0 in the bronze medal game. CR suffered the same fate against the USA in 2015 despite playing host to the event. And this year, they did not even make it out of the quarterfinal round. Bottom line is: Team Czech Republic is frustrated – and hungry.

Fear not, for there is hope for the Czech Republic. This past spring there were a total of four NHL players on the squad, the rest hailing from clubs in the Czech Extraliga (ELH), Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Swedish Hockey League (SHL), and the Swiss National League A (NLA). For the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Team Czech Republic‘s General Manager, Martin Rucinsky, flipped the switch and decided to stack the roster with NHL players. CR heads into September with only one player not currently in the NHL – forward Vladimir Sobotka of Avangard Omsk (KHL). No surprise there, as Rucinsky spent sixteen seasons in the NHL.

Sobotka spent seven struggling seasons in the NHL with the Bruins and Blues until heading over to Europe and reinvigorating his game. This past season, he notched 34 points in 44 games and was named to the KHL All Star Game. He may only be 5’10”, but he plays a tough game, and he clearly worked on his offensive production numbers, an area he was unfortunately lacking in. Sobotka can be used in even-strength and all special teams situations. Vladimir Sobotka will likely rejoin the St. Louis Blue for the upcoming season, but there is a still a chance he stays in the KHL. The WCH will give him a good idea of how he will stack up against NHL players again, so expect Sobotka to bring it all-tournament long.

The Czech Republic boasts a well-balanced squad in terms of age and player type. There are plenty of youthful players with a ton of energy in Tomas Hertl, Ondrej Palat, David Pastrnak, and big-guy Radek Faksa. On the other hand, there are also plenty of veteran players – and some with big size – to lead the team. I use the term “veteran” loosely with regards to Jacob Voracek, who is only 27-years old, but has plenty of experience having played on the medaling Czech teams of years’ past. Voracek is only one seasoned removed from a 20+ goal season with the Flyers, but make no mistake, his expertise on the power play takes a backseat to no one. Defenders will be all over him for sure, but that allows him to give up the puck to an open teammate.

Tomas Plekanec brings a complete wholesome game to the squad. He’s a terrific playmaker and two-way forward. Plekanec will lead the Czech Republic as team captain. He previously served as team captain at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi and 2012 IIHF Worlds.

Other vets include forwards Ales Hemsky, Martin Hanzal, David Krejci, Michael Frolik, Milan Michalek and defensemen Roman Polak and Zbynek Michalek. Hanzal brings his tremendous 6’6” frame to the table in addition to his veteran experience.

This year however, one veteran will be missing. His name is Jaromir Jagr. The 44-year old decided to retire from international hockey after being named MVP at the 2015 IIHF Worlds. While CR would certainly benefit from having the legend on the roster, the torch is being passed down for someone else to shine at the international stage.

Even some of the younger players have important NHL playoff experience. Ondrej Palat and Andrej Sustr play for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team who has seen at least the second round of the playoffs the last three seasons, once going to the Finals in 2015.

Between the pipes, we will see Petr Mrazek, Michal Neuvirth, or Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec has by far the most international playing experience between the three netminders. The 28-year old was on the team back in 2010 and 2012, winning gold and bronze, respectively. He has played in several other IIHF Worlds as well. Neuvirth is also 28-years old, but has less international experience than 24-year old Mrazek. Mrazek is hoping to wear his brand-new Family Guy-themed mask as much as possible.

Michal Neuvirth has the best 2015-16 statistics of the three Czech goalies. In 32 appearances, he had a goals against average of 2.27 and a save percentage of .924. In the postseason, despite being eliminated by the Washington Capitals in the first round, in three appearances, Neuvirth had a GAA of 0.67 and a save percentage of .981. If Neuvirth continues that trend into camp beginning September 5, I expect to see him get the majority of nods throughout the tournament. I also predict Mrazek to get the backup slot, with Pavelec as a healthy scratch in case one of the other netminders goes down with injury.

By no means is Team Czech Republic expected to even medal at the 2016 WCH. But don’t count them out! They have plenty of hard-working, big players who will no doubt serve as tough competition, if nothing else. CR is a quiet underdog in the tournament. And make no mistake – they will be playing like they have nothing to lose.

Team Czech Republic:

Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars; Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames; Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes; Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars; Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks; Dmitrij Jaskin, St. Louis Blues; David Krejci, Boston Bruins; Milan Michalek, Toronto Maple Leafs; Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning; David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins; Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens; Vladimir Sobotka, Avangard Omsk (KHL); Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers; Michal Jordan, Carolina Hurricanes; Michal Kempny, Chicago Blackhawks; Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes; Jakub Nakladal, Calgary Flames; Roman Polak, San Jose Sharks; Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings; Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers; Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.

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