Sochi Winter Olympics: Nedved back to the Games… 20 years later

The Czech Olympic hockey team was named earlier today, and fans of the NHL certainly were surprised with some of the selections.  Here is the 25 man roster released by Czech manager Alois Hadamczik.

Goalies: Jakub Kovar, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (KHL); Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets; Alexander Salak, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL).

Defensemen: Michal Barinka, Vitkovice Ostrava (CZE); Radko Gudas, Tampa Bay Lightning;  Tomas Kaberle, Kladno (CZE) ;  Lukas Krajicek, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) ; Zbynek Michalek, Phoenix Coyotes; Michal Rozsival, Chicago Blackhawks; Ladislav Smid, Calgary Flames;  Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey Devils.

Forwards: Roman Cervenka, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) ;  Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils; Michael Frolik, Winnipeg Jets;  Martin Hanzal; Phoenix Coyotes; Ales Hemsky, Edmonton Oilers;  Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils; David Krejci, Boston Bruins;  Milan Michalek; Ottawa Senators;  Petr Nedved, Bili Tygri Liberec (CZE) ;  Jiri Novotny, Lev Prague (KHL) ;  Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning; Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens;  Vladimir Sobotka, St. Louis Blues; Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers.

Since this lineup was released earlier this afternoon, social media has been filled with many perplexed looks.  Of note, Jiri Hudler and Radim Vrbata were left off the roster.  Hudler ranks third in the league amongst Czech scorers with 33 points in 41 games with Calgary.  Vrbata meanwhile is fourth amongst Czech scorers, with 29 points in 39 games with Phoenix.  Tomas Fleischmann of Florida also was not selected, despite being a good contributor for the Czechs during the last Olympics in Vancouver.

On defense, the surprising player left off the Olympic team is Colorado’s Jan Hejda.  Hejda has been a major reason for the strong first half for the Colorado Avalanche this season, and logs an average of 22 minutes a night.  He has brought steadiness and calm to an otherwise young and inexperienced Colorado defense.

Perhaps the most shocking additions to the Czech team are the inclusion of former NHLers Petr Nedved and Tomas Kaberle.  Kaberle was poor in his final season in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens last season.  He played in only ten games, and looked to lose the foot speed and confidence needed to play at the NHL level.  He was placed on waivers last spring, and went unclaimed.  Ultimately, the defenseman was bought out.  The decision to include Kaberle over Hejda is jaw dropping.  Roman Cervenka is also a player that is viewed as a disappointment to many NHL fans.  The 28 year old  came to play in Calgary last season, but was largely anonymous and lacklustre, netting only 17 points in 38 games, despite getting reasonable hype for his performances in Europe.

Petr Nedved’s position on the team is even more surprising.  The 42 year old forward last played in the NHL during the 2006-07 season with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers, and by that time, the NHL’s speed and intensity had clearly passed him by.  The former 2nd overall pick in the 1990 draft  has played in the Czech league since the 2007-08 season with Sparta Prague, and more recently his home town Liberec.  Despite his old age, Nedved has amazed over a point per game (264 points in 244 games) with his hometown team over the last five season.  Patterning his game after Canadian legend, Wayne Gretzky, Nedved’s best skills while in the NHL were his playmaking skills and his excellent wrist shot.  Clearly, he appears to have retained those skills while playing at home.

Nedved of course defected to Canada at age 17, to play with the Seattle Thunderbirds during his draft year.  He subsequently elected to play for Canada at the Winter Olympics in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway during a contract dispute.  Nedved therefore became ineligible to play for the Czechs in IIHF competition (note: he did play for the Czech Republic during the 1996 World Cup because that tournament was not an official IIHF sanctioned event).  Yet, after Nedved returned home, the possibility of playing for the Czechs again became possible.  Because he had played in the Czech Republic for a period of four years, he was once again eligible to play for the Czechs in 2012.  He took advantage of that opportunity, and played for the Czechs for the first time in the Worlds that year.  Paul Romanuk had a great feature on Nedved that Spring for the IIHF.

Though many may mock Petr Nedved’s position on this team, from a human interest point of view, it is incredible to see a player of his age and experience still being passionate about the game, and continuing to be productive.  It is a credit to the work he has put in that he was named to the team.  It is also a very interesting story to see Petr Nedved back at the Olympic Games, 20 years after playing for Canada.  However, admittedly, seeing Hudler, Vrbata and Fleishmann excluded from the team for Nedved does not seem like the most sage hockey decision.  I was excited to see this Czech team compete at the Olympics, with a productive Hudler (finally!) and the young Tomas Hertl (who has since been ruled out because of a knee injury), but now feel somewhat let down that this team will have a poor tournament.  Romance over performance?  Perhaps the old guard will surprise us one more time?  One can hope.

– Jaideep Kanungo, Hockeyland Canada

3 responses to “Sochi Winter Olympics: Nedved back to the Games… 20 years later

  1. Actually, it is no surprise in Czechia that Vrbata and Fleishmann didnt make the team. At the last championship they played really awful, whining about the big rink all the time, so no one actually wanted them in national team again. Another story is Hudler, this was shocking for many people, but it makes sense as well. Firstly, he refused to play for national team in the past, lied to the coach that hes injured. Secondly, he’s said not to be much of a team player, who also makes bad atmosphere in a team. Coach was deciding between him and hemsky, and at the end took rather hemsky, which i 100% approve. He’s a magician at the big ice.

    About Hejda threre is a rumor that he dont like managing style of recent czech team managment and refused to represent unless it’s changed.

  2. Very much appreciate the comments Fero and the actual Czech perspective! Not surprisingly, North American media reports are generally dismissive of European based players. Of course, there is skepticism on this continent over Hadamczik’s selection because many have not watched the Extraliga or KHL players and assume that the NHL is unequivocally the best platform for all players. Nedved’s selection has been largely derided today as a result, especially when Hudler and Vrbata are doing things on their televisions. They also take for granted political/personal reasons for why players might be excluded. I thank you for shedding light on this situation! Much appreciated!

  3. You are welcome. I think there’s no doubt that NHL is the best hockey league, but I think that Hadamczik took players who fit in the team rather then simply the best individuals. And this is exatly the case of Hudler and Nedved. Nedved is old, but his wrist shot is still fenomenal, and he never failed in the internetional competition last two years, being very productive. But what’s most important in his case, he’s really fantastic guy, poking fun all around, mabe even more than Jagr (and thats something :). He simply keeps team together.

    And as i suggested in the first post, very important criterion was also the capability of players to adapt on the big ice really fast (there is only 1 training before the start). Many czech players from the NHL have big problems with that.

    For exaple, the defemsmen Krajicek and Barinka are not the best czech defensmen even in the europe, but they have played many international matches together, and they are able to hop on the ice and play their 100%, without training whatsoever, even though they won’t be the best shining stars.

    And the last thing, the rumor about Hejda have been already confirmed by Hejda himself.

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