Monday, April 30, 2012

Nedvěd and Mrázek highlight Czech roster for Worlds

This past weekend, the Czech national team won the Euro Hockey Tour, a prospect that looked unlikely earlier in the year. However, by taking 7 of a possible 9 points, they overtook Sweden and Russia, whom they beat on Thursday and Sunday, respectively, to win their first title in the 14-year history of the unofficial European championship.

At age 40, Petr Nedvěd will make his World Championship
debut. Photo: Hakan Nordstom, AP.
The following day, they released a list of 25 names that will accompany the team to Stockholm, where they will begin play at the World Championship on Friday against Denmark. As always, the World Championship roster is a work in progress, as players can be added as they become available following their teams' elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs, and a maximum of 20 skaters and three goaltenders are allowed to dress in the tournament.

As things currently stand, the Czech roster is light on NHLers, relying heavily on players from European leagues, particularly the Czech Extraliga and KHL, unsurprisingly, but it also includes defencemen Tomáš Mojžíš and Zdeněk Kutlák, who play in Finland and Switzerland, respectively.

Up front, two additions that did not play this past weekend include dispatched NHLers David Krejčí and Milan Michálek. Michálek played on last year's squad, while Krejčí was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. 

"We have the idea to put them both together," said coach Alois Hadamczik about the new additions. "With whom, it remains to be seen. I have to say that our plans have been slightly affected by the quality performance against Russia."

Two of the most eye-catching names on the roster are the oldest and youngest players, Petr Nedvěd and Petr Mrázek, neither of whom were considered likely candidates to be in this position at the start of the season. Until this season, neither was even eligible to represent the Czech Republic internationally.

That being said, Nedvěd's inclusion on the roster was anything but a surprise when it was finally announced. The 40-year-old led the Czech Extraliga in scoring this past season and was named league MVP. In November, he represented the Czech Republic for the first time since 1996 and, in 12 international games this season, recorded 8 points. His lengthy absence from the Czech national team roster is due to the fact that he represented Canada, the country he defected to as a teenager, at the 1994 Winter Olympics. After that, the dual citizen had to play three consecutive seasons in the country of his birth to be re-eligible to play for them in an IIHF championship, which became the case after last season. At 40 years and five months, Nedvěd becomes the oldest player to participate in his first IIHF World Championship.

The outstanding goalie of the WJC, Petr Mrázek is now on the
A-team roster. Photo: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal.
The youngest player on the roster has never played internationally for any other country, but until last December, he couldn't play for the Czechs. Goaltender Petr Mrázek left his Vítkovice club in 2009, at the age of 17, to join the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League. Despite solidly defending the goal of the club in the Canadian junior circuit, his angry Vítkovice squad blocked his attempts to play internationally for his homeland, insisting his transfer was incomplete and demanding compensation. 

After two years had passed, the Czech Ice Hockey Association intervened in the dispute, helping to negotiate a settlement under which Mrázek would be allowed to represent the Czech Republic at the most recent World Junior Championships. The goalie made the most of the opportunity, backstopping the Czech Republic to a quarterfinal birth for the first time in four years and being named the tournament's outstanding goalkeeper.

Mrázek's spot on the roster comes at the expense of Tomáš Pöpperle, who had a remarkable season in goal for Sparta Praha, but was clearly the third man on the goaltending totem pole, and his future on this year's team seemed certain after he failed to appear in the final leg of the Euro Hockey Tour.

Even Mrázek's appearance in any games seems unlikely, as the top two spots seem to be sewn up by Jakub Štěpánek and Jakub Kovář. In all probability, both will see action. However, it's unclear at this point who will get the starting assignment when the games become crucial.

As for future additions, a number of talented Czechs still remain in the second round of the NHL playoffs, including Jaromír Jágr, Pavel Kubina, Jakub Voráček, Tomáš Fleischmann, Patrik Eliáš, Petr Sýkora, Marek Židkický, Martin Hanzál, Rostislav Klesla, Roman Polák, Vladimír Sobotka and Roman Hamrlík. Any whose teams are eliminated could become candidates to join the team.

Below is the current roster of the Czech national team and its Pool B schedule at the 2012 IIHF World Championship in Helsinki and Stockholm.


Jakub Štěpánek
 (St. Petersburg, KHL), Jakub Kovář (České Budějovice), Petr Mrázek (Ottawa, OHL).


Petr Čáslava
 (CSKA Moscow, KHL), Ondřej Němec (Cherepovets, KHL), Miroslav Blaťák, Jakub Nakládal (both Ufa, KHL), Jakub Kindl (Detroit, NHL), Lukáš Krajíček (Minsk, KHL), Tomáš Mojžíš (Turku, Finland), Zdeněk Kutlák (Ambri-Piotta, Switzerland).


Tomáš Plekanec
 (Montréal, NHL), David Krejčí (Boston, NHL), Milan Michálek (Ottawa, NHL), Aleš Hemský (Edmonton, NHL), Michael Frolík (Chicago, NHL), Tomáš Vincour (Dallas, NHL), Lukáš Kašpar, Jiří Novotný (both Astana, KHL), Petr Průcha (St. Petersburg, KHL), Jakub Petružálek (Khabarovsk, KHL), Petr Nedvěd (Bílí Tygři Liberec), Petr Koukal (Pardubice), Michal Vondrka (Slavia Praha), Jan Kovář (Plzeň 1929), Petr Tenkrát (Sparta Praha).

Coaches: Alois Hadamczik and Josef Paleček

Czech Republic "Group B" schedule at the IIHF World Championships. All games will be played in Stockholm:

Friday, May 4:

16:15  Czech Republic - Denmark

Saturday, May 5:
20:15  Czech Republic - Sweden

Monday, May 7:
16:15  Czech Republic - Norway

Thursday, May 10:
20:15  Czech Republic - Latvia

Friday, May 11:
16:15  Czech Republic - Italy

Sunday, May 13:
16:15  Czech Republic - Russia

Tuesday, May 15:
16:15  Czech Republic - Germany

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top Euro teams tune up for Worlds in Brno

This weekend, Europe’s top four hockey nations finish their year-long preparation for the World Championships at the Kajot Hockey Games in Brno, which also happen to be the final leg of the 2011-12 Euro Hockey Tour.

The Czech Republic welcomes the national teams of Finland, Russia and Sweden to the country’s second city this weekend. The three visiting teams have each already hosted a stop on the tour this year, and now it’s the Czech Republic’s turn. Five of the six round-robin games will take place at Brno’s Kajot Arena with one game, this Thursday, at St. Petersburg Sport Palace in Russia.

It’s been an exciting spring for hockey fans in Brno. They saw their professional club, Kometa, make a Cinderella run to the Extraliga finals and come within two wins of reaching its first national title in 46 years. At the same time, they hosted the U18 World Championships, which concluded this past Sunday. Now they’ll get to witness the most interesting part of the Euro Hockey Tour. Not only is it interesting because the winner will be decided, but because it is the only leg of the tour that includes NHL players; the first three legs are played during the season, but the NHL regular schedule has now finished, meaning that several NHLers from the four participating countries will be involved. Notable additions include Aleš Hemský of Edmonton, Kari Lehtonen of Dallas, Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay, and Semyon Varlamov of Colorado.

The Tour standings themselves are remarkably close, with all four teams still capable of winning. After 12 games each, only six points, which is the equivalent of two wins, separate first-place Sweden from fourth-place Finland. As well, no team has a goals for/goals against differential greater than 1.

Last year, the Czech Republic won the Brno tournament, giving Czech fans a reason to be optimistic about this year’s team.

After the tournament concludes on Sunday, the four teams will head to Scandinavia, where they will start the World Championships on Friday, May 4. Sweden will host the Czech Republic and Russia in Group B in Stockholm, while Finland will host Group A action in Helsinki.

Below are the rosters of the four participating teams for the Kajot Hockey Games, followed by the tournament schedule and the current Tour standings.



Jakub Štěpánek
(St. Petersburg, KHL), Jakub Kovář (České Budějovice), Tomáš Pöpperle (Sparta Praha).


Petr Čáslava (CSKA Moscow, KHL), Ondřej Němec (Cherepovets, KHL), Miroslav Blaťák, Jakub Nakládal (both Ufa, KHL), Jakub Kindl (Detroit, NHL), Lukáš Krajíček(Minsk, KHL), Tomáš Mojžíš (Turku, Finland), Zdeněk Kutlák (Ambri-Piotta, Switzerland),Jakub Krejčík (Slavia Praha), Tomáš Kudělka (Vítkovice Steel), Petr Zámorský (Zlín), Tomáš Žižka (Kometa Brno).


Tomáš Plekanec
(Montréal, NHL), Aleš Hemský (Edmonton, NHL), Jiří Tlustý(Carolina, NHL), Tomáš Vincour (Dallas, NHL), Lukáš Kašpar, Jiří Novotný (both Astana, KHL), Petr Průcha (St. Petersburg, KHL), Jakub Petružálek (Khabarovsk, KHL), Petr Nedvěd (Bílí Tygři Liberec), Petr Koukal (Pardubice), Michal Vondrka (Slavia Praha), Jan Kovář (Plzeň 1929), Petr Tenkrát (Sparta Praha), Petr Holík (Zlín), Jakub Svoboda (Kometa Brno).

Coaches: Alois Hadamczik and Josef Paleček




Kari Lehtonen (Dallas, NHL), Petri Vehanen (Kazan, KHL), Joni Ortio (Turku).


Pasi Puistola (Cherepovets, KHL), Janne Niskala (Atlant Mytischi, KHL), Lasse Kukkonen (Magnitogorsk, KHL), Juuso Hietanen (N. Novgorod, KHL), Mikko Mäenpää (Khabarovsk, KHL), Topi Jaakola (Lulea, Sweden), Ossi Väänänen (Jokerit Helsinki), Mikko Kousa, Toni Söderholm (both IFK Helsinki).


Mikko Koivu (Minnesota, NHL), Petteri Nokelainen (Montréal, NHL), Lennart Petrell (Edmonton, NHL), Jussi Jokinen (Carolina, NHL), Antti Pihlström (Ufa, KHL), Petri Kontiola (Chelyabinsk, KHL), Jarkko Immonen, Niko Kapanen (both Kazan, KHL), Ville Peltonen, Mikael Granlund, Janne Pesonen (all IFK Helsinki), Jesse Joensuu (HV´71 Jönköping, Sweden), Mika Pyörälä (Frölunda, Sweden), Tuomas Kiiskinen, Matti Kuparinen (both Kuopio), Veli-Matti Savinainen (Pori).

Coaches: Jukka Jalonen, Petri Matikainen and Pasi Nurminen



Jhonas Enroth
(Buffalo, NHL), Viktor Fasth (AIK Stockholm), Christopher Nihlstorp (Färjestad).


Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay, NHL), Staffan Kronwall (Cherepovets, KHL), Daniel Fernholm (IFK Helsinki, Finland), Jonas Frögren, Jonas Brodin (both Färjestad), Mattias Ekholm (Brynäs Gävle), Jonas Ahnelöv (MODO), Mattias Karlsson (HV´71 Jönköping).


Linus Ömark (Edmonton, NHL), Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado, NHL), Jonas Andersson, Patrik Zackrisson (both Atlant Mytischi, KHL), Niklas Persson (CSKA Moscow, KHL), Joel Lundqvist, Fredrik Pettersson (both Frölunda), Johan Harju, Niklas Olausson (both Lulea), Jesper Fasth (HV ´71 Jönköping), Johan Larsson, Calle Järnkrok (both Brynäs Gävle), Patrik Lundh (Färjestad), Daniel Bang (AIK Stockholm).

Coaches: Per Marts, Peter Popovič and Roger Rönnberg



Semyon Varlamov (Colorado, NHL), Konstantin Barulin (Atlant Mytischi), Mikhail Biryukov (Khanty-Mansiysk).


Alexei Yemelin
(Montréal, NHL), Nikita Nikitin (Columbus, NHL), Ilya Nikulin, Konstantin Korneyev, Yevgeni Medvedev (all Kazan), Dmitri Kalinin, Denis Denisov (both St. Petersburg), Yevgeni Ryasenski (CSKA Moscow), Ivan Vishnevski (Atlant Mytischi), Yevgeni Biryukov (Magnitogorsk).


Nikolai Kulyomin
(Toronto, NHL), Alexander Burmistrov (Winnipeg, NHL), Danis Zaripov, Alexei Tereschenko, Yevgeni Bodrov (all Kazan), Viktor Tikhonov, Vladimir Tarasenko (both St. Petersburg), Sergei Shirokov (CSKA Moscow), Yevgeni Kuznetsov, Anton Burdasov (both Chelyabinsk), Alexander Svitov (Ufa), Yevgeni Ketov, Vadim Shipachyov (both Cherepovets), Nikolai Zherdev (Atlant Mytischi).

Coaches: Zinatulya Bilyaletdinov, Valeri Belov and Dmitri Yushkevich

Schedule of the 2012 Kajot Hockey Games

Thursday, April 26:

18:00 Russia – Finland (St. Petersburg)
18:30 Czech Republic – Sweden (Brno, ČT4 Sport)

Saturday, April 28:

14:00 Czech Republic – Finland (Brno, ČT4 Sport)
18:30 Russia – Sweden (Brno)

Sunday, April 29:

14:00 Finland – Sweden (Brno, ČT4 Sport)
18:00 Czech Republic – Russia (Brno, ČT4 Sport)

2011-12 Euro Hockey Tour Standings, after three of four events:
 # | Team            |  W | OW | OL |  L | GF:GA | Pts |
 1 | Sweden          |  5 |  0 |  1 |  3 | 24:23 |  16 |
 2 | Russia          |  4 |  1 |  1 |  3 | 19:19 |  15 |
 3 | Czech Republic  |  3 |  2 |  0 |  4 | 22:22 |  13 |
 4 | Finland         |  3 |  0 |  1 |  5 | 21:22 |  10 |

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cinderella Kometa two wins away

Written for

Who would have predicted this two months ago? Kometa Brno, the eighth-place team in the Czech Extraliga, is now just two wins from its first title in 46 years.

The hungry Brno fans, who have faithfully filled their home arena for years to watch subpar teams in subpar leagues, finally got to see their team on the big stage tonight. They didn’t disappoint and they weren’t disappointed. Far from it.

There was a buzz in the air on the streets of Brno leading to Kajot Arena on a warm spring afternoon before the game. Once inside, the atmosphere was electric, even before the drop of the puck. Once the game started, just watching the crowd was entertaining enough at times.

The game itself was cautiously played for the better part of two periods, in contrast with the loosely-played contests in Pardubice, with neither team wanting to be too reckless in such a pivotal swing game. Jiří Tvaj and Martin Růžička were perfect when they had to be in the first period, and the game was almost half over before the game saw its first goal, the only one of the night for the visiting Pardubice squad.

Kometa fell down two men when first Tomáš Žižka was called for slashing and then, 22 seconds later, Jiří Vašiček cleared the puck over the glass. After over a minute of sustained pressure, Radovan Somík, who had been denied by Trvaj just moments earlier, finally put the puck in when he converted a pass from the side of the net.

As the third period began, the Brno fans continued to keep the building alive, despite the fact that their team had yet to score, or even get many good chances. In the game’s 47th minute, they were finally rewarded. Vašiček nicely set up Jakub Svoboda, whose backhander slid under Růžička for the tying goal, turning Kajot Arena into a madhouse.

Suddenly, Kometa began coming at Pardubice in waves, pushing the visitors back on their heels and forcing Růžička to come up big a few times. But it didn’t take long for them to penetrate once more. With 10:33 left in regulation time, Růžička made the initial save on Jakub Koreis, but was down and out as Hynek Zohorna picked up the loose puck and stuffed it inside the post for the go-ahead tally.

Minutes later, Kometa was penalised for the third time in the game for shooting the puck out of play; this time the puck went into the bench, which unlike elsewhere is a penalty in the Czech Republic. Pardubice generated chances, both on the power play and afterward, but they couldn’t finish them off, as the Kometa defence did a good job of keeping the front of the net clear.

The crowd rose in unison with two minutes remaining and remained standing the rest of the game, with the visitors now desperately trying to tie it. When Pardubice went offside with 8.8 seconds left, the game was effectively over, and the celebration began.

The two teams go right back at it in less than 24 hours, as game four goes Saturday night back in Brno, where Pardubice will try to win back home ice advantage and Kometa will try to move to the brink of a championship.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Two Czech greats face crossroads

This April is an exciting month in Czech hockey, with the Extraliga finals, the U18 World Championships and, later, the Kajot Cup. And in this exciting month, Brno, the republic's "second city", is the centre of its hockey universe.

Fortunately, I will be spending a great deal of this month in Brno covering these events, particularly the U18 tournament, for which I am editing content in the official program, the English version of the website, Twitter, and during the tournament providing online play-by-play and game reports. Unfortunately, that leaves me little time to keep Czech Hockey Report as up-to-date as I would like,  but I will try my best to direct readers to the best sources of information in Czech hockey.

One of those sources is Velvet Hockey, created by fellow EuroHockey writer Jon Rowson. Today, he has written an article, entitled "The end of the road for two Czech greats?", about Petr Nedvěd and Martin Straka, who were both recently eliminated with their teams in the Extraliga semifinals. Respectively 40 and 38 years old, the two are both reportedly considering retirement.

For Nedvěd, for whom my memory goes back to when he was a 17-year-old Seattle Thunderbird, this is not the first time he has considered retirement. Last year, many will remember, he made similar considerations after his team was eliminated in the quarterfinals in heartbreaking fashion.

Though it seems likely we may see Nedvěd back for another season, Straka might be finished as a player. Part-owner of the team, the degree to which he has maintained the role of club general manager while playing has been admirable, especially during the messy registration scandal last season. He has shown innovation as a manager, being a pioneer of recruiting North American players into the Extraliga, and one has to think he has a lengthy career ahead of him in the front office.

Hopefully, as the futures of these two greats becomes clear, it will be the off-season and I will have more time to dedicate to their stories.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kometa in ELH finals means changes to U18 schedule

When Brno's Hala Rondo (since renamed Kajot Arena) was named the primary venue of the 2012 IIHF U18 World Championship last August, the possibility for a scheduling conflict was possible.

After all, the arena is also home to Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga, and the tournament has traditionally coincided with the league finals. However, when one considered that Brno hadn't won a national championship since 1966 or even a playoff series in the top league since the late '80s, the decision seemed safe.

Five weeks ago, Kometa qualified for the Extraliga's post-season for the first time since joining in 2009 and quickly dispatched of Kladno, whose recent track record has been almost as futile, in the preliminary round.

Waiting in the wings, however, was Sparta Praha, the league's first overall team, in the quarterfinals. After dropping two of the first three games, Kometa then stunned a large percentage of the nation's hockey fans by reeling off three straight wins to take the series.

Their roll continued into the semifinals against #2-ranked Plzeň 1929, a team that has the league's best combined record over the past three seasons. No matter. The streaking Kometa went into West Bohemia and took the first two games.

With their path to the final now clear, people began to see the clear conflict ahead, and many wondered aloud what would happen. Would Kometa be rewarded for their improbable finals appearance by having to play the entire series on the road? Or their "home" games at a neutral site? Would the Extraliga radically alter their pre-determined schedule to make it work?

On March 28, the club made an announcement on its website.

"The priority is the domestic league. Kometa isn't migrating anywhere," said general manager Zdeněk Zikmund. "There is already an agreement in place. We have an alternate plan. That will be announced in the event Kometa advances beyond the semifinal. For sure, though, we can say that the whole tournament will be played in Moravia."

They have indeed advanced, as Kometa went into Plzeň on Monday night and won in convincing fashion, 7-2, to finish off the series in five games. Thus, it became time to speculate on what that alternate plan might be.

From the U18 tournament's official website and, here are the schedules for the two events in conflict:

DateKAJOT Arena in Brno (Group A)Zimní stadion Znojmo (Group B)
16:00   DEN - CAN (1)16:00   LAT - RUS (2)
20:00   FIN - USA (3)20:00   GER - SWE (4)
15:30   CZE - DEN (5)18:00   SUI - LAT (6)
13:00   USA - CZE (7)14:00   RUS - GER (8)
18:00   CAN - FIN (9)18:00   SWE - SUI (10)
14:00   DEN - USA (11)18:00   LAT - SWE (12)
16:00   CAN - CZE (13)16:00   GER - LAT (14)
20:00   FIN - DEN (15)20:00   RUS - SUI (16)
16:00   CZE - FIN (17)16:00   SWE - RUS (18)
20:00   USA - CAN (19)20:00   SUI - GER (20)
Day Off
15:00   A2 - B3 (21) - quarterfinal15:00   A4 - B5 (22) - relegation
19:00   B2 - A3 (23) - quarterfinal19:00   B4 - A5 (24) - relegation
15:00   B1 - W21 (25) - semifinal15:00   A4 - B4 (26) - relegation
19:00   A1 - W23 (27) - semifinal19:00   A5 - B5 (28) - relegation
14:00   L21 - L23 (29) - 5th/6th-
12:00   L27 - L25 (30) - Bronze-
16:00   W27 - W25 (31) - Gold-

Extraliga Final schedule
  Pardubice or Liberec - HC Kometa Brno
Mon, 09.04.2012Pardubice/LiberecHC Kometa Brno
Tue, 10.04.2012Pardubice/Liberec HC Kometa Brno
Fri, 13.04.2012HC Kometa BrnoPardubice/Liberec
Sat, 14.04.2012HC Kometa BrnoPardubice/Liberec
*Tue, 17.04.2012Pardubice/Liberec HC Kometa Brno
*Thu, 19.04.2012HC Kometa BrnoPardubice/Liberec
*Sat, 21.04.2012Pardubice/Liberec HC Kometa Brno
When observing these schedules, there does seem to be a bit of wiggle room. Note that on Friday the 13th and Sunday the 15th, there are single tournament games scheduled for early afternoon, leaving the evenings free. Games 3 and 4 of the Extraliga Final, to be played in Brno, are slated for the 13th and 14th. Surely they could change the Saturday game to Sunday, no? That would still leave a day off before game 5.

As for the quarterfinals, scheduled for the same day as a possible sixth game, perhaps they could be moved to Znojmo in the event the game becomes necessary. That would mean relegation round games being moved to Saturday.

Of course, none of that takes into account the logistical nightmare of redesigning the rink back and forth. Anyone who's seen an Extraliga game knows that the ice is littered with advertising to an almost nauseating level. IIHF tournaments, meanwhile, have different and, mercifully, far fewer on-ice ads. Would changing them back and forth be feasible?

Apparently not.

On Tuesday afternoon, the club announced that five games are being moved out of Brno: only one to original co-host Znojmo, and four to Břeclav, which now becomes the tournament's third host city. Břeclav is no stranger to U18 international hockey as a regular host of the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

Presumably, the five games being moved are the single game on the 13th, and the two each on the 14th and 19th, and the game going to Znojmo is the one on the 13th: Czech Republic-Denmark. A revised schedule has not yet been released, however.

"We have an understanding," Zikmund said to news agency ČTK. "We are working on it with the IIHF and after the meeting with the (tournament) organizing committee and the international federation, it will be published officially."

EDIT: Within two hours of this post being published, the revised schedule was released by the official website of the U18 World Championship and HC Pardubice eliminated Bílí Tygři Liberec to advance to face Kometa in the Extraliga Final.