Of the 25 players that the Czech Republic has named to their men’s roster for the PyeongChang Winter Games, 16 of them are players from Kontinental Hockey League teams. While not as many as some of the other teams who will be playing in South Korea, the Czechs do have their collection of former NHLers as well. The most notable is a veteran of 12 NHL seasons and nearly 900 regular season games.
During the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, the Czech Republic won the gold medal. This was the first time that NHLers were allowed to participate in an Olympics. Obviously, this year they are not. The Czechs also won a bronze in Torino during the 2006 Games. What is interesting is that the same notable veteran of NHL acclaim – Martin Erat – was a member of that bronze victory in Italy. More on him shortly.
— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) January 15, 2018
The 2018 Winter Games will be underway in less than two weeks. Not only can the world not wait, but most especially the hockey world and hockey community are perhaps the most eager. It’s about to get started. The contingent of Czechs selected for the men’s hockey team is one of the best comprised on any roster for this particular event.
THW presents its preview of the 2018 Czech Republic roster looking to medal in PyeongChang:
Pavel Francouz (Traktor Chelyabinsk), Dominik Furch (Avangard Omsk), Patrik Bartošák Czech (HC Vitkovice).
Dominik Furch could be one of the most talented goalies that will be playing in South Korea. The 27-year-old netminder has been absolutely incredible for Avangard Omsk for the last three seasons. In fact, his numbers have been very reminiscent of a legendary fellow countryman who also has the first name of “Dominik”. While not the same style, Furch’s stats are extremely Hasek-like. He has put forth seasons of 1.78, 1.98 and 2.00 for his goals against average while not playing any less than 46 games in a season for Avangard. Likewise, Furch’s save percentages are equally as impressive during that stretch with numbers of .933, .927 and .926. Not drafted by an NHL club, it would not be surprising if an NHL club took a serious look at him and tried to maybe pry him from the KHL at some point. He could be another Roman Cechmanek all over again.
Then there is Pavel Francouz. He is also a current KHL goalie and is also 27 years of age. While playing in Chelyabinsk for Traktor, Francouz has put up similar numbers to Furch – 2.21, 1.43 and 1.83 GAA and .924, .953, and .945 SV%. The difference though is that Francouz has received a bit smaller workload. Still, the Czechs would be hard-pressed to not name him as their starter. Especially because of that 2016-17 season with the 1.43 GAA and .953 SV% in 30 games for Traktor. At 6-foot and well under 180 pounds, Francouz is lithe in net and has sound skating for a goaltender. Not only is he one of the best goaltenders in the KHL, but like Furch, he will be one of the top netminders in PyeongChang. It is just a matter of which goaltender gets more opportunity.
Interestingly enough, Patrik Bartošák is the goalie with the most North American experience of the three. More importantly, he did pretty darn well while he was there too. Bartošák played junior hockey for three years in the WHL for the Red Deer Rebels. He saw sizable action in both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons when he played 55 and 65 games respectively. The Los Angeles Kings drafted him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. While he would not see any time for Los Angeles, Bartošák played parts of two seasons with the Kings’ AHL affiliate at the time, the Manchester Monarchs. During the 2014-15 season he won the Calder Cup while playing backup to Manchester’s Jean-François Bérubé. Since the 2015-16 season, Bartošák has been in the Czech Republic, mostly for teams in the Czech Extraliga.
The Czech Republic should have no worries in net. In fact, they likely have the most solid trio between the pipes of any country participating in PyeongChang.
Ondřej Němec (Severstal Cherepovets), Jakub Nakládal (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl), Tomáš Kundrátek (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod), Vojtěch Mozík (HC Vityaz), Jan Kolář (Amur Khabarovsk), Michal Jordán (Amur Khabarovsk), Ondřej Vitásek (HC Yugra), Adam Polášek (HC Sochi).
Defender Michal Jordán has actually played slightly more NHL games than KHL games, even though he is presently playing in Khabarovsk, Russia for Amur. A fourth round selection in the 2005 Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Jordán played his junior hockey in the OHL for both the Windsor Spitfires and the Plymouth Whalers. At the 2010 World Junior Championships he served the Czech Republic’s team captain. Jordán played parts of three seasons with the Hurricanes from 2012-13 through 2015-16. His best season for the Hurricanes was 2014-15 when he had career highs in games (38), goals (2), assists (4) and points (6). Jordán has spent the past two seasons playing in the KHL – 2016-17 with Ak Bars Kazan, and now presently with Amur Khabarovsk.
Ondřej Němec had a long and distinguished KHL career. He has over 300 games to his credit, and either captaincy or an alternate for HC Lev Praha and Atlant Mytishchi. Němec has been back in the Czech Republic since the 2016-17 season, and currently captains HC Kometa Brno. The 33-year-old defender is 6-foot and over 200 pounds. The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Němec in the second round of the 2002 NHL Draft, but he never played with the parent club. Even his AHL time was very brief as Němec played in 14 games (regular season and playoffs combined) for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins during the 2003-04 season. In 310 KHL games, he tallied 36 goals and 70 assists from the back end.
— HC Kometa Brno (@HCKometa) January 16, 2018
Size and strength along the Czech blueline can come from Adam Polášek. The former fifth-rounder for the Vancouver Canucks stands 6-foot-3 and close to the 210-pound mark. Polášek is only 26 years old, and had a decent QMJHL career with the Prince Edward Island Rocket. In his first Quebec Major Junior season he appeared in 66 games and scored 13 goals and 28 assists. Polášek has played this season and last in the KHL. Spending all of last season with Sibir Novosibirsk, he has since come over to HK Sochi from Novosibirsk. In 104 games between the two teams, Polášek has nine goals and 28 assists in 104 games.
Martin Erat (HC Kometa Brno), Jan Kovář (Metallurg Magnitogorsk), Roman Červenka (HC Fribourg-Gottéron), Michal Birner (HC Fribourg-Gottéron), Michal Řepík (HC Slovan Bratislava), Lukáš Radil (HC Spartak Moscow), Jiří Sekáč (Ak Bars Kazan), Tomáš Zohorna (Amur Khabarovsk), Roman Horák (HC Vityaz), Dominik Kubalík (HC Ambrì-Piotta), Milan Gulaš (HC Plzen), Tomáš Mertl (HC Plzen), Michal Vondrka (Piráti Chomutov), Petr Koukal (Mountfield HK).
The 36-year-old Martin Erat has had the most distinguished professional career of any player on the Czech Republic. Furthermore, in all likelihood this will be his final opportunity at a second Olympic medal. When the Czechs won the bronze in 2006, Erat picked up a goal and an assist in eight games on a team that also had the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Milan Hejduk, Patrik Elias, and Tomas Vokoun. Now Erat is very much the elder statesman and the true leader for this hockey team in PyeongChang. In 881 regular season NHL games, he scored 176 goals and 369 assists for 545 points. Erat’s return to the Olympics for the Czech Republic is one of nicer stories leading up to the games. Revered in his country (not to mention the likelihood of in Nashville as well), he is a bit of a lesser hero that hearkens back to greater Czech teams.
The time spent by Jiří Sekáč in the NHL saw him bouncing around mostly. He only played two NHL seasons, but still played for the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, and the Arizona Coyotes. Sekáč has played this season and last with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan and seems to have finally found his niche. This current season Sekáč has sprung for 40 points in 48 games off of 15 goals and 25 assists. This is actually a return to the KHL for him, as he previously played three seasons combined for HC Lev Praha and Lev Poprad prior to his time spent in the NHL. In 204 KHL regular season games, Sekáč has scored 41 goals and 65 assists for 106 points.
It seems a shame that Michal Řepík never quite caught on with an NHL club. The former Memorial Cup champion with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants just turned 29 years old on New Year’s Eve. The Florida Panthers selected him as the 40th overall pick in 2007. Řepík played parts of four seasons with the Panthers but never played more than 31 games in an NHL season. Since leaving North America, he has played both in the KHL and the Czech Extraliga. Make no mistake though, Řepík can indeed score. During the 2006-07 season when he won the Memorial Cup with the Giants, he potted 24 goals and 31 assists for 55 points in 56 games. Come WHL playoffs, Řepík would have 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points in 22 games. Then in the Memorial Cup tournament itself, he put forth three goals and four assists in just five games. Undoubtedly, Řepík has a track record for scoring in big games in the big tournaments and in abundance.
The Bottom Line
When considering all portions of this Czech squad, it would not be far-fetched to think that the Czechs could win the gold like they did in ’98. Erat brings the familiarity with medalling and the experience from Torino. While there will be no Jagr or Elias accompanying him, the opposing teams that the Czechs will be facing arguably seem more watered down than Erat’s team. If you are looking for a feel-good story to cheer for at the Olympics, then routing for Erat to win a medal is a definite option.
The team’s goaltending could be the difference maker. Furch, Francouz, and Bartošák may very well be the most talented trio that any nation has assembled as its last line of defense. With there being plenty of KHL shooters on the rosters of the other nations, Furch and Francouz have the advantage of having faced many of them previously in seasonal play.
Lastly, the Czechs have a lot of good forwards up front who we had not mentioned – Roman Horák, Tomas Mertl, Roman Cervenka, etc. – who are very talented hockey players. Some of them (Horak, Cervenka) have the NHL experience to boot. In this THW writer’s opinion, the Czechs should be considered a favorite to garner one of the three medals, if not the gold itself.