Czech Republic WJC roster, schedule

By Robert Neuhauser
On Saturday, December, 23rd, the Czech Under-20 team left for Moscow to defend the championship title, which he won last season. Some of the players from that team are already NHLers, some play in the Extraleague and three of them returned to compete for gold once again. Tomas Duba, Michal Sivek and Vaclav Nedorost dream of being two-time WJC champions. When you look at this years squad, you can see that their dreams may not be impossible.

The young Czechs played two exhibition games before the WJC. In the first game, they defeated Pardubice junior team 6:2, when Vaclav Nedorost was the first star with 2 goals. The CHL players already made their presence felt when Radim Vrbata and Martin Erat scored their markers, Pavel Brendl was left off the score sheet. The second game was a game against a mixed team of Pardubice juniors and seniors. Pavel Brendl scored in the first minute of this game and Radim Vrbata gave the Czech juniors a two-goal lead five minutes later, but the game turned out to be a 3:3 tie. The Under-20 team looked quite in shape in those games, CHL scorers kept their pace and the defensemen looked ready for the big time. Only one thing I worry about is that the Czechs have no exhibition game right before the WJC starts and have to wait for their first game on December, 26th, and spend time only with practices. And let’s take a look who will spend that time!

Goaltenders

Tomas Duba (HC Sparta Praha) – Tomas was the second goalie behind Zdenek Smid last year and this experience will help him a lot as he’ll be the starter this year. This big goalie doesn’t see a lot of ice time behind star Petr Briza in Sparta and now it’s time for him to prove that he deserves to play more Extraleague games! He has the tools to do so.

Lukas Cucela (HC Vitkovice) – will serve as a backup goalie in case that Tomas Duba will be injured or tired and (God forgive that) the Czechs will have to change goalies. Plays regularly for the juniors of Vitkovice, tied for third place with Zlin and Slavia Praha in the junior league. Still has to play his first minute in the Extraleague.

Defensemen

Rostislav Klesla (Brampton Battalion, OHL) – as I previously stated, Rosta will be the anchor of the Czech defense. He played already 8 games for Columbus Blue Jackets and scored 2 goals for them. Rosta isn’t afraid of the hard stuff, plays a very aggressive game and after clearing his own zone he likes to join the rush to score goals and assists. Will surely be on the Czech 1st powerplay unit. A very dangerous defenseman for the opposition, Rosta can still play at the next WJC in 2002. But he can be one of the top defensemen already by now.

Libor Ustrnul (Plymouth Whalers, OHL) – Libor “Drago” Ustrnul will be one of the biggest defensemen at the WJC. This Atlanta Thrashers draft pick is listed at 6’5”, 235 lbs. and will display a rough in-your-face style of game. Libor likes to play it hard and he knows how to do it. Isn’t that much offensive, but his strength is a different hockey skill, Libor will spread fear among the opposition.

Jakub Cutta (Swift Current Broncos, WHL) – the second NHLer on the team, Jakub is a good positional defenseman with good skating skills and does almost no mistakes. Very responsible defensively, no offensive defenseman. Jakub is very useful at the penalty killing unit. It’s very likely that he’ll impress the Washington Capitals staff with his play.

Jan Vytisk (HC Vitkovice) – Jan plays as a 7th defenseman with Vitkovice, so he splits time between Vitkovice Jr. and Sr. teams. Still undrafted, but Jan is a big defenseman with solid passing skills and can be used on both powerplay and penalty killing units.

Jan Choteborsky (HC Keramika Plzen) – Jan hoped to be drafted last year, when he played for the Val d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL, but this didn’t happen. Jan is quite an offensive defenseman, but must further develop his skating skills if he wants to be drafted. Already scored his first Extraleague goal for Plzen and can score some points at the WJC.

David Pojkar (HC Slavia Praha) – David is a star of the Slavia Jr. team, he was there for 3 Junior league titles. David is an offensive defenseman with good positional play and passing skills. Very useful as a powerplay quarterback, could fill this role with the 2nd powerplay unit, with Rosta Klesla at the first. Scored a goal in the first exhibition game, David is undrafted by now.

Jakub Grof (HC Becherovka Karlovy Vary) – Jakub worked his way into the Karlovy Vary senior team this season and plays as a stable stay-at-home defenseman. Not offensively minded, but Jakub can get used to the pace of the game. One of the “hidden stars”, hard worker, will see his playing time mostly on the 3rd line.

David Nosek (HC Ocelari Trinec) – quite the same as Jakub Grof above, David Nosek is a responsible defensive rearguard, used on checking lines if you can call this in the Czech hockey.

Forwards

Patrik Moskal (HC Ocelari Trinec) – Patrik is a smallish forward in the mold of Sergei Samsonov. A good skater and stickhandler, Patrik accelerates well and has an accurate shot. One of the fastest skaters on the Czech squad, but Patrik still doesn’t play a lot of games for the senior team of Trinec.

Tomas Plekanec (HC Vagnerplast Kladno) – the 2001 eligible forward will try to impress the NHL scouts. I’m sure they’ll love him, Tomas is just 5’9” but this great skater with excellent passing and scoring skills possesses excellent hockey sense. He broke through in the Extraleague this season, now he averages almost a point pro game for the not so good team of Kladno, is the top scoring junior player in the Extraleague and one of his plays competed for the Deli Super golden helmet for the Top play of the week.

Ladislav Vlcek (HC Vagnerplast Kladno) – Ladislav, a Dallas Stars draft choice, plays winger on Tomas Plekanec’s line in Kladno and they should stay together also at the WJC. Ladislav has good vision and hockey sense and can score and pass equally well. He is more defensively minded as Tomas and will probably play the defensive forward on his line. Also one of his plays competed for the golden Deli Super helmet.

Pavel Brendl (Calgary Hitmen, WHL) – what can you say about this scoring machine? Only that it is great to have him on the team. He wants to prove the Rangers staff that they were wrong when they sent him to the Hitmen for this season. There he learns how to be more responsible defensively and he didn’t loose his natural scoring touch. Pavel is exceptionally dangerous on the powerplay unit, he is a natural scorer with good skating and excellent passing skills and accurate shot. Born to score goals, Pavel will fight to be the top forward of the tournament. He still averages 1 goal and 1 assist pro a WHL game and he really can be the best forward.

Zdenek Blatny (Kootenay Ice, WHL) – the native of Brno and an Atlanta Thrashers draft pick is going to be a power forward. Zdenek has the size to play a tough game and he isn’t afraid to play it hard. Is good along the boards and likes to score goals while standing in front of the opponent’s net. Plays on the top line of the Ice and is a good scorer.

Martin Erat (Saskatoon Blades, WHL) – Martin broke through this WHL season. Now he has put the intangibles together and even if he isn’t too big, he can outplay the opposition and score goals. He looks like he every time knows how to make a good play. Martin handles the puck extremely well and like most of the CHL invitees this year will be very useful on a powerplay unit. That’s what the Nashville Predators will like!

Radim Vrbata (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL) – Radim turned out to be another Brendl this season. He led the QMJHL in goals before he left and was second in the league scoring behind Simon Gamache. This Colorado Avalanche draft choice is a pure scorer, good skater with a perfect hockey sense, great passing and scoring skills. Just like Brendl, he averages more than a goal pro a QMJHL game. I was really excited when I have heard that he’ll play for the Czechs. Hope the Avalanche scouts will be also excited with his play!

Lukas Havel (Brampton Battalion, OHL) – Lukas is a small rocket. Though he is just 5’9”, he posts solid numbers for Stan Butler’s Battalion. He flies on his skates and creates a lot of scoring opportunities. Lukas is strong on the puck and due to his speed hard to stop for the opposing defensemen. Due to his size he went undrafted in Calgary, but with a good play in Russia this can change next June.

Vaclav Nedorost (HC Ceske Budejovice) – the future Colorado Avalanche regular is a forward needed on every team. He plays a playmaking center, can create plays at high speed and is equally well offensively and defensively. An all-round player who can start at the next WJC in 2002. Has also leadership skills as he was captain of the last Under-18 team and the Ceske Budejovice midgets, where he played 3 years ago.

Ivan Rachunek (HC Continental Zlin) – this Tampa Bay Lightning draft choice is a guy with a scoring talent. He left the Windsor Spitfires after 15 games of the 1999-2000 schedule and from this time he plays well for Zlin in the Extraleague. Even if he is only 5’9” he plays with a huge heart, always involved in the game, playing them at high speed and intensity. The brother of Ottawa Senator Karel Rachunek has good scoring skills and is a above-average skater with great acceleration.

Marek Tomica (HC Slavia Praha) – plays the 4th line center with Slavia Praha this season. This Jihlava native can be described as a two-way type of player. He doesn’t score a lot of goals, but with an increased ice time this could change. Marek will be very good on a penalty killing unit, now it looks like he’ll be the 3rd or 4th line center at the WJC.

Michal Sivek (HC Sparta Praha) – we’ve finally come to the captain of this year’s squad. Washington Capitals draft pick, former Prince Albert Raider and current player of HC Sparta Praha Michal Sivek is man with the C. Played at the last WJC, Michal is a great playmaking center with good skating and stickhandling skills, he knows how to score or pass due to his excellent vision and hockey sense. It was said that he is too afraid of the rough stuff but the year in the WHL changed him a bit, I think. Michal is a good leader and he definitely deserves the C. Hope he’ll lead the Czechs to the victory.


Scratched from the roster were:
Michal Fikrt, goaltender, HC Chemopetrol Litvinov
Petr Puncochar, defenseman HC Becherovka Karlovy Vary
Pavel Dvorak, defenseman, HC Pojistovna Pardubice
Petr Zajgla, forward, HC Slovnaft Vsetin
Jiri Hudler, forward, HC Slovnaft Vsetin (too young)
Jiri Polansky, forward, HC Ocelari Trinec

According to head coach Jaroslav Holik and assistant coach Pavel Hynek, the lines should look like this:


Goaltenders
Starter: Tomas Duba
Backup: Lukas Cucela

Defense pairings
Rostislav Klesla - Libor Ustrnul
David Nosek - Jakub Cutta
David Pojkar - Jan Vytisk
Jan Choteborsky - Jakub Grof

Forward lines
Pavel Brendl - Vaclav Nedorost - Zdenek Blatny
Radim Vrbata - Tomas Plekanec - Ladislav Vlcek
Martin Erat - Marek Tomica - Michal Sivek
Ivan Rachunek - Lukas Havel - Patrik Moskal

Schedule of the Czech team

Group A, Moscow, CSKA Arena
December, 26th Czech Republic@Sweden
December, 27th Czech Republic@Kazakhstan
December, 29th USA@Czech Republic
December, 31th Slovakia@Czech Republic

Good luck to the Czech team at the WJC!