Czech WJC team will need CHL help

By Robert Neuhauser
After the home tournament in Olomouc and Prostejov, Czech Under-20 team head coach Jaroslav
Holik stated that there will be changes needed before the last preparational tournament
for the upcoming the WJC that was held in Vaasa, Finland. Now we see that the changes will have to be
more serious. The Czech team finished at the last place again and that makes lots of Czech
fans, who are hoping in keeping the WJC gold medal streak alive, quite mad. They want to
see their players fight for gold and not to struggle. So let’s have a look who could be named
to the final roster and there will be lots of CHL names there. They are more needed than
ever. The Czechs don’t have a very strong 1982 birthyear and with the problems the teams
build of players playing in Europe had expect at least seven CHL players to make the team.
The only problem is that the arrival of Columbus Blue Jackets’ blueliner Rostislav Klesla
and Colorado Avalache left wing (but played his whole career at center) Vaclav Nedorost
remain a dream. So who is the reality?

Goaltenders

Lukas Hronek – HC Slavia Praha goalie got his chance after the starter Roman Malek suffered
a broken jaw and he stunned the Extraleague with his savvy play and spectacular saves.
Along with Martin Barek played for all junior teams consisting of 1982 born players. A very
mature goalie for his age with exceptional quickness and reflexes, Lukas couldn’t play in
Finland because of an injury but he seems to be a lock on the WJC team.

Martin Barek – Barek backstopped Pardubice juniors on their championship run in the junior
Extraleague last season and he also has a good chance of making the team. With Hronek the
possible starter Barek would have to handle the backup role, something he isn’t very used
to. But Martin can jump in and win a game, he is mentally very focused and can handle
stress game situations and doesn’t panic. A goalie with good skills and reflexes who would
be a very solid backup to Hronek.

Michal Fikrt – Litvinov juniors starter’s star is on the rise. Michal Fikrt will challenge
Barek for the backup position, his problem is that Barek has more experience with international
play. Else Fikrt is an agile goalie who likes to challenge the shooter and has very fast
reflexes.

Defensemen

Libor Ustrnul – “Drago” formed along with Rostislav Klesla the best Czech defensive pairing
at the last WJC. Hulking Plymouth Whalers rearguard will be relied upon heavily and his
size and bone-crushing hits will be a huge boost for the Czech defense. A stay-at-home
defenseman with an ability to play hard is very good to be paired with a rusher. Ustrnul
is a lock to make the team, only an injury would prevent him from participating.

Lukas Krajicek – the player who could be paired with Ustrnul, when looking at the playing
style. The Florida Panthers first-rounder is a smooth puck-moving blueliner with very
good skating and passing abilities and a player who can support the offense a lot. Will
be one of the Czech powerplay quarterbacks and will be on the ice when an offensive
defenseman will be needed. Either him or Filip Novak are to fill Rostislav Klesla’s shoes in a pair with Ustrnul
and Krajicek has nearly the same skill.

Filip Novak – the Regina Pats’ defenseman was prevented from taking part in the last WJC
only due to the fact that his parent Czech club, Ceske Budejovice didn’t give him
permission because he left for the WHL even if he was under contract. Another great offensive
defenseman, Novak’s numbers in the WHL get better and better and the player with a superb
puckhandling ability, vision and sense will be the bright star of the defense.

Tomas Mojzis – the last CHL playing defenseman on the team in my opinion. His sound two-way
game and a good passing ability make him a candidate for the WJC team. With the trouble
on defense Mojzis has a good chance of making the team, else his chances would drop down
a bit. Mojzis is still quite raw, but his passes will help the team.

Miroslav Blatak – a Detroit Red Wings prospect that splits time between the Zlin juniors
and seniors this season. One of the defensemen playing in Europe that can be expected to make
the team. Blatak is positionally sound, keeps the play simple and can support the offense.
A very good two-way defenseman but not a sure WJC candidate.

Lukas Chmelir – an alternate captain of the last Czech Under-18 WJC team, Chmelir plays
sparingly in the Extraleague for Vitkovice, more for the junior team. Lukas can make smart
outlet passes and is very good defensively, but he lacks size. Even then I think that
Jaroslav Holik should oversee this fact and select this Czech patriot who plays with lots
of heart and determination to the team. Leaders are needed.

Jan Hanzlik – the injury-plagued Sparta Praha rearguard faces his last chance to play at
the WJC. If it wasn’t for his defensive savvy and a smart two-way game with very solid
passing skills the undersized Hanzlik would have trouble with the nomination. If he can be
healthy coming the WJC Hanzlik could unseat either Lukas Chmelir, Lukas Pozivil
or Miroslav Blatak when
his Extraleague experience helps him enough.

Ondrej Nemec – here is the question if the 2002 prospect isn’t too young for the WJC at only
17 years of age. With the injury of Vsetin vet Alexei Yashkin Nemec played his way into the
Extraleague and is able to stick with the senior team. Nemec isn’t too big but extremly
good offensively with a hard accurate slap shot and very smart passing skills. Ondrej
plays with intensity, determination and toughness but lacks size. His plus is the regular play
in the Extraleague, the downside is his young age.

Petr Puncochar – drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, Puncochar made his way into the Karlovy
Vary seniors defensive rotation. The same case as Nemec, only one year older. Petr
Puncochar can take care of his own end plus gives superb offensive support as a bonus.
The less skilled version of Lukas Krajicek again lacks size. Puncochar is stocky and is
willing to play hard, but can be outplayed by bigger and meaner opposition.

Lukas Pozivil – quite surprisingly Lukas Pozivil won the spot in the Litvinov senior team
over Toronto draftee Vaclav Zavoral and he is able to maintain that spot. Pozivil has a
limited offensive upside and he tries to concentrate on defense. Lukas is solid defensively
but has to play with more aggresivity and determination. Will need luck if he wants to
play at the WJC.

Zbynek Michalek – a bit of an unknown prospect but Zbynek staedily develops into one of
the better QMJHL offensive defensemen. A mature player who good vision and passing skills
was signed by the Minnesota Wild in the summer.
Right now Michalek averages nearly one point pro
game and it’s up to Jaroslav Holik to decide if there aren’t too much offensive defensemen.
But if he needs one, there is one handy.

Forwards

Tomas Plihal – the former Liberec center/left wing took the WHL by storm in his rookie
season and he is leading the WHL rookies in scoring. The Kootenay ICE forward improved a lot
in comparison with the last year and he plays a very good mix of skill and toughness. Plihal
is also very solid in the faceoff circle and even if one year younger, the San Jose Sharks
draft pick has very good chances of being selected.

Ales Hemsky – if it wasn’t for his attitude, Ales Hemsky would be a total lock of making the
team. According to what is being said Hemsky didn’t show much willingness to play for
his native country at the Under-18 WJC this April but hope this changed with the new season.
The ultimate offensive weapon, Hemsky, a right-shooting right wing is a flashy forward with
a knack for scoring goals and making smart passes. He has to be more patriotic but most
likely this won’t prevent him from making the trip home.

Martin Podlesak – the giant Lethbridge Hurricane captained the Czech Under-20 team at the
first tourney in August. The center with a terrific size is a very good skater for his
size and almost impossible to get knocked off the puck. Podlesak handles the puck extremly
well and his ability to play in high traffic makes him an even more attractive addition.
Size, skill and toughness, a no-brainer for Jaroslav Holik.

Jiri Jakes – the less skilled version of Podlesak plays a typical Canadian style of
hockey. Jakes, a Boston Bruins draft pick is a hard-hitting left winger who looks for
loose pucks in front of the net and fights along the boards but isn’t blessed with the same
skill as most of the players. Holik will name him only if he will need a hard-working tough
hitter. I think he needs him.

Frantisek Lukes – a diminutive winger but the Phoenix Coyotes draftee has a nose for the
net plus he skates like the wind so these facts may be enough for coach Holik to select
him. Lukes can hope in being named, it is no sure thing but the flashy, highly skilled
speedster knows how to score goals and along with Tomas Plekanec they were the top snipers
for all junior teams consisting of 1982 born players.

Petr Taticek – a highly regarded 2002 prospect faces the fact that Jaroslav Holik doesn’t
select CHL rookies to the team often. In fact, Taticek would be the first CHL rookie to make
the team under coach Holik ever. But as a late 1983 born the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds center presents
a very mature game with perfect playmaking skills plus his size as a bonus. A mix of speed,
skill and size, Taticek will be a lock next year, this time he’ll need a piece of luck to
be chosen to perform at the WJC.

Tomas Plekanec – the diminutive Kladno rocket captained the team after Podlesak’s depart for
Lethbridge at the last two tournaments. Plekanec plays his second full season in the
Extraleague and is a member of the last WJC winning team. Here the question isn’t if he’ll
be selected, more likely if he’ll be the captain of the squad. The Montreal Canadiens talent
is a fast skater and a slick puckhandler with exceptional smarts, only that he comes thru
a sub-par season this year.

Jiri Novotny – after overcoming an injury Jiri suffered at the Under-20 tournament in
September he became one of the leading forces of Ceske Budejovice in the Extraleague. Blessed
with great size and mobility, Novotny develops steadily into a playmaking center and a
faceoff whiz. The only trouble is that he still didn’t found his scoring touch in the
Extraleague and the productivity is lacking. Still a great two-way forward with leadership
skills, maybe an alternate captain this year and the captain in 2003.

Tomas Netik – the Sparta Praha winger doesn’t see lots of ice time in the Extraleague as
Sparta tends to let experienced players earn their portion of playing time. Netik improved
a lot during the last two seasons and his terrific vision to go along with soft hands should
be taken into account. Netik takes pride in his offensive play and his deceptive puck skills
and elusive moves make often the opposing defenses look foolish.

Miloslav Horava – after the arrival of head coach Jaromir Sindel Horava found himself
playing on the top two lines of Kladno in the Extraleague, boosting his confidence. Having
spent the start of the season in the Div I league in Beroun, Horava now thinks he is
Extraleague ready. A solid skater who can score and pass equally well, Horava has both
hard accurate shot and finishing skills. Another two-way forward, Horava is expected to
make the team.

Jiri Hudler – no argue that this 2002 blue-chipper should make the team. One of the top
forward prospects in Czech hockey ever, Hudler leads Vsetin senior team in scoring and is
no doubt the top junior-aged player in the Extraleague. Jiri plays regularly for the Under-20
team and he is an extremly smart offensive forward who makes plays happen like he wants
to and has almost no weakness except of his smallish stature.

Martin Frolik – the versatile Kladno forward is a player who can also overtake the grinder
role and give all his efforts for the team. Frolik is a very good skater and a good
stickhandler who won’t hurt you defensively. He is a creative forward who is solid in the
faceoff circle.
With so many stars on the team someone has to
fill the grinding role and Martin Frolik could be the frontrunner for this position.

Jan Svik – after a very solid second half of the last season Svik found himself on the bubble
in the Plzen team this season. His play for the Under-20 team is better than in the
Extraleague but there are still serious concerns about his performance which can prevent
him from participating. Svik tends to make bad decisions sometimes and he has to further
improve his defensive play. On the offensive side Jan is solid, with above-average passing
skills.

Petr Domin – another candidate for the grinder role. The Karlovy Vary towering center still
doesn’t see regular ice time in the Extraleague. Domin has to further improve his skating
and mobility but could fill the grinder role quite well. Domin can play hard and is
willing to play defensively. Petr Domin is in the mold of Jiri Jakes, only more skilled
and it is doubtful if it is necessary to have two players of this style on the team.

Jan Bohac – won the 2000 WJC title as a 17-year old, got drafted by the Ottawa Senators
but his development was hampered by injuries and nearly came to a stop. Bohac was loaned
by the Trinec team from Slavia Praha and had a good preseason but is frequently benched
in the Extraleague. Bohac has the size and skill but has to work on his skating and mostly
on his productivity, Bohac has trouble with scoring goals and his WJC chances are quite low.

Petr Vampola – the Vsetin winger performed at the last Under-20 tournament and after a stellar
play in the junior Extraleague Vampola now plays also for the Vsetin seniors. The fast, creative
forward with a nose for the net can be easily the odd man out, though. Vampola’s chances
remain quite low, there are bigger names on the roster, especially from the CHL.

Michal Vondrka – when the Ceske Budejovice senior team uses all four lines, then Michal Vondrka
has a chance to play, else he is benched. The smart two-way forward has to work on his
decision making but shows a solid game with few mistakes, even if Michal is still a bit raw.
Vondrka is a darkhorse, he can easily surprise and Jaroslav Holik can select him to the team.
But it’s not a sure thing.

Radek Dlouhy – the Slavia Praha forward is playing this season in the Div I league, which
is a strategy of Slavia, to leave the 1982 born prospects play in the Div I league instead of
the Junior Extraleague. Radek is a forward with very solid passing and playmaking skills.
Dlouhy didn’t spent a long time in the 1982 born national teams plus he doesn’t play
in the Extraleague which are facts which speak against him.

Petr Jaros – another Slavia Praha player who was demoted to the Div I league. In opposite
to Dlouhy Jaros is more of a goalscorer and he has a good shooting arsenal. Jaros doesn’t
hesitate to shoot but is also a solid passer. His problem is the lack of defensive play.
Jaros doesn’t have very high chances of making the team, playing on a checking line
wouldn’t suit him well.