- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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He was 11 years old when the Czech Republic, backed by future Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek, upset both Canada and Russia to the win the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
And Bruins center David Krejci, who this week is in Vancouver to compete in his first Olympics, still remembers the day his homeland upset Canada in a shootout in the semifinals. Krejci and about 500 of his classmates packed a large room in the school to watch on television. School was put on hold for a few hours, and a young player's dream of reaching the peak of Olympus was born.
"I remember I had goose bumps all over my body," Krejci said about the moment after the Czechs advanced to the gold-medal game.
And then the Czechs staged the upset of the Russians and received a hero's welcome when they returned to their home country.
"That was just crazy," Krejci said. "People were rooting for them in Prague in the street, just hundreds and hundreds, thousands of people. They were waiting for them when they came back from Nagano. And once they came back, everybody was celebrating.
"I remember watching that live on TV because I lived pretty far from Prague. I remember exactly when that happened. From that moment, I knew my dream was to play at least one shift for the national team. And now I get a chance to play for a big tournament like that. And [if I get to] experience that street in Prague, if we win the gold, that would be something special."
Krejci's rise to Olympic status has been special as well. A second-round pick of Boston in 2004, Krejci has always carried high expectations. He began to realize them in the Bruins' breakout season of 2007-08. Not only did the club make the playoffs for the first time in four years, but Krejci finished the regular season with six goals and 21 assists in 56 games. The seven-game playoff loss to Montreal continued Krejci's maturation, as he potted a goal and added four assists against the Habs.
Krejci's rookie-season efforts earned him a chance to join the Czech team in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Quebec City for the World Championship. However, he endured a tournament to forget, with no points in five games. Krejci returned from Canada disappointed and a bit baffled about the coaching staff's use of him. There's a new staff in place now, so Krejci doesn't expect any problems. And as far as playing with some of his Czech heroes, including former Hart and Art Ross trophies winner Jaromir Jagr, Krejci has a plan to prevent getting starstruck.
"I'm going to have a couple days before my first game, so I'm going to try to get to know them," explained Krejci, who begins preliminary-round play with his teammates Wednesday against Slovakia. "[Two] years ago when I played in the World Championship, I made a kind of mistake. I was amazed by the players that were playing there, like [Patrik] Elias, or [Jaromir] Jagr. I wasn't really focused for hockey. So I don't want to make the same mistake. Just get to know these guys before the first game and once I put the jersey on, just focus and do my job out there."
After a sophomore season that earned him praise throughout the league and a three-year contract extension from the Bruins, Krejci has struggled this season to stack up to his 73-point production of 2008-09. But as the Olympic break drew nearer, he was starting to look more like his old self.
"I feel actually pretty confident," said Krejci, who entered the break with 11 goals and 31 points in 57 games for the season. "I've had the puck on my stick a lot. ... I feel like even when we lost, I felt more confident. I was carrying the puck up the ice and playing confident with it. That's what I like to see from me every game."
When Krejci checks the Czech newspapers online, it seems that every story is about hockey and/or the Olympics. He knows that not only are his countrymen looking forward to the Olympics, but they're also hoping to stage another triumphant celebration. No one would argue that Canada and Russia are probably the favorites, but Krejci expects his team to challenge for the title.
"I think we have a pretty good team," said Krejci. "Canada might be the favorite. But this is not the playoffs, this is not best-of-seven; this is one game. You win, you go to the next round; you lose, you're out. That can happen to anybody. If Russia's the favorite, or Canada, they can lose in the quarterfinal or semifinal and they're out. It's a pretty short tournament, so you've got to stay focused all the time, basically."
Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com.
Czechs' '98 Olympic upset of Canada, Russia made lasting impact on Krejci.