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Saturday, January 5, 2002
Puck control key to Czechs' success

ESPN.com

ESPN hockey analyst Bill Clement breaks down the team offense and team defense, while Darren Pang looks at the goaltending of the six teams that have qualified for the final round of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Bill Clement
Bill Clement
As defending gold medallists from '98, one would think that the Czech Republic is the team to beat. With Dominik Hasek and Jaromir Jagr in the lineup, their medal chances appear to be "can't miss". But let's look a little closer. Among other issues, the Czech Republic has 12 new faces since '98. And there's more...

Team Offense
While Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora and Milan Hejduk are great offensive players, they are not having very productive offensive years. As a matter of fact, none of their forwards are. Jagr heads the list of players who need to find their offensive touch before February. They're also not particularly fast up front. Jan Hrdina, Robert Lang, Robert Reichel, Pavel Patera and Jiri Dopita won't back anyone off with their speed. So as of this writing, offense and team speed stand as the Czechs' weaknesses.

Team Defense
Not much speed or offensive sizzle here either. Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina bring excellent puck skills to the table, but as a group, the seven defensemen named to the team will have to over achieve defensively. In goal, we know Hasek will be their No. 1 guy. But if the Olympics started today and merit was the deciding factor as to who started in goal, it would be Roman Turek.

If it sounds as if I'm groping for a team strength...you're right. So let me just say this: The Czech republic will have to play magnificent puck control hockey in Salt Lake City to be a factor in the tournament.

Goaltending
Darren Pang
Darren Pang
The Czechs have great depth in the net. Like Canada, any three have the ability to win the gold. Dominik Hasek was set to retire after the 1999-2000 season, except he had a subpar season after hurting his groin and didn't want to go out that way. This is his swan song as far as international play is concerned and he wants nothing more than to bring a another gold medal to his Hall of Fame induction. He is so focused on winning that he won't talk about keys, secrets or the tendencies of opposing shooters for fear of giving away anything. He has confidence, presence and the aura of a champion. With Patrick Roy not playing, Hasek is the best goalie in the Olympics.

Roman Turek has had a wonderful season as the main man in Calgary. "Large" covers plenty of net. He has not been to the big dance at the NHL level, but he has the confidence right now that he didn't have in St Louis last spring. He would likely be the guy if something were to happen to Hasek. Roman Cechmanek has fought the same inconsistencies in his second NHL season that many before him have faced. He is unorthodox and unpredictable, and that sometimes hurts him. Even his teammates don't know what he's going to do. Will he head butt the long shot? Will he dive or stay up on his feet? He makes it fun, but he's likely going to be a spectator in Salt Lake City.