Overseas, many hockey fans are largely following the latest results in the NHL playoffs, but in Europe, all eyes in will soon be on the Ice Hockey World Championships, set to begin in Prague and Ostrava. The puck will drop in the first face-off on Friday, May 1, with the Czechs facing Sweden in their opening match.
The last time the cities of Prague and Ostrava hosted the Ice Hockey World Championship, the Czech Republic had just joined the European Union. At the Worlds in 2004, the Czech team advanced to the knockout round, keeping alive hopes for a medal on home ice. But they hit the wall against the US, when the game came down to penalties. Dreams of gold at home were dashed.
When the puck drops on May 1, the team will begin a new campaign to try and secure a medal. The last time the Czechs won gold was in 2010 and the last time they won gold in Prague was in 1985 – when the country was still Czechoslovakia.
TV announcer: “Our boys are holding the puck. There are three rookies on the ice…”
“We are the Word Champions!”
With hopes high, the national squad coach Vladimír Růžička is betting on both tried and tested talent and younger players. From the start he made clear he wanted to include two veteran players who have gold medals from Nagano ’98, one of whom also has two Stanley Cup rings: the great Jaromír Jágr – who has extended his contract by a year with the Florida Panthers – and forward Martin Ručinský, who just won the Czech league’s playoff final with his club Litvínov.
Both are 43 years old but remain strong assets, capable of inspiring younger teammates and making their mark in matches. In the end, Ručinský, though, did not make the roster due to injury, leaving only Jágr. Fans, though, are no doubt appreciative as these will likely be his last World Championships.
Another key figure is 25-year-old Philadelphia Flyer Jakub Voráček who will wear the “C”. After finding out he would lead the team, he had this to say:
“I didn’t expect it all and I only learned about it on the ice ahead of practice yesterday so it was a bit of a shock. But it was also pleasant. What hockey player wouldn’t want to captain his team on home ice? The pressure will be enormous of course but it would be enormous even without the ‘C’. Everyone on the team knows what is at stake and we welcome the responsibility.”
In the first three matches in Group A, the Czechs will face Sweden, Latvia, and Canada.
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