International Ice Hockey Federation

Czechs could surprise

Czechs could surprise

Jandac's boys seek first medal since 2012

Published 05.05.2017 20:29 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Czechs could surprise
If David Pastrnak (left) can improve on the six points he got at the 2016 Worlds, it's good news for the Czechs. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Since winning gold in 2010 and two bronzes in 2011 and 2012, the Czech Republic has gone empty-handed at the Worlds. But the drought might end this year.

Perhaps it’s a statement about the reduced depth of Czech hockey, but this team could perform better than the more star-studded roster that placed fourth on home ice in Prague in 2015. Josef Jandac, who took the reins as head coach for the sixth-place finish at September’s World Cup of Hockey, has some promising young talent to play with here. If his squad gels quickly, Group A opponents in Paris could be in for a tough fight.


In Petr Mrazek, the Czechs boast one of hockey’s most talented young netminders. The knock on Mrazek has always been his consistency. The 25-year-old Ostrava native’s numbers sagged this season (3.04 GAA and 90.1 save percentage in 50 games) as the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time since 1990. Still, Mrazek, named Best Goalie at the 2012 World Juniors, is eminently capable of stealing a game, and shines when he faces a lot of rubber: see his 39-save performance in a 4-3 win over the United States at the World Cup of Hockey. This is Mrazek’s first opportunity as the unquestioned starter for the Czechs at the senior level. His only previous Worlds appearance was for 9:12 in an 8-1 romp over Germany in 2012.

Backing up Mrazek will be Pavel Francouz. The 26-year-old is coming off an excellent campaign with the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk (1.43 GAA and 95.3 save percentage in 30 games). Francouz previously played at the 2013 and 2016 Worlds, and has twice been named the Czech Extraliga’s best goalie.


The relatively youthful Czech blue line is intriguing. There are no budding Norris Trophy candidates, but there’s enough hockey sense and skating ability to keep most opponents at bay. Michael Kempny (Chicago Blackhawks) is the only World Cup returnee, and while the smooth-skating 26-year-old didn’t strut his offensive stuff in a bottom-pairing role in the Windy City (2-6-8 in 50 games), he should make an impact on the power play here. Montreal Canadiens fans will be watching Jakub Jerabek curiously after he signed a one-year deal with their club: the 25-year-old from Plzen shone with 34 points in 59 games for Vityaz Podolsk this season.

Add the grit of Philadelphia Flyers veteran Radek Gudas and the two-way play of KHLer and former Washington Capitals prospect Tomas Kundratek, and you’ve got a nice core. This defensive group certainly isn’t on par with Canada’s or Sweden’s, but shouldn’t be underestimated either.


Nobody is saying that David Pastrnak will challenge Jaromir Jagr as the greatest Czech NHL attacker of all time. But the 20-year-old right winger from Havirov blossomed in his third season with Boston (34-36-70), leading all Czech NHLers, and he’ll need to be a difference-maker on the top line with veterans Roman Cervenka and Tomas Plekanec. He had six points at last year's Worlds. Prior to Pastrnak, Jakub Voracek was the top new Czech winger to enter the world’s top league, and the Philadelphia Flyers veteran had his third-best offensive campaign ever with 61 points – even if he sagged to a career-worst -24 plus-minus rating. He should be dangerous alongside two-time Gagarin Cup winner Jan Kovar: the 27-year-old centre has scored 20 or more goals in all four of his season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

The third and fourth lines won’t be as dynamic, but avoiding defensive mistakes is always the key to Czech hockey success, and if they can make it hard to skate through the neutral zone and chip in on the counterattack, Jandac will be a happy man. It’ll be interesting to see if the Czechs add more NHLers as the tournament wears on.


Josef Jandac spent four seasons with Sparta Prague before serving as an assistant coach under Vladimir Vujtek on last year’s fifth-place Worlds squad. But the 48-year-old’s roots with the national team go back further: he was also a protege of Vladimir Ruzicka’s, assisting with the golden 2010 Worlds team and the Olympic team in Vancouver that year. Jandac has lively and experienced assistant coaches with former NHLers Vinny Prospal and Jaroslav Spacek, plus veteran Czech league coach Jiri Kalous – all are holdovers from the World Cup of Hockey staff.

Projected Results

The Czechs don’t face an easy road, debuting against defending champion Canada on Friday and facing 2016 silver medalists Finland on Monday. But if they clamp down and avoid squandering points against lesser opponents – they fell 2-1 in a shootout to Denmark last year – they should cruise into the quarter-finals. If they stumble, however, more than just playoff seeding could be on the line in their Group B closer against Switzerland.

This nation is at its most dangerous when it's the underdog – see the 1998 Olympic and 2010 gold medal runs. Taking a bronze medal home from Cologne is a worthy and realistic aspiration. Czech fans could use some good news. The turn-of-the-century golden era was a long time ago.


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