Czech Goaltending Big Question Mark Heading into Winter Games

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2010

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 5: Goaltender Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers stops a shot taken by the Calgary Flames during first period action on February 5, 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Normally having Tomas Vokoun as your number one goalie wouldn't be something to complain or worry about too much.

Too bad the Olympics are anything but normal. 

The best hockey players in the world will begin taking the ice on Tuesday, February 16 in Vancouver. Tomas Vokoun, along with Ondrej Pavelec and Jakub Stepanek, have earned that right to be named among the world's best and to be on the Czech Republic team as the three official goaltenders. 

The problem is that there are goaltending trios on several other teams that are much deeper, and unfortunately more talented. For example: Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, and Tim Thomas for the United States. Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Roberto Luongo for Team Canada. Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Semyon Varlamov for Team Russia. 

And that's just three teams, not even including the Henrik Lundqvist-led and defending goal medalist Swedish team. Unless the Czech goalies come up extremely big, they won't medal ahead of any of those three teams. And goaltending isn't the only part of the roster where the Czechs face a disadvantage against these three teams. Just look at the rosters for these teams and you'll know.

This article isn't so much about Vokoun, as he's definitely a proven, serviceable goalie. You can't take the ice and ever expect an easy night, as Vokoun has the ability to single-handedly shut offenses down. He's recorded seven shutouts this season, on a Florida team that gives up a LOT of shots. There's even been talk that he should be considered for the Hart Trophy for what some consider keeping the Panthers in the playoff race by his stellar play alone.

It's a story about Pavelec, a goaltender who has only started 48 games in his NHL career, and has a total of 18 career wins. It's about Stepanek, who's never played an NHL game in his life, and will be facing some of the world's best offensive firepower if he gets the ice time. Although the Czech Republic was able to win a bronze medal with Vokoun and two relatively unknown goalies in Milan Hnilicka and Dusan Salficky in 2006, it's arguable that the competition is fiercer this time around.

More than likely, Tomas Vokoun will be seeing a majority of the ice time. But if there's an injury to Vokoun or he's not playing up to speed, coach Vladimir Ruzicka won't have time to mess around. He's going to have to put one of the kids in. Pavelec's probably first in line with his NHL experience and knowing some of the shooters first-hand.

What does this lack of goaltending depth mean? It means the offense will have to be clicking on all cylinders in the games in order for the Czechs to have a chance to win a medal.  It means the defense will need to be doing its job, blocking shots and clearing the puck well, giving the goaltenders as little to worry about as humanly possible. It means that powerhouse teams such as Russia and Canada will have to go out on the ice in Vancouver and lay an egg.

It also probably Tomas Vokoun is going to have to play the best hockey of his life to keep the Czechs in the medal conversation.