2010 Winter Olympics: Czech Team Loses First Real Battle, but Could Win War

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 21:  Jaromir Jagr of Czech Republic is seen during the ice hockey men's preliminary game between against Russia on day 10 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 21, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As you probably know by now, the Czech Republic ice hockey team suffered their first loss of the Olympics thus far, falling to the Russians 4-2 on Sunday afternoon. 

Therefore, the Russians have earned a first-round bye with their triumph of Group B, while the Czechs will most likely have to play in the first-round to earn their way into the quarterfinals.

This loss was indeed a loss, but it did not come without it's positives.  The most positive note of all: The Czechs proved they can roll with the Russians, which might mean they can roll with anyone else. 

The Czech's stayed with the Russians all game.  They skated with them, they fired the puck with them, and one beastly hit from Alex Ovechkin, along with some solid goaltending from Russian netminder Evgeni Nabokov, might have been the difference between a Czech loss and a Czech comeback victory.

They did everything the underdog USA squad did against Canada this evening, except not with the same satisfactory result as the Americans were fortunate enough to receive (along with some questionable goaltending from Canadian netminder Martin Brodeur).

But they played with the same character, the same heart, and the same determination that a gold medalist team needs.  That makes them just as dangerous as any team in this Olympic tournament, and don't think they don't know it.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

"It reminds me of Nagano," Jaromir Jagr told NHL.com.  "We won the first two games, played Russia for first place, and lost.  Then we played them in the final.  It looks like the same scenario.  We'll see what happens."

The Czechs won gold in Nagano that year, which was 1998.  If the past really foreshadows the future, the Czech Republic team has a lot to look forward to.

On paper, this Czech team isn't as talented as Russia.  Or Canada.  Or the USA.  But everything has fallen into place for them so far.  They beat the teams (Latvia and Slovakia) they needed to in order to fall into a decent seed in the tournament and gain some early confidence. 

More importantly, they competed with the Russian squad which will be one of the teams to beat for a gold medal-hopeful team.  Anyone who watched the game today would not be surprised if the Czech Republic came out and beat Russia if they played tomorrow. 

It's fair to say the Czechs might have played over their heads, because the best the Czechs can play as a team might not be close to how well the Russians can play when they're clicking.

Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, etc.—that's hard to top, and the Czech Republic doesn't have the same quality of names on their roster to scare the pants off the opposition.  Patrik Elias and Milan Michalek are nice, but they are nowhere near Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash.

But they came close to upsetting the Russians today, and wouldn't surprise me if they performed an upset or two at one point in this tournament.  The veteran leadership of Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias combined with Tomas Vokoun being solid in the net is a deadly combination that would not be smart for any of the other 11 nations to want to mess with.

The title says it all.  The Czech's technically failed their first real test.  But they showed improvement; they showed promise.  And they showed the type of fight that no country is going to want to put up with in an elimination game.  They are in no way out of this war yet.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.