Czech calm before the storm
Czech calm before the storm
A laid-back approach helps get ready for serious business
The Olympic pressure is building - but while the hosts are trying to cope with the massive expectations of a home crowd and the other top-ranked teams are getting used to fending off questions about injury worries or adapting to European ice, the Czechs are quietly preparing for battle.
Whether it's veterans like Petr Nedved or a new generation looking to write their own illustrious stories, the atmosphere around the locker room is surprisingly relaxed as the opening game against Sweden hoves into view.
Roman Cervenka, who currently plays in Russia for SKA St. Petersburg, contrasted the Czech set-up with the frenzy around the Russian national team. "We're a different team. We're calm. We all want to win, but we understand it will be very difficult."
Cervenka is lining up for his second Olympics, after two assists in five games in Vancouver, and is also making his second appearance in Sochi. Back in December he helped the Czechs lift the First Channel Cup, and settled a shoot-out against Sweden along the way. So he's comfortable with the Olympic surroundings: "Nothing much has really changed since December, and we all like what we've found. But so far we've only seen the sea through the window - there's not much time for sight-seeing."
But returning to the ice to face Sweden in Olympic mode will be a different experience. While the Eurotour sees the Swedes draw on emerging talent, the full force of the Tre Kronor's NHL experience will be unleashed on the Czechs when the puck finally drops on Wednesday.Continue reading
"It's going to be our hardest game - they're a very good team," Cervenka conceded.
However, a tough start doesn't much worry Nedved. The 41-year-old is still turning out in the Czech Extraliga and is looking forward to his Olympic farewell.
And he's already well aware that the Czechs face some home crowd pressure of their own, even if its nothing like the intensity facing Russia, Sweden and the North Americans.
"Back home they want a medal. That's the first thing they are interested in so there is pressure for us," he said. "We're not favourites but that could work to our advantage in our dressing room. We've not come here just to throw our sticks on the ice."
As one of the elder statesmen of a roster which is packed with experience, Nedved - along with fellow 40-something Jaromir Jagr - takes some of the responsibility for setting that calm atmosphere. He and Jagr established a firm friendship during three years together at Pittsburgh and two strong personalities are well-placed to make sure the locker room is a good place to be.
"I don't quite know how to describe it," he said. "We like a laugh, we like it when things aren't exactly loose to the point where it feels like you don't care, but we still have a looser atmosphere.
"Of course it's different when you come to the tournaments - then it's serious business. There's not much time to fool around but there's still room for a few jokes to help everyone lighten up."
Nedved has decided - or at least 99% decided - that this will be his last season. He admits he's unsure whether his longevity is down to luck or ability, but also fears he'll miss the buzz and the passion of suiting up and taking to the ice. "To play at this level after 40 you've got to be lucky," he said. "I've been fortunate with injuries - I've had some, but none of the big ones that require surgery and tend to keep coming back.
"I'm not saying that anyone could tempt me for another season now, but I still really enjoy playing and I know I'm going to miss the game tremendously."
Many of Nedved's team-mates on this roster were still in grade school when he began his career, and the Tampa Bay duo of Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat weren't even born when he defected to Canada as a 17-year-old - the country he represented in the 1994 Olympics.
Now the veteran has s returned to his homeland at the end of his career and is finding a surprising lack of any 'generation gap'. Even navigating the ever-changing whirlpools of popular culture isn't proving too challenging.
"It turns out that I listen to a lot of the same music as the younger guys, for example," he said. "It's not like I'm trying to be like them, I just like it. You also get young guys who listen to older music - you can't just put everyone in the same category, everybody's different."
Different, but working in harmony - the Czechs are hoping that calm preparation can be a springboard to another podium finish in Sochi.
Back to Overview