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Czechs go old with Olympic hockey team; Swiss pick solid NHL players

And Kings center Anze Kopitar, son of the national team's coach, will lead Slovenia's Olympic hockey debut. Canada will announce its roster on Tuesday.

January 06, 2014|Helene Elliott
  • Devils winger Jaromir Jagr has 13 goals and 21 assists in 43 games this season.
Devils winger Jaromir Jagr has 13 goals and 21 assists in 43 games this season. (Elsa / Getty Images )

The Czechs went old, Slovenia chose its only NHL player to lead its Olympic hockey debut, and Switzerland ensured its defense will be more solid than its famous cheese by selecting six NHL players for its Sochi roster.

Those federations announced their 25-man rosters Monday, a few days after Team USA unveiled its picks. The remaining teams, including defending champion Canada, will announce their choices Tuesday.

Jaromir Jagr, who will turn 42 during his fifth Olympics, 42-year-old former NHLer Petr Nedved and 37-year-old New Jersey forward Patrik Elias will skew the Czechs' average age high in a tournament that puts a premium on youth and speed. And the Czechs raised eyebrows by omitting Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth, Calgary forward Jiri Hudler and Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata. Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens was appointed the captain.

Kings center Anze Kopitar knows the Slovenian coach well — it's his father, Matjaz — but made the team on his own considerable merits. However, Matjaz didn't pick his younger son, Gasper, who's playing for Ontario of the ECHL. The rest of the team will come from domestic and European leagues.

Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller will make his second Olympic appearance for Switzerland, and injured Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa is on the reserve list. Calgary goalie Reto Berra also was chosen, as were defensemen Rafael Diaz of Montreal, Roman Josi of Nashville, Mark Streit of Philadelphia and Yannick Weber of Vancouver. Forwards Damien Brunner of New Jersey and Nino Niederreiter of Minnesota also bring NHL experience.

It's great hot-stove material, as is anticipating the sixth Olympic selection for 43-year-old Ducks winger Teemu Selanne when Finland announces its roster Tuesday. But it's all a mere prelude to the inevitable angst and debate over Canada's choices.

Given the nation's passion and the depth that gives Canada enough talent to stock two medal-contending teams, Executive Director Steve Yzerman's choices will be analyzed endlessly. Discussion has focused on the third goalie, last two defensemen and spare forwards, which means Canada is in good shape.

Here's an idea of what the roster might look like:

•GOAL (3): Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (2.23 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) and Montreal's Carey Price (2.26, .927) are clear choices. Luongo injured his ankle Saturday in a collision with Kings and U.S. forward Dustin Brown but it isn't thought to be serious. For the third spot, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury has put up excellent numbers (2.23, .919) but his lack of recent playoff success hurts him. Mike Smith of Phoenix (2.89, .911) had an edge but might have played himself off the team.

•DEFENSE (8): Drew Doughty of the Kings went to Vancouver in 2010 as a kid and came back a star, and he should excel again. Chicago's Duncan Keith, a lock, might pull defense partner Brent Seabrook with him because familiarity can compensate for minimal practice time. The same applies to St. Louis standout Alex Pietrangelo and defense partner Jay Bouwmeester. Nashville workhorse Shea Weber shoots right-handed, like Doughty, Pietrangelo and Seabrook, leaving room for a lefty like Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis or San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

That leaves a spot for Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban of Montreal, who brings enough offensive skills to offset his defensive flaws. San Jose's Dan Boyle would be a solid injury replacement.

•FORWARDS (14): The centers are a dream team within a team. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, the golden-goal scorer in Vancouver. Two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Toews. Cup winner Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks. Cup winner and two-way standout Patrice Bergeron of Boston.

Here's where arguments begin. High-scoring Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos seemed to be out of the picture after he broke his leg on Nov. 11, but he's practicing and might return soon. Picking him isn't risky because Canada can replace him up until a few hours before the tournament begins — and it could be highly rewarding. Take John Tavares of the New York Islanders and shift him to left wing to accommodate Stamkos.

That means no Joe Thornton. He has a league-leading 43 assists but his NHL playoff failures count against him. Carolina's Eric Staal loses out because there are too many versatile centers ahead of him.

On the right side, Corey Perry of the Ducks will stay in tandem with Getzlaf, and Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay could play alongside Stamkos. The Kings' Jeff Carter (15 goals) is a longshot but his pure scoring ability is a plus. Flyers captain Claude Giroux, a right-handed shot, has overcome an awful start and could be effective on the wing.

Sticking with the familiarity theme, Chicago's Patrick Sharp (25 goals, second in the NHL) should get a spot on Toews' left. Here's a vote for Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz (23 goals, 47 points) alongside Crosby. He also can play on the left with Getzlaf and Perry, as he did early in his career. Logan Couture of San Jose has slumped offensively but is solid defensively and deserves a spot, if on the wing.

The last spot could go to Colorado's Matt Duchene, Dallas' Jamie Benn or the New York Rangers' Rick Nash. Tough call, but Benn and Duchene are producing and 2010 Olympian Nash isn't. Benn wasn't invited to the summer orientation camp but deserves a reward for showing the kind of perseverance Canada will need in Sochi.

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