The Czech national hockey team face traditional rivals Slovakia in their opening game at the world championship in Belarus. The Czechs, star veteran Jaromír Jágr on the roster and a new coach, are looking to improve on their disappointing 7th place from last year as well as 6th place they reached at the Sochi Olympics. Former Czech international Martin Hosták is in the Belorussian capital as a commentator for Czech TV. I asked him what he thought of the Czech team ahead of the opening match.
“On the roster, the team look good. I think we are among the four favourites to win the tournament, and in the first game against the Slovaks, we will definitely be the favourites.”
What are the strengths of the Czech team? There are several new forwards in the team so is offensive something we can rely on this time?
“We have a really good team on the offensive. The first line features Vladimír Sobotka and Jaromír Jágr; I also expect quite a lot from Tomáš Hertl who was really good at the start of the season and is back after a knee injury, and I hope he will lead our offensive.
“There are however more questions about defence; it could be a bit of a problem to get it together and the forwards will have to help defencemen. The key position is the goalie, of course; Alexandr Salák will mind the net in the opening game, and we’ll see how he manages throughout the tournament.”
What role will Jaromír Jágr have in the team? The coach, Vladimír Růžička, has complained that his teammates were relying on Jágr a little too much during power play practice – could this be a risk?
“I don’t think so. He’s playing with Sobotka who plays in the NHL where he also has good players around him. So he’s getting used to having Jágr by his side, and I think it’s going to work out well.
“We’ll see how Jaromír himself will be feeling, and what his game will be like because he’s had a pause in training. I think he’ll do best in the quarterfinals and semifinals if we get there of course.”
How do you feel about the world championships being hosted by Belarus which is a country that’s sometimes referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe?
“Well, this is a political problem, and I would like to see hockey as a game. We’ve been to world championships all around the world, and I don’t think there could be any problem here. We are athletes – or commentators – and we don’t care that much about politics. I know that Belarus is not going in the way our country is going but I don’t see much we can do about it.”