Commentary

Curious state of the Czech goalies

After opening-game absence, Ondrej Pavelec made 18 saves in a Game 2 win

Updated: February 14, 2014, 8:20 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

SOCHI, Russia -- A well-rested Ondrej Pavelec helped the Czech Republic to their first win at the Olympic tournament Friday, a 4-2 decision over winless Latvia.

Of course we jest a bit as Pavelec, the Winnipeg Jets netminder, who has been red hot of late for the Jets, didn't even dress for the Czechs' first game, a 4-2 loss to Sweden, in which starting netminder Jakub Kovar allowed three goals on 10 shots before being yanked in favor of Alexander Salak.

[+] EnlargeOndrej Pavelec
Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty ImagesOndrej Pavelec was either being rested or punished in Game 1. Nonetheless, he looked good against Latvia.
After the first game, head coach Alois Hadamczik suggested the reason he hadn't started his top netminder was to give him more rest after his arrival from North America, although the real reason might be more closely linked to Pavelec's decision not to play in the World Championships last year.

The goaltending decision, coupled with the curious roster decisions that saw top Czech players Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler left off the team, led my colleague Pierre LeBrun to jokingly wonder aloud in our postgame debate if an Olympic coach had ever been fired during a tournament commentary. That banter ended up in the Czech press, adding to an already unsettled situation surrounding the team.

On Friday, Pavelec got the start and played well enough, turning aside 18 of 20 Latvian shots, although he wasn't happy with the second goal that beat him from a bad angle. Off the ice, he was diplomatic regarding the goaltending tempest and other debate surrounding his team.

"I didn't play the first game, so I didn't know what to expect at all today," Pavelec told a group of North American reporters. "So, happy for the win.

"We know, of course, we know [of the controversy]. We read the paper, we look at the Internet. We know what's going on. But those questions, I think it's a question for the coach. He picked the team; it's a tough job.

"We have to play as a team. We have great players; we have individual players, they got skills; they've got experience, but if you want to win, you've got to play as a team, so that's our goal -- to stick together and go on the ice and play as hard as we can and see what happens."

The game also was noteworthy for a goal scored by Washington Capitals forward Martin Erat, whose Olympic tournament total now equals the one goal he has managed to score in 51 games for the Caps, in what can most charitably be described as a lamentable season.

"My first half of the season wasn't so great," Erat said. "I'm just trying to get back and play my hockey and trying to forget what happened in Washington.

"For sure, it's nice to change the scenario and just to enjoy something different, different food, different guys in the dressing room and maybe it's going to help for the second half of the season."

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