”I felt like a soldier in Iraq for the first 20 minutes. Things were coming at me so fast from every direction. It's different hockey. I've got to get used to it again,” said Czech winger Jaromir Jagr following his teams' 3-1 victory over fellow countrymen, Slovakia. Fresh off celebrating his birthday Tuesday, turning 38, the 5 time NHL scoring champion, looked all of 38 in the first period plus of last night’s game. But when the final buzzer sounded he was arguably the best player on the ice.
The Czechs found themselves knotted at one with the Slovaks late in the second period when they got a little lucky and then Jagr turned it on. Slovakian winger Marian Hossa rang a shot off the right post which lead to a Czech possession the other way. Jagr made a nifty play in the neutral zone to take the puck away from Hossa and took a feed from line mate Roman Cervenka to skate in all alone on Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak. Jagr went 5-hole and gave the Czech team the lead for good at the 17:56 mark.
Jagr wasn’t finished. Less than 2 minutes later, Slovak captain Zdeno Chara took a hooking penalty and on the ensuing power play Jagr slipped the puck by Halak into the crease leaving it for Tomas Plekanec to bury with only 2 seconds remaining in period number 2. Jagr ended the night a +1 with two points, and the admiration of his fellow teammates.
“I mean he's a great player,” said Czech goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 34 of 35 shots in the win, “I told you that yesterday, there is no question he could be a high-impact player in the NHL still. And you don't lose those kind of things.”
Vokoun came into Olympic play as one the NHL’s hottest goalies, leading in save percentage and tied for the NHL lead with 7 shutouts. His play will determine whether the Czechs can medal in the Vancouver Olympics.
Slovakian winger Marian Gaborik, who hours before game time was uncertain if he could play (courtesy of a cut issued to his leg by the skate of New York Ranger’s teammate and fellow Olympian Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden), scored for 47 seconds into the second period, despite the fact that he clearly looked a step or two slower than usual.
Czech captain Patrik Elias opened the scoring off a deflection from a Martin Havlat slap shot, in the first period.
The Czech team went 1 for 6 on the power play, and I understand it was their first game together but those kinds of numbers will not suffice against Canada, Russia or the United States.
Slovak forward Richard Zednik ended the night with a game high 7 shots. He reacquainted himself with his former Florida Panther teammate Tomas Vokoun, driving to the net most of the night. I was disappointed to see Zednik leave Florida for the KHL especially when he could still score goals in 2009 like this:
It was great to see Zigmund Palffy skating with the best in the world again. Beyond my obvious Florida Panther fanaticism, I am a closet New York Islanders fan. Palffy finished the night with 1 shot on goal and was a -1, but hey if Jagr can do it lets hope for a Palffy renaissance in these Olympics.
The Czech team takes on Latvia tomorrow at 3:30 PM EST.
IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW:
Perfect song for these Olympics
About the Author
Written by Jack Powell
My name is Jack Powell. I'm 26 and work for a civil contracting company in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I've been a Panther fan since the team was formed in 1993 and don't ever plan on not being one. Looking forward to see what new Panther GM Dale Tallon is going to do to rebuild this franchise and make us a Cup contender!!