Aside from the Stanley Cup playoffs, there may be no more prestigious event in hockey than the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
Canadians from coast to coast tune in year after year to follow the fortunes of the U-20 kids in red and white.
Canadian kids dream of wearing the jersey, receiving a gold medal and listening proudly as the anthem plays.
In this country, the tournament has become a national religion.
In the Czech Republic, it is something less significant. It doesn’t enjoy the wall-to-wall coverage that we get here, and fans don’t live and die with every goal.
But every player who dons the blue, red and white Czech jersey is driven by the same pride and responsibility that comes with representing their country.
If Chilliwack Bruins Roman Horak and Robin Soudek are on the ice for the first Czech game against Norway on Dec. 27, you can bet your last penny they’ll be flying.
“It would be pretty cool to play against the best in the world,” Soudek agreed. “Wearing the flag is pretty special to me and it would motivate me to try very hard.”
The imports left the Bruins midway through the team’s five-game pre-Christmas road trip, heading to Detroit for the Czech selection camp.
The team was to be announced on Thursday (after Progress press deadlines), leaving some uncertainty about whether one or both will make it.
Horak’s spot seems fairly secure. He played for the Czechs last year, netting one goal and two points in six games.
His crew didn’t have a lot of success, however, going 1-3 in the preliminary round.
Moved into the relegation group the Czechs went 3-0, crushing Slovakia (5-2), Austria (7-1) and Latvia (10-2) to ensure an invite to this year’s tournament.
On the flipside, Soudek has no prior experience at this tournament, although he has donned the Czech jersey at other international events.
The Detroit camp was his chance to show the coaching staff what he can do.
“I’m open to anything and I’ll take any role the coach will give me,” Soudek said. “I really don’t know what to expect, whether I’ll play first or third line. I’ll just play my best and try to help the team.”
The 19-year-old was acquired from the Edmonton Oil Kings in the off-season, and has found a home playing alongside Horak and Ryan Howse on Chilliwack’s top line.
Just 29 games in, the native of Ceske Budejovice has already matched or exceeded career highs in goals (11) and points (29).
Even so, the tryout process brought with it the possibility of not making the team.
Soudek saw the disappointment on the face of Howse when he was cut from Team Canada.
He dreaded experiencing the same fate.
“It’s hockey, it’s life and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Soudek reasoned. “It’s up to the coaching staff to pick the players they’re going to pick, and that’s it.”
The Czech team got some bad news last week as Vancouver Giants defenceman David Musil suffered a hairline fracture of his tibia, an injury that will almost certainly sideline him for the tournament.
His absence is a huge blow to the Czech D.
Two other Western Hockey League imports are making a run at a roster spot — Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Marek Hrbas and Moose Jaw Warriors forward Antonin Honejsek.
The Portland Winter Hawks should have two players taking prominent roles on the Swiss squad, with Nino Niederreiter and Sven Bartschi expected to provide offensive punch.
Seattle’s Dave Sutter is also in the Swiss mix.
Prince George Cougars D-man Martin Marincin and forwards Andrej Kudrna (Red Deer Rebels) and Dalibor Bortnak (Kamloops Blazers) could be key players for the Slovakian squad.
Everett Silvertips defenceman Rasmus Rissanen should play for the Fins, with Marcel Noebels (Seattle) and Bernhard Keil (Kamloops) suiting up for Germany.
Andreas Stene (Norway) will skate for Norway.
In the B pool, Mark Mieritz (Brandon) is expected to play for Denmark, Gal Koren (Kelowna) for Slovenia and Kristians Pelss (Edmonton) for Latvia.
Get tourney info online at http://buffaloworldjuniors.com/