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Solid start

Czechs open gold medal defense with 8-2 rout of Germany

Posted: Friday February 15, 2002 11:20 PM
Updated: Saturday February 16, 2002 3:04 AM
  Dominik Hasek, Tobias Arbstreiter Dominik Hasek stuffs Germany's Tobias Abstreiter during the first period. AP

PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Jaromir Jagr threw himself a 30th birthday party that showed the Czech Republic won't surrender its worldwide bragging rights easily.

Jagr had two goals and two assists, and Dominik Hasek stopped 18 shots as the Czechs kicked off their defense of their 1998 gold medals with an 8-2 victory over Germany Friday night.

Jagr shook off the injuries and slumps that have plagued his season with the Washington Capitals to dominate the Czechs' first game of the Olympic tournament. He was the most impressive player in a lineup that made quick and easy work of a tough German team.

"I turned 30, but the most important thing was to have a good start in the tournament," Jagr said. "Everybody says when you have a birthday, it should be the easiest day to play [with] all that positive energy. I feel pretty good."

Congratulations to Germany for emerging from the preliminary games. It finished ninth in Nagano, so already it is better off than in 1998. Iím sure it doesnít feel like it right now, though. The Czechs sent a message that they are serious about repeating as gold Medalists.

Precise is the word that comes to mind. Offensively, defensively and on special teams -- the Czechs were perfect. In every phase of the game, they were on top of their game. Against the "Prevent 1-4" defense employed by the Germans, the Czechs knew they needed to score first. Jaromir Jagr made sure it happened, netting an early power-play goal. From there, they were relentless in their execution -- very little slack in their game.

The Germans were stodgy defensively against marginally more skilled teams in the prelims, allowing only three goals against. Their picket fence format Ė lining up four players along their blueline Ė was enough to frustrate their slightly more talented opponents and the Germans capitalized on the resulting turnovers to generate counterattack offense. Against the Czechs -- a team with far superior skill -- all the 1-4 is good for is keeping the score reasonably close. It didnít even do that, as the Czechs scored four times before Team Germany forced one past Dominik Hasek.

Even a change midway through the game to goaltender Mark Seliger -- the guy who backstopped them to their three wins in the tournament -- was moot for Germany.

The Czechs just had too much expertly focused talent. 
 
 

With two goals, Jagr doubled his entire goal total from the Nagano Games. While teammates noted that he often seemed to put excessive pressure on himself in 1998, Jagr worked hard but efficiently against Germany.

The birthday boy's vintage performance was only the highlight of a showcase for the Czechs' formidable array of offensive talent.

The Czech team -- including 12 players who weren't in Japan -- followed Jagr's lead with an impressive display of puck control, passing and finishing against the overmatched Germans. Robert Lang had a goal and two assists, while Martin Havlat, Petr Sykora, Milan Hejduk, Patrik Elias and Robert Reichel also scored.

"We know it's not going to be easy," Jagr said. "If you win one game, you know that doesn't make you the best team in the tournament."

The Czechs' superstar nucleus of Jagr and Hasek awakened memories of Nagano, where Jagr was their co-scoring leader and Hasek gave one of the greatest performances in goaltending history, allowing just six goals in six games.

While Jagr starred, Hasek was merely his usual self -- which was much more than Germany could handle. He may have put more effort into the flashy new paint job on his goal mask than he expended against the Germans, who lost for the first time at the Olympics.

Late in the second period, Hasek even got bored and chased a loose puck to the blue line, where he was undercut by Daniel Kreutzer in a frightening collision. Both were unhurt.

Jagr got the first goal during a power play just 3:52 in. After twice digging in the corner to keep the play alive, he fired a low shot between Kunast's pads.

"[Jagr] is probably the best player in the world, and he played like it tonight," German forward Marco Sturm said. "Everybody knows what he can do, and we couldn't stop him from doing it."

 
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The Czechs beat backup German goalie Christian Kunast for three goals in the first 16:18, eventually stretching their lead to 6-1 on Jagr's second goal late in the second period.

German coach Hans Zach started Kunast even though Marc Seliger was the best netminder in the preliminaries, stopping 83 of 86 shots. Zach made the switch to keep his promise to Kunast, who was told he would play in the Olympics -- but after Kunast allowed four goals in the first 28 minutes, Zach abruptly pulled him for Seliger anyway.

It made no difference, as the Czechs fired home two more quick goals, then added two more in the closing minutes.

"It was a learning experience for us, but we also had a good effort," Zach said. "I hope that this game doesn't have any negative psychological consequences for us."

Havlat put the Czechs up 4-0 with a spectacular play on his first Olympic goal. Havlat scored from a face-down position on the ice, controlling the puck as he slid headfirst into the slot before sliding it under Kunast.

A minute later, however, Leonard Soccio got Germany on the board with his third goal of the Olympics. Stefan Ustorf also scored in the third.

NHL forwards Sturm of San Jose and Jochen Hecht of Edmonton were back in the Germans' lineup, but they won't get the services of Olaf Kolzig. Jagr's Washington teammate traveled to Utah despite an injured ligament in his knee, but German doctors determined he couldn't be ready for the Olympics.

"It's disappointing, but I still want to support the team," said Kolzig, who sat in the stands.


 
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