Hockey

Mike Brophy - Tuesday Feb. 11, 2014 21:00 ET

Henrik Sedin's injury puts Sweden in tough spot vs. veteran Czechs

Swedish team missing star Henrik Sedin

Czech Republic forward Jaromir Jagr
Czech Republic forward Jaromir Jagr runs through a drill during training at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Czech Republic will rely on old stars. Team Sweden has injuries to major stars to contend with.

Welcome to the opening game of the 2014 Winter Olympics hockey tournament in Sochi. The two teams face off at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, streaming live at cbc.ca/olympics.

The Czechs are led by 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who will be 42 before the tournament concludes and won’t be alone when he gets there. That’s because the Czechs shocked the hockey world by including former NHLer Petr Nedved on their roster.

What, was Dominic Hasek not available?

Jagr has played remarkably well for the New Jersey Devils this season. When he was younger, and for a time the best player in the NHL, he seemed to have a cavalier attitude about his career. He relied on his natural instincts and ability and it was good enough to allow him to win five NHL scoring titles and one Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.

Nowadays, in an effort to remain active and relevant, Jagr is a dedicated athlete who relies on excellent fitness to keep him in the best hockey league in the world. 

Meanwhile, Nedved retired from the NHL in 2007 after playing 982 games in which he scored 310 goals and 717 points. He has played the past five seasons at home in the Czech Republic. In 49 games with Bili Tygri Liberec he has 24 goals and 61 points. Exactly how effective he’ll be against the best players in the world remains to be seen.

This is Nedved’s second Olympics. He represented Canada in 1994 and had five goals and six points in eight games.

Of course the Czech Republic will not be relying solely on a couple of geriatrics. David Krejci, Tomas Plekanic, Martin Hanzal, Ladislav Smid, Ales Hemsky, Michael Frolik, Marek Zidlicky and Radko Gudas will make contributions.

One would expect goaltender Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets will also be huge for the Czechs, but they apparently have tossed a curve ball and will not dress him for the first game. Instead they have opted to dress two KHL goalies, Jakub Kovar and Alexander Salak.

Sweden is always a threat to challenge for the gold medal, but this year two significant injuries will make it difficult for them to win. Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks will both miss the Olympics because of injuries.

It’s bad enough that both Daniel and Henrik Sedin have been struggling with the Canucks, but to lose Henrik and break up one of the traditionally great duos in hockey, is a massive obstacle for Team Sweden.

On the other hand, they still has the likes of Alex Steen (born in Canada, but plays internationally for Sweden), Henrik Zetterberg, Gabriel Landeskog, Loui Eriksson and Nicklas Backstrom up front; Erik Karlsson, Alexander Edler, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson on defence; and "King" Henrik Lundqvist in goal. There is still enough talent on its roster to imagine Sweden could be in the thick of things in the medal round.

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