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Practice Report

Notebook: Team Czech Republic undecided on goalie

Petr Mrazek, Michal Neuvirth to split last World Cup pretournament game vs. Team North America

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

PITTSBURGH -- The battle for No. 1 goaltender on Team Czech Republic appears as if it will go right down to the wire.

Team Czech Republic plays Team North America in its final World Cup of Hockey 2016 pretournament game on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN3, SN, SN1, TVA Sports).

Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth will each play Wednesday to try and make a final statement in their efforts to be named starting goaltender when Team Czech Republic opens the tournament Saturday against Team Canada at Air Canada Centre in Toronto (8 p.m. ET; ESPNEWS, SN, TVA Sports).  

"The goalies will split; half and half," assistant coach Jaroslav Spacek said. "We may have had the No. 1 goalie before, but now we have two good goalies. Obviously, we would like to have two more games, but we only have one, so they split [Wednesday]."

Video: CZE@RUS: Mrazek makes incredible pad save on Panarin

Mrazek played in Team Czech Republic's first pretournament game, a 4-3 loss to Team Russia in St. Petersburg on Thursday. Mrazek stopped 24 of 28 shots. Neuvirth, in his first start a Czech national team, played against Team Russia on Saturday in Prague. He stopped 20 of 21 shots and two of three shootout attempts in a 2-1 win.

Ondrej Pavelec, the third goalie on the roster, has not played yet. He will be a scratch Wednesday.

UPSET SPECIAL?: Team Czech Republic knows that is a heavy underdog in the World Cup.

They are not running from it. In fact, they are embracing it.

"We understand our position and our spot, in a tournament like this, all the best players play," team Czech Republic general manager Martin Rucinsky said Tuesday after practice at Consol Energy Center. "We understand we are underdogs. That's fine with us.

"I remember years when we were underdogs, and we won the tournament; we won the world championship, we won the Olympics. And some tournaments when everybody looked at us as a big favorite and it was a disaster."

Video: RUS@CZE: Plekanec uses stick to score game-tying goal

The Czech Republic was not favored at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. But, after advancing to the knockout phase, the Czechs defeated the United States 4-1 in the quarterfinals, won 2-1 in a shootout against Canada in the semifinals and defeated Russia 1-0 to win the gold medal.

Goalie Dominik Hasek was the catalyst for that amazing run, but the Czech Republic played as one and was able to keep some pretty potent offenses in check.

Spacek, a defenseman, was on the 1998 team. He remembers it well. He also remembers a strong run in the last World Cup in 2004.

The Czechs only won one game in pool play to finish third, but still qualified for the knockout round. In the quarterfinals, they defeated Sweden 6-1 before losing to the eventual champion Canada in the semifinals 4-3 in overtime.

"I think we like that, we like to be underdogs," Spacek said. "Always when we are underdogs we show up and bring our best. We won in Nagano and I think we played really well in [the] 2004 World Cup. I think Canada was surprised at how well we played. To be the underdog, I think, is a good situation for us."

Spacek and Rucinsky, also a member of the 1998 gold-medal winning team, each said these examples have been passed on to Team Czech Republic.

Video: CZE@RUS: Kempny strikes from deep to open scoring

"The game is played on the ice, not on paper," Rucinsky said. "When you put the best team that you can possibly put together, we're confident in it. We just have to stick together and see what happens."

A RISING PROFILE: Defenseman Roman Polak may have been on the San Jose Sharks' third pair during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a run that ended with a Game 6 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, but he will most likely be on the top pair with Team Czech Republic for the World Cup.

Polak is fine with the added responsibility. He did say, however, that he would have liked to have been paired with defenseman Radko Gudas, who was removed from the roster because of an injury suffered during summer workouts.

"I was looking forward to playing with Gudas, because we play the same game," Polak said. "It can be easier if you have the same type of guy on the line with us. He got injured. It was more pressure on me because I have to play the game. With him, it would be better. It is what it is, we can't change anything."

Polak said he wouldn't even change the location of this game if he could. Consol Energy Center is the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, which defeated the Sharks to win the Cup.

"Of course I think about it, it's in my head," Polak said. "We had a good run. We lost to a better team. That's the memory I have. We were close, but we were far. That's how I would put it."

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