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World Cup of Hockey

Team Czech Republic won't back down from favorite

Has plenty of confidence going into World Cup opener against Team Canada

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Team Czech Republic forward Ondrej Palat wouldn't change the schedule even if he had the power to do it.

"I like it this way," Palat said. "I like to play [our] first game against Canada."

Palat's "bring 'em on" attitude echoed the feeling of his teammates and coaches Friday, one day before Team Czech Republic plays its World Cup of Hockey 2016 opener against Team Canada at Air Canada Centre on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; ESPNEWS, SN, TVA Sports).

It's not that anyone with Team Czech Republic underestimates or disrespects the power of Team Canada, without question the prohibitive favorite to win the tournament, it's that nobody was about to concede anything before they actually drop the puck and start playing.

"Every game starts 0-0," Team Czech Republic assistant coach Vinny Prospal said. "For us to go out there and have the right attitude, the right amount of respect, the right mindset and be ready to play right from the start is going to be the key because we can't go in there second guessing ourselves or having a losing attitude in our heads. We cannot play like that."

Video: Czech Republic revving up to face a stacked Group A

Reminded by a reporter that the odds are stacked against Team Czech Republic, including by the Las Vegas oddsmakers, Prospal essentially doubled down.

"We're here as a team, we're here with seven other teams in this tournament and as of right now we have as good of a chance as anybody else," he said. "The game starts [Saturday] night 0-0."

It also starts with Team Czech Republic having tangible results to bolster its confidence.

Winning games against Team Russia and Team North America in the pretournament proved to players that Team Czech Republic can hang in this tournament.

They fully understand that Team Russia and Team North America aren't as good, at least not on paper, as Team Canada, but that's not the point. Team Czech Republic saw its system work in a winning way against two quality opponents. That's the point. That matters.

"Definitely we proved to ourselves that we can beat anybody," forward Michael Frolik said. "Against Russia nobody expected we were going to beat them and we did. Even the first game I think we played a pretty equal game. Definitely hockey is about confidence and if you can build it like that before a tournament it's good and hopefully it's going to help us."

How do they use that confidence and the motivation as underdogs to actually defeat Team Canada?

"We need to play our best game," Palat said. "We can't take penalties. We can't make turnovers. And our goalie has to be unreal. We know how good of a team they are."

Video: Michal Neuvirth on Czech Republic's underdog status

Prospal refused to confirm who will start in goal for Team Czech Republic, though Michal Neuvirth occupied his own net in practice Friday, a good sign that he will be the starter. Petr Mrazek and Ondrej Pavelec split time in the opposite net.

"The goalie that is going to play [Saturday] night he knows about that but we are not ready to let you guys [the media] know yet," Prospal said.

That's fair, although it's highly unlikely that Team Canada's coaches and players are all that concerned about it. Confidence isn't an issue for them. Team Canada coach Mike Babcock basically referred to the preliminary round as exhibition games for his team.

Anything short of winning this tournament would be a massive disappointment for Team Canada.

The same obviously can't be said about Team Czech Republic's players and coaches, so instead it's about the short term, which means anything short of giving Team Canada everything it can handle in the tournament opener would be a massive disappointment for them.

Palat and Co. aren't ready to be disappointed. They're ready to start this up. They're ready to take on Team Canada. They like it this way.

"It's good for us," Frolik said. "We have nothing to lose. Just go out there and play hard. Just make sure we're ready and go after them."

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