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World Cup of Hockey

Team Czech Republic mum on starting goalie vs. Canada

Signs point to Michal Neuvirth playing against Team Canada in World Cup opener

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Following its morning skate, Team Czech Republic continued to be secretive about its starting goaltender for its World Cup of Hockey 2016 preliminary-round opener against Team Canada at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

"We have two of them," assistant coach Jaroslav Spacek said when asked which of Team Czech Republic's goaltenders would get the call against Team Canada (8 p.m. ET; ESPNEWS, SN, TVA Sports).

All signs have pointed to Michal Neuvirth getting the start after he stopped 45 of the 46 shots he faced in 95 minutes of pretournament play. At the morning skate, Neuvirth guarded the net Team Czech Republic will defend in the first and third periods against Team Canada, usually a sign of the starter; Petr Mrazek and Ondrej Pavelec alternated in the other net.

The setup was similar to the one used at practice on Friday.

Neuvirth, 28, is entering his second season with the Philadelphia Flyers. Last season, he went 18-8-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage, which was good for fourth in the NHL, and three shutouts in 32 appearances. After taking over for Steve Mason in the Flyers' Eastern Conference First Round series against the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Neuvirth went 2-1 with a 0.67 GAA, a .981 save percentage and one shutout.

"He's always very calm. He doesn't panic," Team Czech Republic right wing Jakub Voracek said of his Flyers' teammate. "He is always pretty steady. The way he played last year not only in the playoffs but during the regular season, every time he gave us a chance to win. He's been great for us, he was a great addition and he started [in the World Cup pretournament] exactly on the note that he ended last year."

Carey Price will start for Team Canada. It will be his first game of significance since he injured his right knee playing for the Montreal Canadiens against the New York Rangers on Nov. 25, 2015.

Spacek knows Price well from their time as teammates in Montreal (2009-11).

"I would say that 10 months ago Carey Price was the best in the world," Spacek said. "We'll see how he is today."

Team Czech Republic is embracing its role as an underdog. Team Canada will have a heavily partisan crowd behind it as the host country, but Team Czech Republic doesn't seem to mind that its cheering section at Air Canada Centre likely will be limited to friends and family.

"It's just part of the experience," defenseman Andrej Sustr said. "Canada is hockey, and we're just excited to be part of it and, hopefully, we can make something happen."

One of Team Czech Republic's World Cup slogans is "Don't be scared."

"I think [the media] are making it bigger for us to be scared," Voracek said. "I'm not going to say we should be, but it's a hockey game. It's not like we're going into a war one against 10. We've just got to make sure we play good hockey, we don't make mistakes and anything can happen."

"We've got to play and bring everything that we've got," Spacek said. "Then, we will see."

Although Spacek wouldn't reveal Team Czech Republic's starting goalie, he confirmed forward Vladimir Sobotka will play after missing the last two pretournament games with a right shoulder injury. Sobotka, 29, said on Thursday that he planned to play against Team Canada.

He hasn't played since taking a hard hit from Team Russia defenseman Nikita Zaitsev in the second period of a pretournament game in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sept. 8.

From the morning skate, it appeared defenseman Tomas Kundratek and left wing Michal Birner will be Team Czech Republic's healthy scratches.

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