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Olympic lessons learned, Jets players return home

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There were some questions about the Czech Republic hockey squad even before the Olympics opened and just as many questions as the Games get set to close Sunday in Sochi.

And right in the middle of one of hockey’s nuttiest Olympic soap operas were two Winnipeg Jets — goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Frolik — as the Czechs finished sixth overall.

"I know a lot of things happened and have been said in the media about our team, but I don’t really want to go into it," said Frolik who, along with Pavelec, was back on the ice with his Jets’ teammates Saturday.

"It’s not up to us who is going to be coaching next. We’ll see what happens. The coach was fine. It’s always about the one game in the quarter-final and we got beat out. It’s always bad when you lose that game."

"I think we handled it very well," added Pavelec. "There was a lot of talking about our team in the media, the media in the Czech, about the team. But in the dressing room I think we handled it pretty well. As a player there’s nothing you can do about it, you just go on the ice and play. We had a great group of guys."

The Czechs were a study in the bizarre dating back to the announcement of the roster in January, notably the omissions of Jiri Hudler — the third-highest scoring Czech player in the NHL this season — along with Radim Vrbata, Jan Hejda, Tomas Fleischmann, Roman Polak, and Michal Neuvirth.

The Czech roster included the 42-year-old Petr Nedved, who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2006-07, as well as Michal Barinka — who played 34 NHL games, the last with Chicago in 2005-06 — and is the son-in-law of head coach Alois Hadamczik.

Hadamczik was criticized for not starting Pavelec in the Olympic opener, a 4-2 loss to Sweden, and for his strange use of his lineup during the games, which included dressing players who did not see one second of ice time.

The key question for the Jets now is: what kind of impact, if any, did the Olympics have on Pavelec, who is their No. 1 netminder but who has been drawing a ton of criticism for his inconsistency?

Pavelec went 2-2 in Sochi with a 2.87 goals-against average, a 88.9 save percentage and — in his last appearance — was yanked after surrendering four goals on 12 shots in a quarter-final loss to the U.S.

"Coaches make decisions. It’s not something you can do anything about," said Pavelec. "Four games, two wins. Of course, the last game didn’t go that well but it’s only one game and we just lost the game.

"I just went there and enjoyed my time. Of course, we wanted to be a little bit better than sixth place, but it is what it is. I played four of the five games. It was good. It’s always nice to play. Overall, it was great experience for me because you have to deal with a lot of stuff.

"We knew there were eight teams that could win and everybody could beat everybody. Canada had trouble with Latvia in the quarter-finals. Every team can win. I didn’t expect anything. We just went there and we knew that if we played as a team in the group (round-robin) it was going to be fine. We knew it was about one game and that game we lost so we went home."

Both players spoke Saturday of now focusing on the Jets’ push to a playoff spot and, predictably, steered clear of saying anything negative about the Czech drama that played out in Sochi.

Instead, they chose to focus on the whole experience of being part of the Olympics.

"It was great. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the time in Sochi," said Pavelec.

When questioned about what he would remember most from his second Olympic experience — he was on the Czech roster four years ago but did not play — Pavelec shrugged and grinned.

"Everything," he said. "The Olympic village, the nice rinks, the athletes were all together... it was good. We got to spend two weeks there and it was really, really fun."

Frolik, meanwhile, appeared in his first Olympics and did so alongside one of his childhood idols — Jaromir Jagr — and childhood friends like Pavelec and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers.

"When I was younger (Jagr) was my idol," said Frolik. "That was something special to be with him in the same room and watching how he prepares for a game. He works hard before games and practice.

"It was really fun to be with those guys in the same room and be in the Olympics. It was very special. You never forget those memories."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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