On Wednesday, the United States defeated the Czech Republic to advance to the Olympic semifinals. The loss sent Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek home from his first Olympic games. To say that the experience was a roller coaster for Voracek would be an understatement. After starting the tournament on the Czech second line with David Krejci and Milan Michalek, he was bumped down to the third line with Martin Erat and Martin Hanzal while Ales Hemsky took his place. After that, his ice time was all over the place and it was hard for him to get into a rhythm.
In five games he averaged 14:13 of ice time per game, had a goal, an assist, and was -5. Even though Voracek looked fine while on the ice, there are a few issues I have with his time in Sochi, although they are not all his fault. Will his experience in Sochi help the Philadelphia Flyers down the stretch? Only time will tell, but here are a few points to reflect on.
First, Czech coaching/management was a mess from the start. Quality NHL players like Jiri Hudler (14G, 29A through 58 games) and Radim Vrbata (15G, 24A through 56 games) were left off the team while 42 year old center Petr Nedved, who has not seen the NHL since 2007, skated 8-12 minutes a game. I don’t think that I’m going out on a limb to say that Hudler would have been a more effective option at center than Nedved (no disrespect to Nedved, he had a long, prosperous NHL career). Voracek was clearly behind Jaromir Jagr on the depth chart, but I have a hard time believing he deserved to be behind Hemsky. Hemsky, to his credit, played very well in the tournament. However, had Voracek been given the opportunities throughout the tournament that were given to Hemsky, Voracek would have had a much better Olympics.
Second, Voracek’s production was a bit below what was expected of him. He registered 14 shots through five games, so he was clearly getting involved in the play. What was unfortunate was the fact that he would go shifts at a time in which he did very little. As an explosive part of a roster with little star power, it would have been nice to see Voracek assert himself more. Last season he showed an ability to score clutch goals and keep consistent puck possession against even the best defensemen in the world. As one of the youngest players on the Czech roster (only Ondrej Palat and Radko Gudas are younger) I would have expected more explosiveness from Jake. His production was disappointing.
Finally, the Czech team as a whole had a rough time in Sochi. They went 2-3 and their only wins were against Latvia and Slovakia. They were handled pretty easily by the Swedes, Swiss, and US. Obviously this has more to do with the team as a whole than just Vorace, but I cannot help but wonder whether it is better for a player to be on a good Olympic team or a bad Olympic team? Could the lackluster performance ignite a fire in Voracek to take the NHL by storm in his final 23 games? Or will this tournament destroy his confidence? I believe that this tournament will motivate Jake, while playing with Giroux again will give Voracek a much needed, elite playmaker at center.
There are many things about both Voracek and the Czech Republic that were off in this tournament. However, if Jake comes out of the Olympics as a better player, I can’t complain. Spending a week with Jaromir Jagr can only help Voracek’s devotion off the ice, and coming back to Giroux should do wonders for his confidence. The Flyers will desperately need Voracek if they wish to make a playoff run.