Czechs wise to bench Jets' Ondrej Pavelec for Olympic opener

Tuesday February 11th, 2014

Ondrej Pavelec Ondrej Pavelec took his benching in stride, saying, "Hopefully this works for us and we win." (MCT/Getty)

Some of the decisions made by Czech Republic coach Alois Hadamczik heading into the Sochi Olympics had been, well, tough to defend. Taking 42-year-old Petr Nedved over current NHL stars Radim Vrbata or Jiri Hudler, for instance. Or picking his underqualified son-in-law, Michal Barinka.

Hadamczik's latest decision is sure to be equally puzzling to some, but this time he's making the right call.

Hadamczik announced today that Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec will not start for the Czechs in their opener against Sweden on Wednesday; in fact, he'll be watching the game from the press box.

Former Windsor Spitfire Jakub Kovář will get the start, with Alexander Salak wearing the ball cap.

Really, this is a no-brainer. Kovar, who was drafted by the Flyers, is coming off back-to-back honors as Goalie of the Month in the KHL. Riding the hot tendy, especially one who has spent the season playing on big ice, makes a lot of sense in a must-win game. But it also suggests that perhaps the Czechs understand something that Winnipeg isn't willing to admit: Pavelec isn't someone you want between the pipes for a big game. Or really, most any game.

It's no secret that his numbers have been sub-par in Winnipeg -- he ranks 42nd out of 51 goalies with a 2.97 GAA and 44th with a .901 save percentage -- and his tendency to overslide when he goes cross-crease makes him easy to exploit, especially on this surface where offense is often built around cross-ice passes. In a key game like this, he's a risk the Czechs can't afford.

Pavelec, who will get a chance to start the less meaningful second game against Latvia, took the news in stride.

"It’s the Olympics. Everyone wants to play. That’s why we’re here," he said. "I don’t know. I’ll work hard in practice. The coaches have their reasons. Hopefully this works for us and we win. Kovář has been hot in the KHL. He’s a good goalie and I want him to play well."

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