The Czechs will not begin the Olympic men’s hockey tournament with their best-known goaltender in the crease — or even in uniform.
In a surprise decision, Ondrej Pavelec will be a healthy scratch for his country when the Czech team opens the tournament against Team Sweden Wednesday.
More unrest around the Czech hockey team: Ondrej Pavelec won't play the tournament-opener against Sweden tomorrow. He's not even dressing.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 11, 2014
Instead, Team Czech will dress 25-year-old Jakub Kovar and 27-year-old Alexander Salak.
Both Kovar and Salak are standouts in the Kontinental Hockey League. Kovar, who looks to be the Game 1 starter, has posted a 19-15 record with six shutouts and a 1.91 goals-against average for Yekaterinburg Automobilist. Salak enters the Olympic break with a 17-10 record, a 1.86 goals-against average and three shutouts for St. Petersburg SKA.
Pavelec told reporters Tuesday that despite being a healthy scratch in Game 1, he will get the start in Game 2 against an easier opponent, Latvia.
“It’s the coach’s decision,” Pavelec told the Winnipeg Free Press, after his team’s skate on Tuesday at the Bolshoy IceDome. “I’ll work hard in practice. The coaches have their reasons. Hopefully this works for us and we win. Kovar has been hot in the KHL. He’s a good goalie, and I want him to play well.”
The 26-year-old Pavelec enters Sochi with a 18-22-4 record and one shutout for the Winnipeg Jets this season. Although he plays in the world’s best league, his 2.97 goals-against average is significantly higher than that of his national teammates.
Team Canada, too, plans to start different goaltenders in its first two games of the tournament.