VANCOUVER — As he heads into Sunday’s crucial game against the Russians for control of the men’s Olympic group of death and a bye from preliminary-round play, Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun is clearly falling in love the Canadian and Vancouver hockey fans.
Amazed at the enthusiasm and crowd turnout for these games that wouldn’t normally draw flies in other cities, Vokoun, who plays his hockey in sleepy Florida, is feeling the vibes both on and off the ice here in Vancouver as the Czechs are 2-0 so far and loving it.
“You get goose bumps standing in the crease before the game, the atmosphere is unbelievable,” says Vokoun. “You see all kinds of people with Canadian jerseys in the stands, they come to any game and that shows how much they love hockey in this country. They know the game and they were chanting for Latvia there, it’s been great. Where I play in the States, well to come here Canadians really show how much they love hockey. They go to any games and enjoy.”
Vokoun was solid again Friday night backstopping the Czechs to a relatively easy 5-2 victory over Latvia, their squad taking things somewhat easier after they got up 4-0, something Vokoun wasn’t as pleased to see.
“We started to think things were going to be easy but of course nothing in this tournament is going to be easy and we know that.
“I feel good, I’ve been playing well all year and this is just a continuation of the way I’ve been going. I’m seeing the puck well and of course that can change quickly in this business but right now things are going good.”
Vokoun is also fighting the fact he’s been the subject of some recent trade rumours around the NHL as the Florida Panthers threaten to dump salary and evacuate their roster, Vokoun with a $5.7 million US cap hit an attractive target to any team looking for elite goaltending.
“I follow hockey closely and I’ve heard a few things,” says Vokoun, who holds a no-trade clause in the contract he signed when he was in Nashville. “(General manager Randy Sexton) hasn’t come to me with anything so I’m not really knowing anything. But if it comes . . . right now I’m trying to concentrate on this competition.
Coming up is the Czech’s traditional rival Russia and not surprisingly the homeland media is talking it up big, trying to re-live the old days as much as possible to inject even more into what is shaping up as the greatest hockey day in Vancouver history Sunday with three tremendous hockey games on the docket.
“You know it (the rivalry) is not what it used to be but this is a game for the top spot in the group and if we win it means we don’t have to play an extra game so do you need more motivation than that,” he continued. “If some people want to read more into it then they are welcome to do that, it’s fine. But it’s another game for us to play, a very important one.”
Vokoun, who was sensational against the Slovaks in the Czechs’ opening 3-1 win, was again very solid even though he gave up two goals to the less than vaunted Latvian team which is short on talent but long on try. Kristaps Sotnieks and Grits Ankipans scored second-period goals to bring Latvia to within 4-2, but Vokoun was outstanding in the third period as his team took it easy in front of him.
David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec, Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Kaberle and Patrik Elias into an empty net scored for the Czechs who have the maximum six points after two games.
CNS 2/20/10 13:58:20
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