It's the Czechs, mate!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:38 PM ET

As Canadians, we like to believe that no other country has as much passion for hockey as we do.

We're wrong.

Streets in the Czech Republic will be just as empty when their heroes take the ice. Pressure to win will be just as great on their guys.

And Ales Hemsky can't wait to be a part of it.

"It's big, for the people, for the players, for everybody,'' said Hemsky, making his Olympic debut. "It'll be a great experience and a great chance. I remember watching these games in school when I was a kid. To go here and play in the same tournament is amazing.

"It's a lot of pressure but I don't feel it like the Canadians do right now because I'm over here, not in my country. But there's always pressure when you get over there and you're playing for your country and everybody's watching you.''

With netminders as hot as any in the league, and a New York Ranger Czech contingent that's been playing together all year, there are many who think the Czechs are every bit as good as Canada.

"It's just talk,'' said Hemsky, who emerged as an elite player when he played at home during the lockout. "We'll see when we get over there. It'll be tough, but it'll be fun.''

TOAST BETWEEN THE POSTS

Over in Finland, they're not too thrilled with Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who doesn't look any worse for wear in the Calgary nets, but has begged out of the Olympics.

"Nobody wants to question it,'' said Teemu Selanne. "But it's hard. We need a guy like him. It's kind of tough to watch him play every night and then say he can't play in the Olympics. It's his call, we're going to go there without him.''

YOU BETTOR NOT POUT

It's a bombshell in the media, but a lot of fans and players aren't too upset that a handful of players bet on some football games.

"It might be a big deal for the people involved, but I don't think it will be a big deal for the fans,'' Toronto's Jason Allison told reporters.The fans aren't going to (stop attending games) because a couple of guys had a gambling problem.''

Detroit captain Steve Yzerman also thinks it's being blown out of proportion.

"When it all comes out, and I don't know the whole story yet, but when it comes out, I don't think it'll be as exciting as people are hoping it'll be.''

LOVABLE LOSERS

Bill Guerin kept his great sense of humour during his 18-game scoring drought. He says that when he goes home after games, he calls first and tells his wife to hide the belts and shoelaces ... Wade Redden came away with a black eye after losing a clear-cut decision to Guillaume Lefebvre. Asked if he knew before the fight that Lefebvre throws punches with his left hand, Redden said "No, but I found out in a hurry.''

JUST WONDERING

A few observations about Operation Slap Shot:

- Could Rick Tocchet look any more like a gangster?

- Calling Janet Gretzky an actress is like calling Ronald McDonald a chef.

- If my wife bet $5,000 on a coin toss, she'd be sleeping in the garage. Unless, you know, she won. Then it would be OK.

- Why is it called Operation Slap Shot and not operation New Jersey Trooper? Isn't the bigger issue here that there were cops involved?

- I made two $100 bets with a bookie years ago. Does that mean I should step down from my post as a professional smartass?

- Nice coincidence that the NHL meetings were in Vegas and the Olympics are in the birthplace of the Mafia.

PAIN IN THE NET

When does one of the three U.S. goalies fake an injury? John Grahame ranks 19th in the NHL in save percentage (.900), Robert Esche is 33rd (.891) and Rick DiPietro 35th (.890). Ryan Miller, coming off a broken thumb when the team was picked, is on the taxi squad. He's fifth in the NHL in GAA (2.18) and third in save percentage (.925).

WEIGHTLESSNESS IS JUST FINE

It doesn't make sense, but after St. Louis got rid of Doug Weight and Mike Sillinger, they've caught fire, winning four of their last five heading into last night's game in Calgary.

"We're not going to quit,'' said Keith Tkachuk. "We're playing with a lot of emotion and people are taking us for granted.''

MEASURED RESPONSE

When Nashville coach Barry Trotz called Ilya Kovalchuk for an illegal stick earlier in the season, Kovalchuk chucked it to a training staffer in the Atlanta bench before it could be measured and it was never seen again.

So Trotz had a good chuckle when Kovalchuk got dinged for the bad blade twice recently. "Gee, that's strange. I guess the guy who ran down the hallway wasn't around.''

NO CANADA

Avs winger Alex Tanguay, who has more points than almost all of Team Canada's forwards but wasn't named to the team, says he wouldn't go now even if there were last-minute injuries and they begged him.

"Too late now,'' he told the Rocky Mountain News. "I'm going on vacation. Vacation's all set.''

ASSAULT AND PATTERY

Pat Quinn wishes he could lace them up just one more time. At least he did during the Atlanta game, when the Thrashers were running his skill guys again. "You wish you could look down the bench and see a couple of guys who would go and put a little sandpaper out there. We're on the receiving end. I'd like to see our guys do a little more damage to them.''

TRAVIS GREENBACKS

Boston forward Travis Green, one of the players the Newark Star-Ledger linked to the Rick Tocchet gambling scandal, played in the 2005 World Series of Poker and won $34,990 in a no-limit hold 'em tournament. According to the Boston Herald, Green finished 12th out of more than 2,000 players.

SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA ...

From the Department of Bad Timing: The Buffalo Sabres are raising money for their charity by holding "Aces & Blades,'' a casino night, Feb. 25. The Florida Panthers have a similar event scheduled for later this month called "Ice and Dice.''

- - -

BIG GAMES THIS WEEK

TODAY

PITTSBURGH AT WASHINGTON: Crosby-Ovechkin III. This might get old after a while, but it isn't yet.

TOMORROW

COLORADO AT DETROIT: Claude Lemieux is gone, but there's still plenty of fire left in this rivalry.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 15

CANADA AT ITALY: Emotions will surely run high as the Canadians debut against the host nation.

THURSDAY, FEB. 16

SWEDEN VS RUSSIA: A marquee matchup between two countries with an outside shot at winning gold.


Videos

Photos