Olympic omissions stir fans in faraway Europe, too

It’s a strange tradition: hockey fans debate who didn’t make their country’s team for the Olympics, rather than discussing the gold medal parade route for those who did.

Need examples?

Just watch the hand-wringing about Martin St. Louis or Claude Giroux in Canada. In fact, this case has revealed how many amateur psychologists there are in Canada. They keep analyzing Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman’s feelings. How perfectly tough it must have been for him when he had to reveal to his Tampa Bay Lightning star player that he got the short straw.

Or think of the the gnashing of teeth over Team USA executive Brian Burke’s comments regarding Ottawa Senators’ forward Bobby Ryan, as dutifully reported by ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside.

But don’t think for one moment these excesses are limited to North America.

They have a wonderful scandal going on in the Czech Republic, too.

Team Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik named his roster for Sochi the other day.

Czech fans (and journalists) zoomed in on three omissions. How come Calgary Flames forward Jiří Hudler didn’t make it? How about Radim Vrbata of the Phoenix Coyotes? And how could Hadamczik forget about Colorado Avalanche defenceman Jan Hejda?

Zdeněk Janda, writing for Czech daily Sport, telephoned Hejda to ask him what he thought of the omission. Hejda said he was disappointed, but added he somehow expected it. He hadn’t seen eye-to-eye with coach Hadamczik when the twain met during the last world championship. By way of explanation, Hejda was critical of Hadamczik’s coaching methods, too. He was used to coaches who would give their players systems to play within, and if there was one thing sorely lacking the last time out, it was precisely that. Hejda went on to say he was much more surprised that he didn’t see Hudler’s name on the roster. Still, Hejda concluded, he wished Team Czech success, and he would be cheering them on.

Now, that’s called sporting.

So far as Hejda’s sentiment regarding Hudler was concerned, Calgary coach Bob Hartley echoed it. Hartley said, tongue firmly in cheek, that the Czechs must have a frightfully talented squad if they could afford leaving Hudler off. They must be prime candidates for gold, Hartley added.

Of course, there’s a minor catch of major proportions involved here: if Hartley knows anything about the Czech players who ply their trade in Europe, be it within the Czech Extraliga or the Russian KHL, or any other top European leagues, Hartley would have second-hand knowledge of their talents at best, if any at all.

Still, leaving Hudler off the Czech Olympic roster has raised more than one eyebrow.

But Hejda was the first of the top players to come out and say openly what many other Czech players would grumble about in private. They just do not like Hadamczik as coach, period.

In fairness, having talked to a few Czech players who had won bronze in Torino Olympics of 2006, their views of their coach were split right down the middle. To some, Hadamczik was anathema and, they claimed, they got as far in the tournament despite his coaching (or lack thereof). Several others said, on the other hand, that they were just fine with Hadamczik’s methods.

One of the major issues amongst the Czech hockey fandom is they hate Alois Hadamczik. Whether those fans know whereof they speak or not is perfectly irrelevant. They are aghast about some of his alleged business dealings, but neither the fans nor the Czech media have ever come up with a single proof of any wrongdoing.

What is it then? It seems Hadamczik just isn’t their cup of tea.

To top it off, Hadamczik named Michal Barinka of HC Vítkovice to the Olympic squad, giving him the spot many Czech fans believed was to belong to Hejda. Now, Hejda himself didn’t even mention Barinka’s name in his interview with Sport’s Zdeněk Janda. In fact, Hejda didn’t mention a single player named to the roster. He didn’t mention anybody but Hudler.

But Czech fans are aware of the minor fact that coach Hadamczik is Michal Barinka’s father-in-law. So, they cry nepotism. Whether they are right or not does not really matter. One would expect that they should reserve their judgement till after the Sochi Olympics. But they haven’t.

Hejda’s NHL coach, Patrick Roy, the one who can’t hear Jeremy Roenick’s criticisms because he’s got his Stanley Cup rings firmly stuck in his ears, joined the chorus. Hejda, Roy was quoted as saying the other day, married the wrong person. He should have married Hadamczik’s daughter, instead of his lovely wife Tereza. His position on the Czech national team would be unassailable.

Judging by reader reactions in the Czech media, some praise Hejda for coming out and saying what he thinks, while others say it’s all sour grapes on his part. How so, they wouldn’t elaborate. The fact remains it was a Czech reporter who called Hejda, not Hejda calling the Czech reporter. And that Hejda didn’t resort to cliches? More power to him.

Hejda himself is now more or less shocked to the point of amusement. He spoke to one reporter. Once. And that single interview has been appearing all over the place since then, in various shapes and forms, soliciting heated reader exchanges wherever and whenever it ran.

William Shakespeare had a fine description for events like this: much ado about nothing.

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