Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

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On Golden Ponds: 3 Things to Watch in U.S.-Czech Republic Olympic Hockey Quarterfinals

By Jim Iovino
|  Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014  |  Updated 3:25 AM CDT
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Jaromir Jagr #68 of Czech Republic looks on in the first period against Latvia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group C game on day seven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

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The time has come for Team USA to go for the gold.

The men's hockey tournament reaches the quarterfinals on Wednesday. For the United States to advance, they must defeat the Czech Republic -- a team the U.S. has never won against in Olympic play.  The Americans lost 5-3 in a consolation game in 1994 and again lost in the 1998 quarterfinals by a 4-1 margin.

Here are three things to keep an eye on as you watch the Wednesday's game live at noon ET/9 a.m. PT on USA network or online at nbcolympics.com.

Youth vs. Experience 

Not one member of the U.S. men's hockey team was alive when the United States beat Russia and then went on to win gold in 1980.

It's quite a different story for Team Czech Republic, which sports six players born before 1980.

Will the Czechs' elder statesmen be a help or hindrance when the teams face off in the do-or-die quarterfinals matchup in Sochi?

Players like Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved give the Czechs an added layer of international experience that doesn't exist on the U.S. side. Heck, Jagr and Nedved, both 42, are nearly as old as U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma, who is 43.

While Nedved isn't the player he was, say, 10 years ago, and has been nearly non-existent during play in Sochi, Jagr is still producing at an elite level. Back in the NHL (remember that?), he's leading his New Jersey Devils in scoring, and he's the heart and soul of Team Czech Republic. He was a big part of the squad back in 1998 when they beat Russia for the gold medal, and their hopes of medaling at all in Sochi rest on Jagr's shoulders.

But how will his body respond to playing two Olympic games in two days on the larger ice surface? Jagr appeared to need trainers to work on his legs on several occasions during the qualifying game against Slovakia -- and that was even before the Slovaks' furious comeback from a 4-0 hole in the game's final two periods to get to within one. Can Jagr come back on zero days rest and compete at the speed that Team USA likes to play?

The letdown the entire Czech team showed in the second half has to be quite concerning for the aging squad. What should have been an easy victory nearly turned into a disaster, and the energy that should have been saved up for the quarterfinal matchup against the U.S. had to be spent fending off a weaker Slovakian team.

Jagr's health and energy level will go along way toward determining Team Czech Republic's fate against the U.S.

Jagr's Wingman

Jagr has been paired up throughout the tournament on a line with center Tomas Plekanec. And it looks like they've found a winger on the opposite side in Roman Cervenka.

Roman who?

Unless you're among the most astute NHL fans, you may not know who Cervenka is. He spent a cup of Tim Hortons coffee with the Calgary Flames last season, scoring nine goals and adding eight assists in 39 games.

But he returned to his more familiar surroundings of the KHL for this season, where he flourished as a skilled offensive forward.

He seems to have found good chemistry on the Jagr line so far in the Olympics, and scored a goal Tuesday against Slovakia.

If he can maintain his strong play, the Czech Republic's top line will be a bigger threat to Team USA.

Pavelec vs. Quick

It will be Jonathan Quick between the pipes for Team USA. No surprise there after his performance so far in the tournament, including his performance against Russia in the shootout win.

At the other end will be Ondrej Pavelec, the starting netminder for the Winnipeg Jets.

Advantage: Team USA.

Pavelec is a streaky goaltender -- one who can look tremendous one minute and then mediocre the next. Unfortunately for Czech Republic fans, he didn't look all that great against Slovakia. Will he be able to withstand the expected assault from Team USA?

When Jagr and the Czechs won gold in 1998, Dominik Hasek was between the pipes. Pavelec is no Dominik Hasek.

He saw a lot of rubber fired his way in the first half of the NHL season in Winnipeg, so facing the rapid-fire U.S. team won't be a tremendous shock to the system. But keeping up with them for three periods will be a big challenge.  Look for him to wear down as the game goes on.

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