MONTREAL – A few hours after being named captain of the 2014 Czech Olympic team, Tomas Plekanec showcased exactly how he’s planning to lead when he lands in Sochi.
Fresh off the news that he was getting a second chance to don his country’s colors at the Olympic Games – this time with a “C” stitched to his chest – Plekanec celebrated in fitting fashion: by leading all forwards in shorthanded minutes and chipping in with an assist on the game-winning goal against the Panthers. Despite the new title, Plekanec isn’t in any danger of letting his new-found power go to his head.
“It’s a great honor and I’m very happy about it, but it’s just a letter on the jersey; we all have to play like captains out there to be successful,” mentioned the modest centerman, who played 18:02 against the Panthers. “I’ve been captain the last couple of years at World Championships so it’s not like it’s something new for me. The coach picked me because of the player and the person I am so I’m not going to change anything.”
Having held a front row seat for Plekanec’s trademark consistency over the years, Carey Price wasn’t surprised to see his longtime teammate punch his ticket to Russia – although, when it comes to changing things up, the All-Star netminder does have one suggestion for the newly-minted captain heading into Sochi.
“Well I hope he talks more in Czech than he does in English,” joked the Anahim Lake, BC native, who will learn his own Olympic fate on Tuesday morning when Canadian GM Steve Yzerman announces his final roster from the MasterCard Centre in Toronto.
The Czech pivot may not be a likely candidate to spend intermissions channeling his inner William Wallace, but Price admits Plekanec has a knack for inspiring hockey dressing rooms without needing to break out his thesaurus.
“He’s a leader on our squad and it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s going to be a leader for them,” shared Price, who stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced on Monday night, including 16 in the third period alone. “He’s going to lead by example. He plays a solid two-way game, he doesn’t take a night off and he’s the perfect example of leadership.”
Coming up clutch in the second period with his relentless puck pursuit, Plekanec stole a loose puck from Ed Jovanovski and slid a perfect feed to Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, who wired his second game-winner of the season past Tim Thomas. After seeing his trusty wingman score his second goal in as many games, Plekanec offered up some playful ribbing in his explanation behind Gionta’s recent offensive resurgence.
“I told him he actually fanned on it; he wanted to go five-hole and that’s why he scored,” he laughed. “No, he’s a shooter. He went through a tough stretch in terms of goals but he found his touch again and he scored a big goal for us tonight. It was a quiet game but we were able to score that game-winning goal in the second period and Pricey shut the door for us. We didn’t want to lose three games to [Florida].”
Quick to get in on the chirping even with his own linemates, Plekanec has already started receiving jabs from fellow Olympians Max Pacioretty and Raphael Diaz. With the rest of the Olympic rosters set to be named on Tuesday morning, the 31-year-old forward isn’t expecting the chatter to die down anytime soon, either.
“It’s coming. Obviously from Patch – we know about those guys from [near] New York,” he joked of the New Canaan, CT native, who was named to the US Olympic squad on New Year’s Day. “It’s already started a little bit but [the Olympics] are still a month away.”
With 15 Canadiens games standing between the team’s Olympic contingent and the Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, Plekanec isn’t ready to start planning for his podium finish just yet.
“We have to focus on our job here; we still have a month to go before the Olympics start and a lot of things can happen between now and then,” he underlined. “We have to stay focused and play 100% here. After that Carolina game in February, then we can start thinking about it.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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