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Elias still looking for first international gold

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For a player who has had such a distinguished NHL career, veteran New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias has never enjoyed the type of fame in his native Czech Republic that some of his peers such as Jaromir Jagr, Petr Nedved and even Milan Hejduk have attained. Part of the reason is that Elias' playing style is not nearly as flashy as that of some of the other players. Another reason is that Elias has played in relatively few games for the Czech national team over the years.

In the NHL, Elias already has 961 regular season games to his credit. He has scored at least 20 goals in nine different seasons (including 2010-11), has won a pair of Stanley Cups (1999-2000 and 2002-03), played in three All-Star Games and won NHL First-Team All-Star honors. By comparison, entering the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia, Elias has appeared in just 25 games at the senior level for the Czech Republic. As a junior, he played five games at the 1995 European Junior Championships.

In terms of his international career, Elias' NHL success has actually served to limit his availability to the Czech national team. Elias was a regular starter in the Czech Extraliga for HC Kladno before his 18th birthday, and came to North America the following year. As a result, he was playing for the AHL's Albany River Rats at the time he otherwise would have been a key component of the Czech team at the 1995 and 1996 World Junior Championships. Likewise, during much of his career, Elias' New Jersey Devils teams advanced too far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for him to be able to join the Czech team at the World Championships. He has played in 138 playoff games in the NHL.

Elias earned NHL All-Rookie Team honors in his first full NHL season (1997-98) but did not participate in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, when the Czechs won the gold medal in the first Olympic tourney prominently featuring active NHL players. Later that year, Elias played for the Czechs at the World Championships, winning a bronze medal.

In fact, Elias has yet to attain a gold or silver medal in international play. He has played in three Olympics (2002, 2006 and 2010), taking away a bronze in Vancouver last year. Despite Elias' participation, the Czechs also finished out of the top three at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and 2008 World Championships. Although the Devils were knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round last year, Elias did not play for the Czech team that ultimately upset two-time defending gold medalist Russia in the gold medal game.

"Certainly, winning a gold medal is something I would love to accomplish before the end of my career," Elias said. "Hockey is very big in the Czech Republic, and the Olympic gold and the six gold medals at the Worlds (in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2010) are something the Czech people are very proud of. I would love to be part of that."

The 2010-11 season marks the first time in his NHL career that Elias' Devils team failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. When the offer came to join the Czech team for the tournament in the Slovak portion of the former Czechoslovakia, he jumped at the opportunity. The veteran winger is wearing an "A" as an alternate captain for his team, playing on a line with Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek and Martin Havlat of the Minnesota Wild.

"I'm happy with the chemistry on our line," Elias said. "Really, I like the look of our team. There's a lot talent and it's a good mix of players. Anything can happen in a tournament like this, but I have faith in what we can accomplish."

Apart from Elias and his linemates, the Czech squad boasts numerous current and former NHL standouts: Jagr, Michael Frolik, Jakub Voracek, Petr Prucha, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Skoula and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, among others. The already formidable roster has been bolstered by the additions of Tomas Plekanec and Zbynek Michalek, both of whom suited up for the Czechs' second tournament game against Denmark, after missing the opening 4-2 win over Latvia.

In the Latvia game, Elias' line dominated. In a tournament already marked by upsets, the Latvians jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period, and then forged a 2-1 lead in the second. Elias tied the game midway through the second, then early in the third period set up the goal that put the Czechs ahead to stay. A late insurance goal by Roman Cervenka sealed the victory.

"It was good to start out with a win," Elias said. "Latvia always plays hard. At the same time, we can play a lot better. Hopefully, we'll take what we did today and build from it."

That's exactly what the Czechs did in their second game. Buoyed by two goals apiece from Frolik and Milan Michalek and a single goal from Plekanec, the Czechs built a 5-0 lead. The Czechs flexed their muscles by overwhelming Team Denmark with four second-period goals in a span of 3:04. From there the Czechs cruised, adding a late third-period tally by Prucha to make it a 6-0 final. Pavelec earned a 24-save shutout. Elias, who failed to convert a penalty shot attempt late in the second period, assisted on Michalek's second goal of the game. The goal stands as the Czechs' lone power play tally of the tournament so far.

With a 2-0 record in preliminary round play, the Czech Republic will face its toughest test in the preliminary round when they take on Finland on Wednesday. The winner of the game will take the top spot in the pool heading into the medal round qualification segment of the tournament.