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Nedved to cap long, winding career at Sochi

SOCHI, Russia -- Discussing his role with Czech Republic's national hockey team with reporters wasn't where 42-year-old Petr Nedved might have ever expected to find himself.

But that is exactly where he was Friday, gray beard and all, moments after stepping off the ice following practice in preparation for the men's hockey tournament that begins next week.

For Nedved, it's just another chapter in a life that has been full of twists and turns.

In 1998 at 17, he defected from then-Czechoslovakia to Canada and launched a lengthy NHL career and also helped his new countrymen win a silver medal at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. After retiring from the NHL in 2007, Nedved returned to Europe and began a second career in the Czech Republic and is in his sixth -- and last -- season with his hometown team in Liberec.

Then he got a call from Team Czech Republic and two decades later, he is back in the Olympics.

"My whole life has been a strange journey," Nedved said at Bolshoy Ice Dome. "It was a great honor to play for Canada. I really, really enjoyed it. Now playing for my own country where I'm from, it's a special meaning to me, especially at my age and the last season of my career. I couldn't ask for anything better than that."

Nedved keeps lacing up the skates for a simple reason.

"I still love the game," he said. "I love the competition. I still have the drive. (But) this is my last season in my career. I kind of feel that I could probably play maybe for a couple more years (but) it's time.

"I never thought at the end of my career, after 20 years, I would go to the Olympic Games," Nedved added. "This is kind of a nice way to end my career."

And what of a possible tournament matchup against Canada?

"When you step on the ice you kind of focus on the game and you're not focusing as much against whom you are playing," Nedved said. "Maybe prior to that you think of the opponent. I guess it would be a little special."

Tall tale: Zdeno Chara arrived in Sochi on Friday, ready for the "huge privilege" of carrying the Slovakian flag during the opening ceremony. The Bruins defenseman was allowed to leave his NHL team early and miss two games to participate in the Olympics' opening event.

"It's something you don't get to do or experience for many athletes," the 6-feet-9-inch Chara said. "I'm very lucky and privileged to be able to do that.

"Pretty much as soon as I found out that there is an opportunity for me carrying the flag, I went and talked to the general manager and head coach (of the Bruins)," he added. "They asked me if that's something we have a right to do and if it's important to me (and) I said, 'of course. It's a huge honor.' And basically after that, they said, 'We're going support you. You've been with the organization for a long time, and you've done a lot of good changes.' I can't thank them enough. Honestly, it's a dream come true."

In and out: Marcus Johansson of the Capitals was added to Team Sweden after the Canucks' Henrik Sedin withdrew from the games due to injury.

For Slovakia, Branko Radivojec replaced injured forward Marian Gaborik of the Blue Jackets. Also, Team Slovakia general manager Otto Sykora said he planned to meet with Islanders GM Garth Snow about the status of veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who has been sidelined.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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