For a while, it was beginning to look like everyone on the Capitals’ roster would score a goal before Marty Erat.
In a season in which Connor Carrick, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Nate Schmidt and Julien Brouillette all scored their first career goals, Erat was plugging along without ever finding the back of the net – 50 games this season to be exact.
So it was no wonder the Capitals bench erupted when Erat scored his first goal into an empty net with1:47 remaining in the Caps’ 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils Saturday night.
“I’m not worried about scoring goals,” Erat said. “I’m worried about the two points. But I am hoping it’s going to help me.”
There could have been no better Olympic sendoff for Erat than finally scoring a goal. Added as an injury replacement to the Czech Olympic team last week, Erat, 32, will be making his third Olympic appearance when the Czechs face off against Nicklas Backstrom and the Swedes today at noon to open the men’s hockey tournament.
“My first time I didn’t enjoy it much in Torino [ Italy] because I focused on hockey,” Erat said. “The second time in Vancouver I enjoyed it much more.
“It’s something special. You never know how many times you’re going to be there. You never know if NHL players will be there next time [in 2018 in Korea]. It’s special. You’re playing for your country and you want to make the fans proud.”
The Czech Olympic team features a pair of aging forwards in 42-year-old Peter Nedved [yes, he’s still playing in the Czech League] and soon-to-be 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who leads the Devils in scoring. But Erat says the international experience on the Czech team could make up for some of its deficiencies on the blue line,
“It’s a short tournament,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about conditioning, you don’t have to worry about anything. In a big tournament like this you want guys that have experience and we have guys like Jagr and Nedved, they can actually help you. We’ve been there before and we know what it takes to play for a medal.”
Erat actually scored the game-winning goal the last time the Czechs medaled in the Olympics. His first period goal agains Alex Ovechkin and the Russians earned a bronze medal for the Czechs in Turin, Italyin 2006.
He has that medal on display in his home in Nashville.
Erat said he thinks the Czechs can take advantage of the larger ice surface that is being used in Sochi, where the rinks are 10 feet longer and 13 feet wider than the ones used in the NHL.
“It’s totally different hockey,” he said. “You have so much more time because you have all that space. The NHL is more up and down hockey. There you have to play your position but you have more room.”
Erat’s wife, Vera, will be staying in Nashville awaiting the birth of the couple’s daughter while he’s playing for an Olympic medal. Vera Erat is due to deliver on Feb. 25, two days after the gold medal game.
Erat said he never really considered staying at home once he received his Olympic invitation
“You get to try to win a Stanley Cup every year,” he said, “but winning a gold medal, you might only get that chance once in a lifetime.”