LIBEREC, CZE — What a time to be a hardcore hockey fan again! You can either criticize every move that any team makes or you can celebrate some of the signings that have been made. Loads of good players are coming over from Europe, too. The Maple Leafs just locked up a duo of Finns, an agitator Leo Komarov and the “I don’t know” guy, forward Petri Kontiola.
The Czechs have seen some players crossing the Atlantic as well. First, talented goalie Roman Will (with QMJHL experience) and offensive defenseman Petr Zámorský did so. They are set to play for minor affiliates of the Colorado Avalanche and the New York Rangers respectively.
One more signing was made that sees a Czech player leaving his home country to play in North America. That’s not an AHL addition made by Montréal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and unlike the two aforementioned Czechs, the incoming player will most likely play in the NHL the very next season. Habs fans, welcome Jiří Sekáč to Montréal.
Born in 1992 in Kladno, the hometown of the one and only Jaromír Jágr, Sekáč might have flown a little under the radar. But, it’s not like he’s new to being a top of the crop. As a 16-year-old, he had 87 points in 46 games of the Under-18 Extraliga. That’s not too shabby, believe me.
That kind of a season also makes it easy for you to go overseas and see some major junior action in the cradle of hockey. The Peterborough Petes trusted him for eight games and then, Sekáč didn’t give up and just moved a couple of miles south to Youngstown in Ohio where he could play in the USHL.
Basically, those couple miles are just about the same distance that you would have to go if you wanted to cross the Czech Republic from the very west to the very east. Cool, isn’t it?
Anyways, after he was done with the Phantoms, he came back home. Well, actually, he went to Slovakia first. Lev Poprad in the mountain city of Poprad was the first KHL team in what used to be Czechoslovakia so a lot of good Czechs headed there as well, whether it was to play the top European league or its junior affiliate, the MHL.
Sekáč saw action in both competitions and moved after a year just as the franchise did to Prague. And that’s where I saw him first.
An employer of mine hands out tickets for KHL games in Prague so a friend and I decided to drive down to the capital to see a game with Donbass Donetsk. It was at the old Tesla Arena (named for an electronic company and now known under a different name) that even caught attention of some NHL reporters for its classic looks when the New York Rangers played a pre-season game there.
That Lev-Donbass game was probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen, the final score was 2-0 for Prague and the shots were about 18-10. Just horrible. But, there was a good thing and it had a name. It was a hockey player, Jiří Sekáč. Back then, he was just a fourth-liner in the KHL, but he gave it a hundred percent every shift. He played with heart in that game and I believe he does so in every game.
I loved his speed and I craved his determination. People say you should always look for good things even in the worst situations and while that game was an anti-commercial for the KHL, Sekáč was just outstanding and it looked like he didn’t belong in such a bush league.
The then 20-year-old forward would spend majority of that season in Sparta Prague in the Extraliga doing just okay. After that, he had a breakout season with Lev and even earned a spot to represent at the World Championship in Minsk. It’s not like he dominated in the KHL though, he had 28 points in 47 games and just one goal in 21 post-season games. So don’t think he’s going to be a top-six forward with the Habs.
I didn’t get to see him until Minsk and quite frankly, I had too much other work and couldn’t keep an eye on him. He would score two goals at the Belarusian event that turned out to be the best World Championship ever in terms of overall attendance. They just love the sport and it was amazing.
After that I started hearing that Sekáč might go to the NHL. Or, more precisely, will go. And I heard nasty things that he was going to end up in Ottawa. Fortunately, the free agency wind blew him into Montréal. And I have a feeling that the city is going to love him.
So I’d say Sekáč will play in the third line, but you know Europeans, he won’t be like Brandon Prust or anybody like that. He’s not dirty or overly physical. I like to compare guys to Vladimír Sobotka all the time and Sekáč can be a similar kind of a player with a lot of effort. Sobotka’s probably has much more offensive upside, but like I said, I haven’t had proper time to evaluate Sekáč’s potential and abilities.
Anyway, trust me on this one. I’m usually right and Sekáč was brought in to replace Brian Gionta in a way. Don’t expect him to be a number-one leader just yet and don’t expect more than about 25 points from him. Canadiens fans have got a great character forward coming in and they should be looking forward top it. I love how Montréal has a good thing going now that a good GM is in place.
That’s about all I’ve got to say about Sekáč, the rest you’ll just have to see for yourselves. Players even change over summer so there might be a brand new Sekáč wearing the Tricolore in fall. Even P-A Parenteau changed over summer back when his stock sky-rocketed on Long Island.
So to wrap this up, there’s another connection between Czech Republic and Montréal this week, besides this Czech List. I’m not much of a tennis fan, but now that a Czech player is in the finals, it caught some of my attention. And who she’s meeting? Your very special Genie Bouchard. Isn’t that amazing? Vive la Republique Tcheque! Ať žije Montréal!