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Czech List, European Edition: A Closer Look at Pavel Zacha

By on January 21, 2014 in European, Player Bios with 1 Comment

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE — Seventeen months. That’s how much time will fly from now to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Sure, there’s another draft much sooner, but let’s now focus on what Czech players might steal the spotlight in June of next year.

Photo: ČTK

Photo: ČTK

The 2015 Czech draft class most likely isn’t as strong as the 2014 class and it will probably produce just one first-rounder. Pavel Zacha has all you need to be drafted among the first thirty and might even get to the top ten.

The others still need to prove themselves as they only have junior hockey experience, unlike Zacha who is an Extraliga regular in Liberec. Michael Špaček is an exception to that as he’s appeared in a couple of Extraliga games as well and the others that will be talked about are Filip Chlapík, David Kaše (younger brother of 2014 second-round prospect Ondřej Kaše) and defenseman Jakub Zbořil, one of the best to come out of this country.

There’s enough time to cover these four later, but what also separates Zacha from them is the size. Except for Zbořil, all these, all three forwards, are pretty short and what they depend on is skill and speed. Zacha sure is skilled and he’s got some wheels, but he’s also 6-foot-3. At 16 years of age.

A very cool story surrounds Zacha’s career and will forever as it started even before he was born. His father, Pavel, studied law and became a lawyer, but decided to throw it all away or rather try something not so convenient. Even before little Pavel was born in April of 1997, he decided that the son would be an athlete.

Zacha has two older sisters and they’re successful, too. One of them works for his Extraliga team in Liberec and the other dates Czech soccer national team defender Theodor Gebre Selassie, currently one of the best Czech soccer players who’s father is African and his mother comes from the Czech Republic. It might be a coincidence, but “Gebre” also played in Liberec and was raised in the same town Zacha and his family was.

It’s called Velké Meziříčí, a town of 11,000, where little Pavel started playing hockey, too. Later on, he’d go to Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic, where he received all the top-notch training with the team that keeps on bringing up great talents including aforementioned Zbořil and also 2014 late-rounds prospect Pavel Jenyš.

Anyways, a lot of his early training happened off the ice. His father quit his job just to spend all his time making his son into an athlete. Even as a toddler, little Pavel performed simple exercises that made him as strong as he is now. Basically, they trained every day, and besides hockey, little Pavel also played tennis, among other sports.

He was not sure what he was going to be: a hockey player, a tennis player or maybe even something else. I’m not sure at what age Pavel quit tennis, but it looks like a great decision as he’s now turning the heads of everybody in the hockey business.

In Brno, he was lucky enough to play with some of the best players in his category, as mentioned earlier, and made the most of it. As a 10-year-old, he’d win four championships in four different categories in four consecutive seasons. The system here is different than in Canada and the little players play with and against those who are in the same school grade as they are. So basically, he had to go to a different category each year before he finally reached Under-16.

The Under-16 Extraliga, however, doesn’t have Zacha listed as a Brno player in more than one game, as that’s what he played when he was 12 years of age. After the debut, as the season ended in 2010, the family moved to Liberec where a new chapter would begin.

Under great junior hockey coach Jan Šťastný, who belongs to the very best in his business, he thrived into a versatile player, making impact in categories well above his age. As a thirteen-year-old, he played three Under-18 games, scoring one goal in them! I remember it as I was there, watching his debut in both U18 and U20 Extraligas, the latter just a year later.

In 2011-12, the 14-year-old Zacha dominated the U16 Extraliga with almost two points per game in 33 appearances, became an U18 Extraliga regular and almost recorded a point in each game, made that U20 debut and also debuted in the Under-16 national team where he’d collect 7 points in 16 outings.

We knew about him, but it was the 2012-13 season when he received nationwide attention, finally making his pro debut and also representing at the Under-18 WJC where he impressed with three assists in five games. His debut with the main Liberec White Tigers team came in the European Trophy (ET), a pre-season competition where he played in one game, in the Swiss capital of Bern. (Actually, that was the only Tigers mid-season game in the ET and at that time, Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart were members of the team, too. However, they didn’t travel to Switzerland with the team and would quit a couple of days later.)

He would also play one post-season game with Tigers lower-league affiliate in Benátky nad Jizerou and after the U18 WJC, talks of him cracking the lineup of the main team erupted and he’d meet expectations, becoming a regular in the Extraliga, currently playing on one line with Latvian Olympian Koba Jass. And of course, Petr Nedvěd is the captain and helps a lot with his progress. That’s something, isn’t it?

Photo: ČTK

Photo: ČTK

Right now, the problem is that his case is becoming more and more media-driven, to the point where it’s becoming kind of annoying. I’m not sure he deserves so much stardom yet, and I sure hope it doesn’t affect him because he’s the guy whose confidence has always been okay.

His would like to play in Washington, despite the fact that Czechs have struggled in America’s capital, and he idolizes Alex Ovechkin. But, I remember one day having a conversation with him when he was thirteen. Back then, his dream was Montréal.

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  1. NHL Draft War Room: Pavel Zacha - Czech Mate | April 1, 2015

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