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Czech List, European Edition: Inexperienced U20 Squad for WJC in Malmo

By on December 24, 2013 in European with 0 Comments

By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE — Another month of European hockey is behind us and we’re ready for Christmas. Actually, I can’t wait for Christmas and I can’t even wait for what comes after Christmas and that’s the 2014 Under-20 World Junior Championships, taking place in Malmö, Sweden.

Unfortunately, I won’t be there, but watching those young kids from the comfort of my home is also pretty close to paradise. Instead, I decided to visit their training camp in Rokycany, a small town just outside of Pilsen that you might now as the birthplace of former NHL defenseman Jaroslav Špaček.

In a modest atmosphere with mostly national-team personnel, scouts and parents of some players, the Czech U20 national team played a “model game” against the Pilsen Under-20 team with two periods of normal play and then various situations – powerplays and penalty kills of all kind – in the third. What was upsetting was the fact that our national team didn’t manage to open the scoring for some thirty minutes!

With that the Czech squad wants to go to Sweden and get to quarterfinals. It’s a team that barely has a chance to succeed, but maybe, thanks to their opponents in the group stage, quarterfinals are a realistic target. Beating Slovakia and Germany should be something even these kids can do.

Radek Faksa (OHL Images)

The problem is inexperience. There are just three players who have been drafted into the NHL. One of them is Radek Faksa, the leader of the team, the other is Jets defensive prospect Jan Košťálek who plays in Rimouski and the last one is the likely starting netminder, Coyotes seventh-rounder from 2012 Marek Langhamer.

The rest of the team is undrafted or waiting to be eligible. There are actually four players who still have their draft days before them – 2014 prospects David Pastrňák, Jakub Vrána and Ondřej Kaše and a 2015 prospect Pavel Zacha. And these are supposed to be the leaders with Faksa and Victoriaville Tigres’ blueliner Petr Šidlík.

Sure, these kids are great for the fact they haven’t been 18 yet and they might be stars in the future, but a team that relies on them right now doesn’t look strong enough. After the training camp, they played another game, this time an ordinary pre-tournament outing against Switzerland and lost 3-2. That was a little unexpected since the Swiss team is on the rise and it’s not easy to beat them. Personally, I thought the margin would be bigger.

That’s, however, a sign that things might go better for this young Czech team in Malmö. They open the tournament against the American team and then Canada before heading into the two decisive games against Slovakia and Germany. Now, it’s vital for them to beat both of their Central European rivals to get to the quarterfinals.

One of the kids should really attract your attention and it’s Pavel Zacha. Jakub Vrána was at the U20 World Juniors at the age of 16, too, but didn’t really make big impact. Zacha is an Extraliga regular and is expected to step up and be an impact player at such young age. He’s also big, 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds and tough to steal the puck from.

There’s a pretty big story behind his career as his father simply sacrificed his job just to be his personal coach since day one. Even as a toddler Zacha had to do some kind of drills and he’s now used to take much more practice than others. If you really watch him closely, you can see that he doesn’t have the gift that Tomáš Hertl, for example, does, but he works so hard that it compensates for it so one day he might really turn into an NHL star even though it’s all just hard work.

He played first among pros as a 15-year-old and now is ready to conquer the entire hockey world. To us here in the Czech Republic it looks like he’s the new coming of Jaromír Jágr, but the amount of respect we’ve got for number 68 basically prevents us from realizing that. Trust me, it was pretty hard for me to write this.

Anyways, last time I spoke about the town of Písek that is an incredible hockey town in Southern Bohemia. It’s not a big town, but it’s not small either and its name means „Sand“. And even though they don’t have an Extraliga team and are much smaller than Liberec, a town with an Extraliga team plus in a setting that basically requires you to think about winter sports, Písek has raised many more great hockey players than Liberec.

Last time we talked about Marek Mazanec, so that’s one. Also in the NHL is Martin Hanzal, the big Coyotes centre. Then, two brothers, Jakub Kovář, a goaltender, and Jan Kovář, a forward, play in the KHL. Former Canadiens prospect Daniel Přibyl is also from Písek and many more guys who have made it in Czech professional hockey and you haven’t ever heard about them.

Here in Liberec we’ve got Petr Nedvěd and we also raised Ladislav Šmíd who was, however, born eslewhere. As for the Czech-based players, the number might be the same as that of those from Písek. But Písek has 30,000 inhabitants and we’ve got 100,000.

Miroslav Indrak

Miroslav Indrak

The reason why I’m bringing this up is Miroslav Indrák, another forward you’ve never heard about, but he was eligible for the 2013 draft and I thought he was pretty good. Last year he played in Pilsen for the Under-18 team and scored a goal in every game I checked. Then I saw him with the Under-18 national team and he scored again. He’s from Písek and he’s a goal-scorer. He was, also, an underdog that somehow made the Extraliga team in Pilsen this year, almost skipping the Under-20 category.

Too bad he didn’t get the call from the Under-20 national team as I’m sure he’d help a lot. With Pilsen, he scored his first Extraliga career goal in Liberec, right in front of my eyes which came as another surprise.

It might seem a little like a Christmas miracle (except it happened in November) since there are guys I barely notice no matter how many goals they score and than there’s Indrák who scores everytime I’m checking the live report or when I’m watching live.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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