Just like all other participants at the 2014 Under-20 World Junior Championship, Team Czech Republic is amid its preparation for the annual pinnacle of the junior hockey season that is this time being held in the Swedish city of Malmö.
After a six-day training camp in Rokycany, just outside of Pilsen, the team's roster will be trimmed to its final shape and some players will be left at home, while others will leave for Scandinavia.
The training-camp roster includes Dallas Stars' 2012 first round pick, Radek Faksa, 2014 NHL Draft prospects Jakub Vrána, David Pastrňák and Ondřej Kaše, a 2015-draft prospect in Pavel Zacha, and a trio of goaltenders, each having a chance to become the number-one in the Czech net come the start of the WJC.
It is yet unknown whether the starter will be Dominik Hrachovina, a member of the Tappara organization in Finland; Daniel Dolejš, current number-one goaltender for HC Vítkovice Steel in the Czech Extraliga; or Marek Langhamer, a Phoenix Coyotes prospect who plays for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League.
Some say, however, that it is Langhamer who has the best chance of ending up as the starter for the team in Malmö.
Currently one of two netminders sharing goaltending duties for Medicine Hat, Langhamer started showing off his talents many years ago.
When time came to leave his hometown of Moravská Třebová to pursue better hockey training, Langhamer chose Pardubice, a top-notch hockey organization with an Extraliga team that is known for bringing up Dominik Hašek, the top Czech goalie of all time.
He became the starter for the Under-18 team in Pardubice at the age of fourteen and made his debut in the Under-20 category a year later. Soon he also became a national team goaltender at the Under-16 level and later he also played for the Under-17 and Under-18 national teams as his career progressed.
In 2010-11, Langhamer became the starter for the Under-20 team in Pardubice and, as a 16-year-old, played in his first four professional games for his team's First League affiliation in Chrudim. Later in that season, he guarded the Czech net at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg, where the team finished eighth.
After that, it was the young goaltender's draft year, which started in August at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament where he started in three of four games. Statistically, his season in the Under-20 Extraliga wasn't too impressive, but he still received an invitation for the 2012 Under-18 World Junior Championship nonetheless. The tournament, however, ended early for Langhamer as he was injured in his second game and the season was over for him. Patrik Polívka took over as the starter and the team eventually avoided relegation.
The season might have been over, but in June, a call came to Langhamer from his agent and it was a shocking one. The fact that the Phoenix Coyotes drafted him in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Draft surprised Langhamer, but he decided to make the most of it and found a CHL team to play for – the Medicine Hat Tigers.
In his first year in southern Alberta, Langhamer backed up goalie Cam Lanigan during the Tigers' trek to the WHL's Eastern Conference semifinals. This year, he has split time in net with Saskatoon native Daniel Wapple, but has better stats after 33 games played.
Hockey's Future interviewed the 19-year-old Langhamer at the Czech Republic's WJC training camp in Rokycany, Czech Republic.
Hockey's Future: Marek, what are the goals of your team at the upcoming Under-20 World Juniors?
Marek Langhamer: I think it's better for us not to set any goals, we should go one game at a time. Our first two opponents, Canada and the United States, are tough teams. We'll see how the group stage goes and then maybe set goals.
HF: You're going to Sweden with three quality goaltenders, besides you it's Daniel Dolejš and Dominik Hrachovina. What do you think about your chances to become the starter?
ML: If I'm given the chance, I'll be very happy to go to our net. The three of us support each other and we'll be alright whoever ends up in the net. We'll see who gets the start in Sweden.
HF: What would you say about the difficulty of this training camp?
ML: It's quite difficult, we spend a lot of time on the ice and we're always doing something. I'm used to practising one hour every day plus some time in the gym, but this is something else as we're almost always on the ice. Then, it's also important to rest and recover accordingly.
HF: Before the tournament starts, there's two more games for you to play as you meet Norway and Switzerland in Malmö. Those are certainly easier opponents than Canada or Russia, do you think it's better for you than if you played with some stronger teams?
ML: We have to be ready for anything and it might just happen that we meet these two teams again later at the Championships. I think it's good for us and we know that there's still a lot of things to improve.
HF: Back in 2012, you were drafted into the NHL by the Phoenix Coyotes. Can you talk about that?
ML: It was an awesome feeling, I received a message from my agent that I was drafted which was unexpected for both of us. It's been almost two years so it's about time to see what happens next, after this season.
HF: That also means you've been to a couple of rookie camps, right?
HF: People talk about the idea of having an NHL team in the desert a lot. What is your opinion?
ML: Sometimes the ice isn't good enough, especially when I was at my first rookie camp which was in a different arena, outside Phoenix. At least there's a cold place to go.
HF: Also, there are numerous Czechs playing for the Coyotes. Have you been in touch?
ML: No, I haven't. They were around, but only took part in the main training camp.
HF: The 2012 draft class was quite strong for Czechs and the upcoming 2014 draft class is expected to be just as strong. You've played with players from both classes, can you compare them?
ML: I knew some of the players who were drafted in 2012 and I also know Patrik Bartošák, who was drafted this June. I don't know many of the players from the upcoming draft class, however. Some of them are here with us and they look really good, too. But I haven't had enough time to get to know them better.
HF: There was a time when Tomáš Vokoun was the only Czech goalie in the NHL. Now there's more of them and with you, Bartošák and Marek Mazanec drafted recently, do you think that the Czech goaltending school is getting back some of its lost reputation from the days of Dominik Hašek?
ML: I think we've always had good goaltenders, as you say there might have been an empty spot, but that happens. If you look at Canada, they're looking for new goalies as well, so they created the rule disallowing European goalies to play in the CHL. I've read somewhere that they disallowed import forwards at one time and they got Sidney Crosby out of it so we'll see what happens now.
HF: You're talking about the new rule about import netminders. What's your take on it?
ML: If you look at it, you can see that goalies like Ondřej Pavelec and Michal Neuvirth got to the NHL via the CHL so maybe it will be a problem. Now, the young goalies will have to stay home or go to some other European country. You've got different ice rinks in Canada and it's much closer to the NHL which is so much different from European hockey.
HF: What about your position with the Medicine Hat Tigers?
ML: I was injured two times so I missed a couple of games due to that. We split time with the other goaltender and we'll see if that's the case during the second half of the season, too.
HF: Is there more pressure on you than if you played in the Czech Republic?
ML: I think there's more pressure than in the Under-20 Extraliga or in the First League, but I don't think it's bigger than in the Under-20 national team.
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