Czech NHL rookies – Roman Simicek

By Robert Neuhauser
Even if Roman Simicek would be the best NHL rookie, he has no chance of winning the Calder Trophy. He is already 29 and no player older than 26 years can win this trophy. Maybe Roman didn’t even believe in making it to the NHL. But the fortune wanted it so. Better to say, Ivan Hilnka wanted it so. After this Czech coaching phenom became the head coach of the Pittsburgh penguins, he felt the need of a big skilled center who could play on a line with Jaromir Jagr. The former GM of Litvinov knew all possible Czech players and at the second draft day he told GM Craig Patrick to spent the ninth-round pick on a big skilled Czech center Roman Simicek. This really overager went to the Pens with the 273rd overall selection. His way to the NHL was free.

Roman was born 11-04-1971 and so 1990 eligible. In the years 1971 and 1972 there were a lot of future stars born in Czechoslovakia, for example Bobby Holik, Robert Reichel, Jaromir Jagr, Petr Nedved or Jan Caloun and Roman wasn’t playing a lot in the junior national teams. He was also scratched from the roster for the European championship of the Under-18 teams in 1989. No doubt that he was overlooked at the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. There were other Czech stars which could be selected, Jaromir Jagr topped the list.I don’t believe he worried a lot about this fact in the communistic Czechoslovakia. He had to worry about becoming a regular in the Extraleague after his junior days were over. He broke in the Elite League with HC Vitkovice and used his talent well. The sized center created a lot of smart plays and used his body to crash the boards with the opposition. Was also strong in front of opponent’s net and had undoubtable passing skills. Roman simply looked like younger Jiri Dopita. In 1995-96 Roman had his breakthrough year with HC Vtikovice, when he scored 22 points (11 goals + 11 assists) in 43 games for Vitkovice, along with 46 PIMs. In 1996 Vitkovice finished 10th in the Extraleague, that all was forgotten in 1997 when they stood in the finals against HC Petra Vsetin. Roman was third in team scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs, with 37 points for 18 goals and 19 assists in 49 regular season games and with 8 points (4 goals + 4 assists) in 9 playoff contests. Vitkovice lost against the phenom of Vsetin. But Roman broke into the National team at the Karjala Cup that year, where he scored his first goal among the Nats in the 2nd period of the 3-3 tie against home Finns. After that Roman played the following 11 games of the National team schedule without scoring a goal. But he was selected to play at the World Championships in Finland, under head coach Ivan Hlinka. The injury plagued Czechs finished with bronze medals and Roman recorded only 1 point in 9 games, but it was the game-winning goal against Germany. Was even in +/- along with 6 PIMs.

The 1997-98 season looked almost like the 1996-97 season. Roman was again third on Vitkovice scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs for the 3rd placed Vitkovice. Roman recorded 43 points for 16 goals and 27 assists in 40 regular season games, where he almost doubled his PIMs with 71. He scored 6 points (2 goals + 4 assists) in 9 playoff games. His season with the National Team consisted only of the Pragobanka Cup and two exhibition games against Team Canada, through he didn’t score a goal. Another bronze-medal success Roman could watch only in TV as he was injured in April.

In the summer of 1998 Roman felt that he wants no longer to stay with Vitkovice. He didn’t only want to change the team, he wanted to try another sort of hockey. He chose to play in the Finnish SM-liiga and signed with HPK Hameenlinna. The 1998-99 season was huge for Roman, he adjusted well to the fast SM-liiga and found his scoring touch as he finished 6th in league scoring. He recorded 51 points for 24 goals and 27 assists in 54 contests. At the end of the season he wore a bronze medal around his neck as Hameenlinna defeated SaiPa Lappeenranta 7:2 in the bronze medal playoff game. His season with the Czech national team began at the 21st April 1999 in the exhibition game against Russia. He didn’t appear at all the 1998-99 tournaments but in this game he scored a goal after 36 minutes of this 5-0 sweep. After one week he scored one more goal in the 6-3 win against Norway, the last exhibition game before the World Championships. He had his roster spot and played well for the gold-medal winning Czechs. His only goal came in the 8-2 win against Slovakia in the quarterfinal group, but Roman added 6 assists to help the Czechs to win the title. He finished 9th in team scoring but leading in PIMs with 26, due to a 10-minute penalty in the game against Russia, a 1-6 loss. After the two-game finals against Finland Roman could call himself a World Champion, that was the hilight of his career till now!

Because last season Roman played only two tournaments, the Pragobanka and the Baltika Cup. At both tournaments Roman scored goals in the opening games – both wins – against Sweden. Although he played well in HPK Hameenlinna, where he was joined with fellow Czech scorer Tomas Vlasak, he didn’t make the roster for the World Championship, won again by the Czechs. So he could be surprised after being told that he was drafted by the Pens. Ivan Hlinka wanted him to see in his team and Roman could reach the NHL immediately. He really made the team and flew to Japan for his first NHL game against the Predators. He did it – but he didn’t stay long at the line with Jaromir Jagr. Now when The Magnificent One is ready to return, Roman could find himself as the 5th center. We’ll see how he deals with this problem!