Pavel Brendl: A tale of a scorer

By Robert Neuhauser
Pavel Brendl was born on March, 23rd, 1981 in the small Czech city Nove Mesto nad Metuji
(Metuje is the name of the river which flows thru the provincial city) in a hockey family.
His father, Milan Brendl, was a former hockey player who enjoyed a succesfull but not stellar
hockey career in the city of Olomouc. His mother, Stanislava Brendlova also likes hockey so
it was no wonder when the little Pavel laced up the skates and took the stick into his
hands under the watchful eye of his dad already at the age of three. He learned to skate very
soon because his dad gave him lots of skating lessons and tips and taught him also the basics
of the hockey alphabet so that Pavel was more skilled than the other kids when started
playing organised hockey at the age of five. But it couldn’t be in the very small Nove Mesto
nad Metuji, it was in the nearby Opocno, which is sometimes stated as Pavel’s birthplace.

His natural talent, very good skating and puckhandling skills allowed him to dominate in the
games of the kids of the youngest grades and turn heads of the coaches. Pavel was always
playing at forward, even if coaches sometimes let the kids play all positions, even goalie,
before they finally decide about the position. He scored and scored a lot. This lasted for
five years.
In the summer of 1991 it was time to bring Pavel Brendl to a better team of
10-year old kids. A First League team was the best solution (the Extraleague didn’t exist
at that time) and HC Sparta Praha showed some interest in the future star. Pavel skated with
the 5th grade kids team of Sparta Praha during the summer, Pribram native Patrik Stefan,
who grew up playing for Sparta, was his teammate during the two months and it was the last
time the two prospect met on a same team. Because Sparta Praha didn’t show enough interest
in Brendl so he left the capital Praha and his dad placed him into the Olomouc team, a strong
First League team at that time. Not to mention that Olomouc was not so far away from his
birthplace than Praha. The whole family moved to Olomouc, where Pavel worked his way up to
the midget Extraleague. He played for all the teams of older grades kids, usually against
kids one year older than him and the midget Extraleague he also entered as an underage. In the
1995-96 season Pavel just accustomed himself on the roster of the midget team and played only
sparingly. He got used to the faster and more aggresive play in the midgets and in 1996-97
he had the leading role on the Olomouc midgets team. He did what he can best – score goals.

Pavel Brendl is natural goalscorer and he has it in his blood. He is a very good skater with
fast acceleration, even if his skating isn’t top-notch. He has a perfect hand-eye coordination
which he uses to fire very fast, highly accurate shots. His wrist shot is of high quality
and the slap shot is nearly as good. His nifty moves with the stick turn the heads of the
opposition and if Brendl has the puck on his stick, it’s very hot time for the opposing goalie.
On the downside, when he hasn’t, he doesn’t show lots of interest for the game and that was
a thing which was evident since he played for the midgets. He worked on it now but let’s
return to the midgets.

In 1996-97 Pavel always scored twice as more goals as assists. At
midseason he had 14 goals and 7 assists and he finished the year with 52 points (35 goals,
17 assists) in 40 games. That meant 11th place in the midget Extraleague scoring.
That season was also Pavel’s first when he wore the jersey of a junior national team. Pavel
played for the Under-16 team that year quite regularly but wasn’t selected to perform at the
Four Nations Tournament, that year played in Voskresensk, Russia.
He also practiced with the juniors and played sparingly for them but he moved up to the juniors
to play regularly for them in 1997-98. His goalscoring skill was immediately evident and
Brendl became to star of the junior team as a rookie. After 14 games Pavel already had 16 points
for 11 goals and 5 assists.
He was so good that he even played 16
games among the seniors in the Div I league. That year was comet-like for Brendl. He also
moved up right to the Under-18 team where had a big role. He finally went to Russia for the
Six Nations Tournament, this time of the Under-18 teams in Yaroslavl and he scored once in
the 5:3 win over Slovakia. He established himself on the team and the European Championship
of the Under-18 teams was waiting for him.

It was held in the Swedish cities Malung and Mora
and the NHL scouts got a taste of Brendl’s talent. He showed his nose for the net, soft
hands and swift skating against one year older opposition. His first goal Pavel scored in
the 12:1 drubbing of Norway and his second and final in the 7:1 win over Switzerland. That
year the Czechs had hard luck, only 2 goals they acquired in the game against Finland
prevented them from a jump over the Russians in the final group standings and a bronze medal.
They finished fourth and the Czech Republic is waiting for a medal from the Under-18 World
Championship till these days. But Pavel Brendl had a very solid performance and showed
that he’ll be a blue-chipper for the 1999 NHL draft. His 6 points (2 goals + 4 assists) were
underlining his strong performance against one year older competition.
He also posted very good numbers in the Junior Extraleague. In 36 games for the Olomouc
juniors Pavel scored 50 points for 28 goals and 22 assists to finish seventh in Junior
Extraleague scoring race.

Pavel Brendl was eager to have a taste of North American hockey and was convinced that the
CHL is way better for him than the Czech Div I league. He got drafted by the Calgary Hitmen
surprisingly low, 34th overall in the 1998 CHL Import Draft and soon after the draft the GM’s
probably kicked their butts for not taking Brendl. He wanted to come over and he turned
down HC Zelezarny Trinec offer to play for an Extraleague team and took the Hitmen jersey
instead.
If the 1997-98 season was comet-like for Brendl, then in 1998-99 the sky was the limit. The
flashy sniper with great instincts immediately got used to the WHL and started terrorize the
goalies with his scoring ability. He was switched from center to wing, where he had more freedom
for his offensive raids and since the beginning of the season Pavel averaged more than a goal
and two points pro game. His first WHL honor was The rookie of the month October award, but
it didn’t stay that long. Pavel was selected to play in the WHL All-star game and the Top
Prospect game. The only shadow was that head coach Jaroslav Holik didn’t select him to the
Under-20 WJC team. It was said that it was due to Brendl’s bad attitude and that he wasn’t
100 per cent sure that he wants to play. He forgot about it soon and he scored a goal even
in the Top prospects game after a nice backhand deke.
When the regular season was nearing to the end, Pavel Brendl was threatening the WHL record
for most points scored by a rookie held by New York Rangers’ Petr Nedved with 145 points.
Brendl didn’t make history but his numbers were totally impressive as he was just 0.03 shy
from a 2.00 points pro game average with 134 points for 73 goals and 61 assists in 68 games.
Another outstanding playoff performance only marked his way as a 1999 NHL draft top prospect.
Brendl also took the WHL trophy ceremony by storm as he took home the trophies for the
Top rookie and top goalscorer and was selected the All-star and All-rookie team. He was
also selected the Top rookie in the entire CHL and was voted to the All-rookie team.

Before the draft it was clear that one of Patrik Stefan, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Pavel
Brendl will enter the center stage as the
number one. At the evening before the draft it still wasn’t decided
who will be the lucky one. People from the New York Rangers staff talked to Pavel in the
evening, asking him if he thinks he is NHL ready and will play the next season. Pavel said an
emphatic yeah and things got rolling. The Rangers traded away starter Dan Cloutier and other
draft picks in order to move up to the fourth spot. Once that happened, they didn’t hesitate
to select Brendl who took the Rangers jersey over his head for the first time.

During his time in Calgary Pavel was billeted at the Boessenkool’s family and he taught
Mrs. Boessenkool cook some typical Czech foods because his parents visited him only twice
a season and sent him only Czech newspapers and videotapes with Czech films. Also before
the draft it was frequently said that Brendl’s eating habits don’t correspond with young
athlete’s needs. He liked the food he got in his new Calgary home too much and didn’t matter in the
WHL. It was a problem in the NHL. Pavel reported to the camp out of shape and refused to
fill coaches’ tactics and play defensively in his first camp. He also lacked productivity
and was returned for his sophomore season in the WHL.

Bitter disappointed, Pavel started to work on his defense to get rid of the label “one-dimensional”.
Also in the 1999-2000 Brendl wasn’t selected to the Under-20 WJC team which brought golden medals
home and he had to concentrate on the WHL career. The only numbers he doubled were the PIM’s,
94 compared to 40, but his scoring numbers dropped slightly to 111 points for 59 goals and 52
assists after 61 games which means a 1.82 point pro game average.
After the Hitmen playoff exit Pavel joined the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL for their playoff
run but played only 2 games in which he went scoreless.

His play at the Rangers camp was way better than in the previous year, Brendl combined well
with his Czech mates and tried to concentrate on defense. But still Brendl was among the last
cuts and was demoted again to the Calgary Hitmen for his final junior year. He played his
typical play with lethal shooting and smart passing skills and this time his play was more
well-rounded. His intensity while playing away from the puck didn’t wane so much and Pavel
tried to turn into a two-way forward.
And he was eager to play at the Under-20 WJC. He finally was selected and it was a stellar
showing crowned with the scoring title and a gold medal. His first goal came in the 9:1
thrashing of Kazakhstan and the second in the 5:0 win over Slovakia. He added 5 assists to
lead the Czech team in scoring after the regular group games. His two goals in the
quarterfinal game against Switzerland were highly important because the Czechs had to turn over
the game and the second goal was the game-winner. After the 1:0 win over Sweden the Czech
team stood in the final game. In the first period Brendl won the puck at the boards and passed
it to Rostislav Klesla who fired a slapshot blast which gave the Czech a 1:0 lead. Brendl
was on the ice also when Vaclav Nedorost scored the tournament-winning goal and he served
a minor penalty for hooking before. After the game he could finally celebrate the World
Championship title and and the Best forward selection.

He finished his WHL career with under 100 points in the last season. Pavel amassed 75 points
for 40 goals and 35 assists in 49 games and he finally wanted to crack the Rangers lineup.
The Eric Lindros saga influenced also his career. The fact was, that he didn’t have to crack
the Rangers roster any more, now it was the Philadelphia Flyers roster. Along with Jan Hlavac
he joined the Flyers and there were other Czech players like Roman Cechmanek, Jiri Dopita,
Tomas Divisek and Petr Hubacek so he could feel comfortable. He likely felt because his
mission was accomplished. He made the Flyers roster and he dressed for his first NHL game
in the Flyers opener against the Florida Panthers. In this game he also injured his ankle
so he won’t remember it as his best game. But let’s hope that there will be games Pavel will
remember because he scored NHL goals!