Top Czech Under-17 team players: Vojtech Polak

By Robert Neuhauser
It didn’t happen very often in the history of Czech hockey that a line would be so dominating
on the international junior stage like the Vojtech Polak-Petr Vrana-Ivo Kratena line. Young
guns of the late 80’s Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Holik and Robert Reichel also formed a great line
and the three 1985 born blue-chippers draw many comparisons to them when speaking about
their level of skill. The scorer of this line and the most offensive player is the right
winger Vojtech Polak, the current captain of the Czech Under-17 team.

Vojtech Polak had ‘hockey player’ written all over him since he was born. Just like many stars of the
past and future he was born in a hockey family. His dad, also of the name Vojtech Polak, is
a respected youth coach and the current coach of Karlovy Vary’s 5th grade team. Just as the
little Vojtech could walk, he also became his first pair of skates and his dad laced him the
tights up for the first time. So it came that already at the age of two years Vojtech Polak
took his first strides. He was born in the small city Ostrov nad Ohri, but lives his whole
life in the famous spa city Karlovy Vary and at the local rink he also learned how to keep
balance on his skates. The little kid was very talented, when he was four, Vojtech was already
a solid skater for his age, took the stick into his hands and touched the black piece of
rubber for the first time. His hockey career began very early, at the mere age of four Vojtech
Polak was admitted into the Karlovy Vary’s pre-novice cathegory and also played his first
game. From the very first games his dad worked with him a lot, gave him all the tips and
warned him from possible mistakes. A huge factor in the beginnings of Vojtech’s career was
also his mother, who followed him to the practices and was also a help for him in off-ice
activities. He especially appreciates her cooking skills, an apple pie from his mother is
the most favorite food of Vojtech.

Vojtech was born with a tremendous talent for hockey and this was evident since the start
of his career. From those first youth tournaments Vojtech has a lot of trophies at home as
he won a lot of medals and awards, mostly for the Best forward. Those trophies are now
stored at his home. Vojtech Polak was soon way better than most of the opponents of his
age, so he started to perform against older opposition. His dad was his first coach, now with
the older teams he also could feel the methods of other coaches. Also against guys one or
two years older than him Vojtech could dominate with his superb smarts and offensive talent
so when he was about pee-wee age, he was already known as a kid with a bright future ahead
of him. The coaches informed his parents that they really have a rare gem at home and Vojtech
began to fully concentrate on a hockey career. A good player won’t turn into a special player
with love and dedication to the game and Vojtech was aware of this. He did a lot of special
workouts, either to bulk up or to improve his finesse skill. Vojtech admires the dedication of Czech javelin
thrower and Olympic winner Jan Zelezny to his sport and has the same work ethic.
Another motivation for him is the book Lifestory of Wayne Gretzky, which is his favorite.
From that piece of literary work Vojtech recognized what it takes to reach the NHL.

Another sign of that he is on the right track was the fact, that Karlovy Vary midgets coach
Miki Antonik called him up from the
8th grade team right to the midgets as a 13-year old in 1998-99. That season he was one of
the youngest players in the whole Czech midget hockey. Because he was a twice underage, he
didn’t play the whole schedule for the midgets, but left an impressing performance for a
player of his age.
He took the highest grades teams
by storm and coming 1999-2000, he was ready to perform for the Karlovy Vary midgets full-time.
But before he started doing so, he received another honor. He was an underage invitee to the
selection camp for the Under-16 team of the 1984 borns and made the coaches turn his heads
with his superb offensive instincts. One year younger than the opposition, but still Vojtech
Polak was named to the all-star team of the selection tournament and the begin of his
international career was awaiting him soon.

Polak is an extremly talented offensive forward
with a terrific hockey sense and vision. Has a nose for the net and likes to have
the puck on his stick. Polak is a poised and confident player who stays calm in important
game situations. He is a very good skater with a nice burst of speed and good balance.
Polak is a very smooth puckhandler who can make many elusive moves
to fool the defense and score. He is a superb stickhandler has both his wrist and slap shot hard
and accurate plus can make nice passes. Vojtech is a threat on every powerplay and his knack
for scoring goals is really rare. He will be a complete player soon, but still has two
drawbacks. He needs to work on play off the puck as his intensity vanes sometimes when he
is off the puck. The second thing then is his defensive awareness, where he needs to improve.

He was clearly the best underaged player of the midget Extraleague in 1999-2000. The just 14 years
old forward could avoid any scoring slump and kept producing in a steady way en route to
a 40-point effort for 17 goals and 23 assists in 46 games. This was enough to win the
Karlovy Vary midgets scoring title by 3 points over Roman Prazak.
He also contributed to the fact that he really has no trouble with facing older opponents.
The Karlovy Vary junior team was struggling and Vojtech Polak got an emergency recall from already
the juniors. He couldn’t score any points against players often six years older than him, but
he also saw a minimum of ice time. His junior stint in 1999-2000 lasted for 3 games.
On the international stage Vojtech Polak was wearing the Czech national team jersey for the
first time in the fall of 1999 as a member of the Under-16 team. His first international
tournament was a three-game series against the Slovaks, in which he was held scoreless. The
major event of his inaugural international season was the Four Nations Tournament of the Under-16
teams, played in Angerholm, Sweden. The young Czechs won the whole tournament and this was
the first time Vojtech was on a team which won a major trophy.

For the first time in his career he had to face such a grueling schedule for a 14-year old
and became aware of how a good relax is important. In his free time he often does calm
relaxing activitites, like going to a river and fishing or going through a forest and look
for mushrooms. He also spents a lot of time with his girlfriend or is
just sleeping in order to have enough strength for the games. But Vojtech doesn’t live only for
hockey offense and scoring goals. From other sports Vojtech
prefers to play tennis, which is his second favorite sport to hockey. He also likes to go for
bike trips or to swim.

The 2000-2001 season made from Vojtech Polak a highly coveted prospect and the NHL scouts
could rave about his talent and skill level. He soon began to be considered as a possible
first round pick for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. No wonder, just read this.
The biggest part of the season Vojtech spent with the Karlovy Vary midgets on the first line
and also as the go-to star. He slowly had nothing to prove in the midget cathegory as he
scored 55 points for 29 goals and 26 assists in just 36 games.
He got promoted to the junior team again and this time he averaged more than 1 point per
game as a twice underage! In 12 games played in the junior ranks Vojtech posted 7 goals and
7 assists, good for 14 points. But the top of the season was still to come.
At the end of 2000-2001 the Karlovy Vary seniors made him the second youngest player to play
in the senior Extraleague that season, after Rostislav Olesz from Vitkovice. It was again
an emergency recall and there was no better player on the Karlovy Vary junior team than the
promising 15-year old Polak. He didn’t know about the recall till the morning of the day
which should become the day of his senior debut. His dad just told him that he has to
attend the morning skate of the seniors instead of the juniors and in the evening he already
was in the lineup for the senior Extraleague game against Trinec. Vojtech was used just on the
fourth line, but received a very good review from assistant coach Pesout, who said that he could
be performing full-time for the senior team coming 2002-2003. But in his first Extraleague
season Vojtech Polak played 2 games, against Trinec and Havirov, and didn’t register any points.

His international 2000-2001 season was nothing but terrific. Vojtech stayed for the whole
season with the Under-16 team again, finally playing with players of his own age. He was
selected captain of the team and ‘The Great Line’ was founded. The combo of him, Petr Vrana
and Ivo Kratena clicked totally well and they were terrorizing the opponents since the
very first game. Vojtech was waiting till the third game of a three-game series against Slovakia, which was the first tournament of the season,
to rip the Slovaks
totally off. In that game he scored an outstanding number of 8 goals to lead the Czechs to
a 11:2 win! During that series he added two more assists for a total of 10 points.
His linemates Vrana and Kratena were lightening up the lamp at the next tournament, a three-game
series against the Swiss team, while Polak concentrated on the playmaking role more and didn’t
score any goal.
But at the next tournament, a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Russia, he won
the Czech scoring as usual. After posting a hattrick in the second game and one goal in the
third he finished with 4 goals. Even then this wasn’t his best performance.
He was waiting for another Four Nations Tournament of the Under-16’s, this time in Yaroslavl, Russia.
For the first time ‘The Great Line’ was joined by the “fourth forward” Jiri Drtina on
defense and no team was better than the Czechs. After a wild 7:7 tie with the Russians they
have beaten the Swedes and the Finns and won the tournament. Captain Polak led the team in
scoring again, when he posted 6 points for 5 goals and 1 assist. This was enough for him to
be selected the best player of the whole Four Nations Tournament.
His overall numbers for the Czech Under-16 team in 2000-2001 are great. He won the Czech
overall scoring by three points over Petr Vrana and by ten over Ivo Kratena, when he recorded
27 points for 17 goals and 10 assists in 15 games! He was also the champion in +/-, when his
+26 was the team’s best. Only his number of PIMs, 37, wasn’t the best on the Under-16 team.

It was obvious that Vojtech won’t remain in the midgets for the 2001-2002 season. In fact,
he dressed up for just 2 midget games, registering 3 points for 1 goal and 2 assists. This
year he was already a core player of the Karlovy Vary juniors, when he appeared in 36 games.
Coach Martin Pesout has put him on a line with Petr Sinagl and former CHLer Jan Soukup and
this line was dominant in the junior team. Vojtech Polak’s effort was good for a total of
25 points for 11 goals and 14 assists.
He got promoted to the senior team again, along with
his linemates Sinagl and Soukup. Vojtech skated 9 games with the Karlovy Vary seniors, posting
also his first Extraleague goal in a game at Sparta Praha. That goal he scored against Czech
golatending icon Petr Briza and states this as one of the things which made him very happy
in the near past. His overall numbers for the senior team this season are those 9 games,
1 goal and 1 assist.

From the international competition, Vojtech stayed the whole season with the Under-17 team.
Petr Vrana is the only player from ‘The Great Line’ to perform already for the Under-18 team.
Vojtech participated at two Four Nations Tournaments this season, but the season’s high
came at the famous World Hockey Challenge. With his great offensive play Vojtech left a
very good performance there and the NHL scouts also noticed that fact. Even if he suffered
a mild concussion there, the Czech captain notched 12 points for 6 goals and 6 assists to
finish fourth overall in the World Hockey Challenge scoring. However, linemates Vrana and
Kratena posted even better numbers, with the first winning the scoring title and the latter
finishing second overall. But during the tournament Vojtech had to battle the problems caused
by the concussion.

Washington Capitals’ star and future Czech legend Jaromir Jagr is along with Ottawa Senators’
sophomore Martin Havlat the hockey role model for Vojtech Polak. Both are highly skilled
offensive wingers, just like him. Vojtech’s favorite jersey number is the number 24, which
follows him during his whole career.
He lives for sports and is also in his second year of studies at a
secondary school for sports in Karlovy Vary, which is visited for example by Under-18 team’s
goaltender Lukas Mensator, too. The next year will be highly important for Vojtech. The NHL
Entry Draft is awaiting him and it will decide about his future. He has no exact favorite
NHL team, so whatever team will select him, he will be happy. But now he looks like a lock
to be a first-rounder. Good luck!