Czech goaltending prospects: Tomas Sturala

By Robert Neuhauser
Czech hockey was always known for producing quality netmiders, the Czechs delivered lots
of their top goaltending talent to the NHL and new prospects are waiting in the wings to
fight for their NHL chance. One of them is Zlin juniors’ goaltender Tomas Sturala.

At first it wasn’t obvious that Tomas Sturala is on the beginning of a hockey career. None
of his relatives has played hockey at an elite level, so he didn’t have someone in his
family who would
bring him to the game and learn him the hockey alphabet. He just liked sports, that was it.
And in that moment advertising of hockey made its use. Tomas was normally attending the first
grade of the elementary school in his native Novy Jicin, like thousands of other kids in their
hometowns. And one day the head coach of the Novy Jicin 1st grade team Josef Cink made the
trip to Tomas’ school to ask the kids if they don’t want to play hockey. Looking at that
day now, Tomas Sturala, nicknamed “Stury” or “Stuly” from his surname,
is definitely the jewel of that day’s crop. The little Tomas felt that
hockey is the right decision for him and after some talk with his parents began to attend
the hockey practices in Novy Jicin.

Most kids prefer to score goals and dream of the forward position. But then there are other
individuals, who want to prevent those from scoring and become the individual players in a
collective sport, simply goalies. Tomas Sturala was one of them. He was very comfortable
with the pads, glove and blocker and obviously liked to stand between the pipes. In the
first years he sometimes felt the need of scoring a goal and at some practices he dressed up
as a center or right winger, but those attempts did never last very long. After spending some
time as a forward he clearly saw that his place is between the pipes and finally decided to
play the goaltender’s position.

With this important decision behind him, he began to do lots of gymnastic workouts in order
to upgrade his dexterity. Tomas had the necessary physical tools to become a resilient netminder
and wanted to build his style on this. He had success and because he was also born with very
fast reflexes, his star was on the rise. Tomas Sturala was the starting goaltender of the
Novy Jicin 1985 borns team on most tournaments and the defensemen could feel more confident
when they knew that behind them is playing a terrific goalie who can make up for their
possible mistakes. Like every other team Novy Jicin was participating at various youth
tournaments and at least once in a season it was Tomas Sturala who earned the Top goaltender
honors. He was slowly making a reputation as one of the best Czech 1985 borns goaltenders
for himself and began to draw attention from the Extraleague teams, who wanted him to be
added to their prospect pipeline.

But when Tomas changed the team for a while, it wasn’t an Extraleague team where he headed.
He was loaned for three months to the Frydek-Mistek team. That happened when Tomas was playing
for the 7th grade team. The three months spent in Frydek-Mistek were useful for Tomas as he
could benefit from the methods of experienced coach Jaroslav Havlik and was logging a lion’s
portion of playing time. After his return to Novy Jicin he continued his stellar play and emerged
as the leader of his team.
Unfortunately, the next season could the Novy Jicin 8th grade team compete only at a low
level against the bottom teams, so Tomas was getting ready for accepting an offer from one
of the Extraleague teams.

For the 1999-2000 season the Novy Jicin 9th grades moved up again and Tomas decided to stay
for one more year. Coach Fleischmann, father of Detroit Red Wings’ draftee and current
Moose Jaw Warrior Tomas Fleischmann, took over the coaching duties of the team. He worked
with Tomas a lot and gave him lots of good tips how to improve his game. Also thanks to this
he got promoted as an underage to the Novy Jicin midget team, which competed in the Div I
midget league. Tomas played 4 games, 201 minutes, let in 15 goals and made 15 saves, which
was good for a 4,48 GAA and a .5000 save percentage.
Tomas appreciated this chance,
but it was clear that he is going to change the team at the end of the season.
When that time came, he accepted the Zlin offer and joined their system, ready to start
playing in the midget Extraleague.

There he didn’t need to watch the games as a backup goalie, coaches Stanislav Prikryl and
Jaroslav Stuchlik saw his talent and made Tomas the starter for the Zlin midgets in 2000-2001.
Tomas was playing behind one of the better teams of the midget Extraleague, but still was
facing quite a lot of shots and quality chances, at an average of 30 shots per game. He
flourished under this duty and showed that he is able to carry the team on his shoulders.
He didn’t let the pressure bother him and proved that he is one of the best netmiders of the
midget Extraleague. In 44 games for the Zlin midgets in 2000-2001 Tomas played 2569 minutes,
made 1309 saves while letting in 134 goals, which meant a GAA of 3.13 and a save percentage
of .9071.

His international career had its start also in 2000-2001. He was invited to a three-game
series against the Under-16 team of Switzerland, played in Turnov, Czech Republic. He stood
between the pipes for one game, posting 20 saves, a 3.00 GAA and a .8696 save percentage.

Zlin midgets planned to start a haunt for the midget Extraleague championship title in
2001-2002 and Tomas Sturala was a key player in their plans. He had a huge change before that
season, he started to wear the normal goaltender’s mask after playing his whole career with
Dominik Hasek-like helmet and a wired visor. He felt this is better for him and really
showed a stellar play during the whole season. Tomas was the clear starter of the team,
bringing the high-stocked team to the midget Extraleague finals. There they lost twice to
the Trinec midgets, who claimed the title. But this is still the biggest success of Tomas’
career so far. On the way to the second place overall Tomas played 41 games and 1868 minutes,
making exactly 800 saves and notching 66 goals against. His stats were a 2.12 GAA and a .9238
save percentage.
As the top goaltending prospect in the Zlin system, Tomas Sturala made his junior Extraleague
debut in 2001-2002 as an underager. He saw action in 2 games for 109 minutes, posting 6
goals against while making 56 saves for a 3.3 GAA and a .8947 save percentage.

He appeared on one tournament for the Czech Under-17 team in 2001-2002, at a Four Nations
Tournament played in the Slovak city Prievidza. Tomas played all three games, 135 minutes,
making 85 saves and letting in 8 goals. This effort was good for a 3.56 GAA and .9140 save
percentage.

This August Tomas recorded a stellar appearance at the World Junior Cup, bringing the Czech
Under-18 team to the silver medals. Tomas replaced Vladislav Koutsky in the Czech net after
the first game and maintained the starter’s status. He had a great game against Russia,
a 2:1 win, where he was the top player of the game. Unfortunately he got pulled from the
final game against Canada after letting in three goals in the first four minutes. But this
wasn’t only Sturala’s fault, the whole team had a horrible start into the game.

Tomas made the succesfull leap to the junior Extraleague in 2002-2003, establishing himself
as the starter of Zlin juniors. The team is considered as an average one this season, with
Tomas facing lots of raids of the opposition. In the first 6 games Tomas played 263 minutes,
making 99 saves and letting in 15 goals for a 3.42 GAA and a .8684 save percentage.

Tomas Sturala is a butterfly-style netminder who takes pride in his grace and athleticism.
Blessed with exceptionally fast reflexes and a mental toughness, Tomas is a resilient goalie
with a very good dexterity. He is very tough to beat on all initial shots and has a good
control of all rebounds. However, he doesn’t like much traffic in front of him. Tomas has
a fast glove hand and is quickly back on his skates after dropping to a butterfly. Tomas
has a very good focus and doesn’t let a bad goal bother him. He needs to be involved in the
games and before each game he prepares himself mentally for the game. Tomas has an average
stickhandling ability, he isn’t a liability with the puck, but also isn’t great here.
He has a decent movement in the crease and could still work on this skill. Thanks to his
5’10”, 160 lbs. frame size he doesn’t cover much of the net with his body, but makes up
for this drawback with his superb agility and quickness. Tomas has the
athleticism and determination to mature into a very good goalie with some chances to
play a backup role in the NHL.

He doesn’t have one exact hockey role model, he tries to watch all the good goalies and
take the best from their game. The way how the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings
became his favorite NHL teams is a bit funny. Tomas is a huge fan of the video game NHL 2002
from EA Sports and when he plays this game, he always plays for either the Flyers or Red
Wings.

Sleep is probably the most frequent activity in Tomas’ free time. He knows how relaxing is
important for an athlete and often takes a rest. When he is awake, then he likes to spend
time with his girlfriend. School takes him also a big piece of his time, Tomas is in the
third year of his studies at the bussiness academy “Tomas Bata” in Zlin. When it’s time for
some other sport than hockey, then it has to be at least some sport where is played with
sticks and a ball. Tomas likes to play floorball and since the previous year he began to
play also in-line hockey, as a goalie, of course. Music plays a huge role in Tomas’s life,
who prefers to listen to the disco and techno styles. The German group Scooter is his
favorite. Fast-food restaurant owners would be very happy about Tomas, who is most happy
with a pizza or hamburger for his dinner. Among drinks Tomas would choose a coke.

He wants to take the European route to the NHL and doesn’t plan to come over to play
in the CHL. His first dream is playing for Zlin in the senior Extraleague and after that
he’ll see what his NHL chances are. Good luck!