Czech 2003 Prospects: Jakub Cech

By Robert Neuhauser

When looking at the record book of the Czech Extraleague, you will find one name which may be familiar to the NHL fans in the future. Jakub Cech, the youngest goalie to ever play in the Czech senior Extraleague. Among all the 1985 born goalies Jakub looks like the most promising one, with a possible NHL career. But before Jakub Cech made his entry into the record book, he had a long way to go. Let’s start from the beginning.

Jakub Cech’s father was the usual person who brought his son to the game of hockey. Not that
he would enjoy a hockey career of his own, Jakub’s father Pavel Cech is a former handball
player, but got involved in hockey as a front office executive. Jakub Cech always liked hockey
and had the immediate role model in his father, but mostly in his older brother Michal, who
was playing hockey. Jakub saw his brother play and practice and was a frequent visitor to
the hockey arena in his native city Olomouc. And because he wanted to be just like his
brother, he entered the youngest grade team in Olomouc.

There he didn’t think of a goaltender’s career at first. His brother was playing forward
and Jakub also wanted to score goals and not prevent the others from scoring. He learned
very quickly how to skate, could move the puck quite well and it seemed that he is on the
way to a forward’s career. He spent the first years of his career at the forward’s position,
but when he was about the atom age, he began to be curious how does it feel to face the shots
and not fire them. He didn’t want to give up the forward’s career and wasn’t sure what position
he wants to play, so it often happened that Jakub played half of the game as a forward
and the other half as a goalie.

At the peewee age it was time to decide. Jakub saw that he probably won’t ever be a star
forward and finally took a chance on making success with the pads, blocker and glove. And
thanks to his natural talent the success came quickly. He had just to do different off-ice
workouts than when he was playing forward, but Jakub did them with pleasure. The first
signs that he is on the right track were the trophies for the Top Goaltender he won at
various youth tournaments. As Jakub got better in maturity and learned all the tools of the
goaltender’s trade, he began to earn a reputation of a bright goaltending prospect in his
region. The Olomouc 1985 born team was stocked with high quality players like Petr Vrana,
Ivo Kratena or Jiri Paska and soon they ruled the whole Czech hockey of their cathegory.
Jakub Cech between the pipes backstopped the Olomouc 1985 borns to three consecutive
championship titles. The first came in the 6th grade and the same success was repeated in the
7th and 8th grade. Jakub Cech could benefit from the coaching methods of experienced coach
Frantisek Kalab, who gave him lots of valuable tips how to improve his game and be better
focused.

After the glory days in the peewee and bantam age it was time for the best players to move
up to the midget cathegory. The top prospects often play as underagers among the midgets
and the same happened to Jakub Cech. Olomouc midgets head coach Jaroslav Beck promoted
the bright gem Jakub Cech already in the 1998-99 season for a cup of coffee to the Olomouc
midgets as a twice underage. He could practice with the team, see what it takes to play
in the midget Extraleague and prepare for the starter’s role. Speaking about learning and preparing, Jakub always watched two great goalies and tried to take the best from their game. His first role model is New Jersey Devils’ prodigy Martin Brodeur and the second is rather unknown to NHL fans, it’s Pardubice starter Adam Svoboda.

Primarily a standup goalie, Jakub boasts a very solid 6’0”, 180 lbs. frame, which enables him to cover lots of the net. Big, agile and blessed with tremendous poise, Jakub has learned how to make use of his superb instincts and reflexes. He is extremly tough to beat on all initial shots, but isn’t also vulnerable to rebounds. Jakub has an exquisite glove hand, often making saves which leave the crowd astounded. He has a very good leg speed, which makes him very strong down low. Jakub likes to challenge the shooter, anticipates the game very well and knows how to play his angles. He learned how to play in control and upgraded his mental focus a lot. On the downside Jakub has still to further improve his skating and movement in the crease and his play with the stick isn’t defintely his strong asset. Jakub has to learn how to play with the puck better, which will be essential for a success in North American hockey.

NHL is of course Jakub’s biggest dream. He doesn’t mind for what team he would play but the New York Rangers are Jakub’s favorite team. And that because he likes the city of New York in general.

Jakub Cech carried the Olomouc midgets on his young shoulders in 1999-2000. The youngest
starter in the whole midget Extraleague posted respectable numbers on an average team, where
he faced plenty of shots every game. From the top prospects only Petr Vrana and Ivo Kratena
were promoted full-time, too, the rest was playing for the 9th grade team and the midget
team didn’t make the playoffs. Jakub Cech appeared in 42 games, 2395 minutes, while giving up
121 goals for a 3.03 GAA.

In 2000-2001 the Olomouc midget team relied on Jakub Cech’s play again and his performance was
critical in the team’s success. Jakub played 34 games, 1892 minutes, facing 818 shots and giving up 74 goals. That effort meant a 2.35 GAA and a .9170 save percentage. However, at the near end of the season Jakub Cech clearly saw that he wouldn’t have much of a
future in Olomouc, where the team faced bancrupcy and all the quality players were leaving for better teams. So did all the better prospects, who went the direction of mostly Trinec, Zlin or Havirov. Along with Petr Vrana, Marek Frieb, 1986 born Pavel Rusek and coach Jaroslav Beck Jakub Cech headed Havirov, where his father was serving as the team’s GM at that time.

For one game was Jakub sent to the Havirov midget team, playing the whole 60 minutes, making 37 saves for a 2.00 GAA and a .9487 save percentage. But 9 games he played for the junior team as a twice underage, proving his outstanding maturity for such a young goalie. He stood between the pipes for 387 minutes, making 187 saves and letting in 20 goals, which was good for a 3.1 GAA and a .9034 save percentage.

The Czech Under-16 team coaches Karel Najman and Jaroslav Beck had an easy choice who to make the starter of the youngest junior national team. Jakub Cech was the one with most experience and he was invited to all tournaments of the season. He performed in three three-game series, against the Under-16 teams of Slovakia, Switzerland and Russia and also at the top tourney, the Four Nations tournament played in Voskresensk, Russia, where the young Czechs captured victory. For the Under-16 team Jakub played 5 games, 300 minutes, which topped the team’s goalies. He made 125 saves and gave up 19 goals. This meant a 3.8 GAA and a .8681 save percentage.

He didn’t remain only at the junior level. At the beginning of the next season, 2001-2002, Jakub Cech established a senior Extraleague record. In a home game against Trinec he replaced the starting goalie for a few seconds to make himself the youngest goalie to ever play in the Czech senior Extraleague. At that time was Jakub 16 years and 1 month old, bypassing Milan Hnilicka, the current netminder of the Atlanta Thrashers. But the team’s brass couldn’t oversee Jakub’s rare talent and finally has kept him in the senior team to fill a backup role behind starter Pavel Cagas.

Because of Cagas Jakub also changed his favorite number from 29 to 30. Cagas was playing with the number 29 on his back, so Jakub had to play with 30.
In a game at Zlin Jakub saw his first longer action and also gave up his first senior goal. However, he maintained the backup spot with his stellar play, posting a 4.81 GAA and a .8929 save percentage after playing 10 games, 486 minutes.
He saw more action for the junior team, where he was the clear starter. After serving as a backup for the senior team he was ready to perform in the junior games as the starting goalie. Jakub played 35 games for the Havirov juniors, 2100 minutes. He faced lots of shots every game, 1194 overall, while giving up on 101 goals. This was good for a 2.89 GAA and a .9220 save percentage. For 4 games he was sent even to the midget team, playing the full 240 minutes, making 91 saves and letting in 6 goals. His stats were a 1.5 GAA and a .9381 save percentage.

Jakub split the past international season between the Under-17 and even the Under-20 team. The most important event of his season with the Under-17’s came at the World Hockey Challenge, where he shared the goaltending duties with Pardubice netminder Vladislav Koutsky. The next two appearances at the Four Nations tournaments rounded out Jakub’s stats at 6 games played, 332 minutes, 152 saves and 19 goals against for a 3.43 GAA and a .8889 save percentage. After the disastrous WJC the Czech Under-20 started the rebuilding phase and Jakub Cech was invited the Four Nations tournament, making his debut with oldest junior team as a rare 16-year old.

After the previous season Jakub underwent a knee surgery in order to get rid of his knee problems. He rehabbed the knee during the summer and was in perfect health when the season was about to start.
For this season is Jakub Cech, nicknamed “Cachy” from his surname, again the backup goalie of the Havirov seniors, behind starter
Petr Svoboda. The team is by far the worst in the senior Extraleague this season and will only fight to avoid relegation. This means that Jakub faces lots of shots every game he plays and will probably carry a heavy workload. He also frequently plays for the Havirov junior team, where he of course starts the games and is a wellcomed boost for the junior games.
On the international scene he will continue his play for the Under-20 team, but is likely to be send down to the Under-18 team for the most important events of the season, like the Under-18 WJC next April.

Jakub Cech has quite a lot of hockey superstitions and one thing he has to do before each game is stepping on the ice with his right foot first. He believes that this will bring him luck for the game.
In order to be better prepared for coming over to North America Jakub studies English full-time
at a language school in Havirov. He doesn’t attend any other subjects, but is working on
upgrading his English skills. When Jakub isn’t studying or playing games, then he is mostly
resting and relaxing by playing videogames. This is his most beloved free time activity.
When it comes down to other sports than hockey, then Jakub prefers to play tennis, which is
usual among the Czech players. Jakub is a calm, easy-going guy who often just listens to
the songs played in the radio or watches TV movies, where “Pulp Fiction” is his favorite.
As far as food and drinks are concerned, Jakub isn’t very demanding. He eats and drinks
everything he gets for his dinner.

Jakub’s personal plan for this season is helping his team to avoid relegation to the Div I league and after that the NHL Entry Draft is waiting for him. The CHL isn’t a closed chapter for Jakub, he is still considering coming over to play junior in North America, but this will happen from the situation after the draft. If the right owner will want him to come over, Jakub will be ready. But can also stay with Havirov or some other Czech team and fight for the starter’s role. The exact decision will fall in the summer.