Czech 2004 prospects: Zdenek Bahensky

By Robert Neuhauser

The Czech team Litvinov is unmatched by any other Czech franchise in the number of quality forwards delivered to the NHL. The likes of Martin Rucinsky, Robert Lang or Robert Reichel were all raised in the small Czech city near where hockey means everything. And the pipeline isn’t drying out. Another promising forward from Litvinov is Zdenek Bahensky, a 2004 eligible right winger.

Zdenek Bahensky had a perfect mentor at his disposal from the time he was born. His father of the same name made his living playing hockey in the former Czechoslovakian Elite League and therefore the young Bahensky had hockey in his bloodlines. As soon as he could walk he followed his father to hockey practices and games and at the mere age of three years he laced up the skates for the first time. His father wanted him to learn how to skate and Zdenek enjoyed being on the ice a lot. Because he had hockey all around him, he also didn’t think of playing any other sport. After he could make his first strides, he was admitted to play for the entry level team of his hometown, Litvinov. He had many great players to look upon, at that time was the young Robert Reichel ripping the Elite League apart and Zdenek Bahensky wanted to score goals, too. Genetics would have to put him on defense, his father called the blue line his home, but Bahensky was more eager to battle the defenses and create offense.

The skating drills payed off as Bahensky could take advantage of his effective, smooth stride to slip through defenses with his speed. He also boasted an impressive work ethic and a winning attitude, which flourished under the guidance of experienced Litvinov youth coach Vaclav Cerny. He recognised Bahensky’s raw skill and a deceptive scoring touch and gave him tips how to improve his all-round play. In addition, he selected him captain of the Litvinov 3rd grade team thanks to his strong leadership. From that time for five years, until he moved up to the midget category, Bahensky was captaining his team.

Every year the Litvinov team took part in various youth tournaments and it was often Zdenek Bahensky, who captured an individual trophy, mostly for the best forward. But as he grew in age, the competition became stiffer and Bahensky had to look to also improve his overall strength, because pure skill alone didn’t bring him scoring chances anymore. So besides school and hockey practices he became dedicated to various off-ice workouts in order to upgrade his strength and conditioning. His father was helpful in this process and from the pee-wee level Bahensky, nicknamed ‘Bahnak’ from his surname or ‘Zdenice’ from his first name, could withstand the physical challenges relatively easily. He didn’t lose any of his offensive knack and became talked about as another highly promising forward from the well-known Litvinov. But he wasn’t the only go-to player on the squad, talented forward Lukas Kaspar also turned heads and stole the show at some tournaments. The two were a leading force in the front lines, which was highlighted by an impressive run in the 8th grade. That season was the best of Bahensky till his midget years, he scored 65 goals and was trailing only teammate Kaspar by 10 goals to lead the Litvinov 8th grade team in scoring.

Zdenek Bahensky’s strongest asset is his smooth skating and good quickness. He shows strong bursts of speed along with an above-average agility. He isn’t afraid of the physical stuff, playing with an edge and going regularly into traffic areas. At 6’1”, 175 lbs. Bahensky is still a bit skinny and will need to bulk up, though. A tricky puckhandler, Bahensky possesses considerable smarts and has decent shooting skills. His wrist shot is blessed with a quick release, but could use some improving in the accuracy of his slap shot. Bahensky isn’t an one-dimensional player and has made strides in improving his defensive awareness. He has to further develop his consistency, he can be a real force when on his ‘A’ game, but also disappear in some games.

Even though he was still 9th grade team eligible, he didn’t dress out for any games. Litvinov midgets head coach Milan Kral liked what he saw from Bahensky on the 8th grade level and decided to put him into a trial-by-fire in the midget Extraleague as an underager in 2000-2001. Bahensky could survive and and fight out a regular spot in the Litvinov midgets offensive rotation. He spent the first part of the season learning, but found himself comfortable around midseason, taking advantage of his combination of brain and brawl. In his first midget Extraleague season, Bahensky appeared in 49 games, scoring 14 points for 8 goals and 6 assists to go along with a +/- of +5 and 30 PIMs.

He was counted on to build on the experience from his first midget Extraleague campaign and take on a bigger role on the midget team in 2001-2002. He wasn’t afraid of mixing it up, resulting into a respectable number of PIMs, 102. But besides being a strong physical presence Bahensky could work on his consistency and become a steady point-producer. He dressed out for 48 games, registering 33 points for 16 goals and 17 assists and a +/- of -8. His defensive play suffered a bit, but overall Bahensky recorded a good season and it was obvious that he won’t benefit from another midget turn. A promotion to the junior team was very likely.

But first he made a name for himself on the international stage. He left a very good impression at the national selection camp and as a player with one year of midget Extraleague experience was asked to emerge as one of the Under-16 team leaders. Bahensky, who admires New York Rangers forward Pavel Bure, had his season highlighted with an appearance at the Four Nations Tournament, played in Praha, Czech Republic, where the Czechs finished third. He also participated in three-game series against the Slovak and Swiss players, completing his Under-16 season stats at 14 games played, 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, an even +/- and 8 PIMs.

In 2002-2003, Bahensky said goodbye to the midget Extraleague. He helped the midget team only on three occasions, averaging more than a point per game with 4 points for 2 goals and 2 assists, an even +/- and no PIMs. The junior Extraleague was another challenge for him and Litvinov juniors head coach Josef Beranek, father of ex-NHL player of the same name, was confident that Bahensky can handle the rigors of the elite junior level after a good showing in the preseason games. Bahensky’s offensive output dipped to modest totals during the regular season, but he had to get accustomed to the junior play first. Still, he pulled off some impressive showings, especially with an offensive outburst in the final quarter of the season, which saw him register a point per game. Overall, in 43 junior games, Bahensky scored 18 points for 10 goals and 8 assists, an even +/- and 32 PIMs.

Bahensky was one of the key players for the Czech Under-17 team in 2002-2003. He participated in the Five Nations Tournament, played in the Czech Republic. At the Four Nations Tournament in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Bahensky scored a goal in the final game against the USA squad, but after a penalty shootout the Czechs finished second. He took part also in the European Youth Olympic Games, played in Bled, Slovenia, where he scored in the game against Sweden. Unfortunately, the young Czechs finished at the fourth place after losing to Finland in the shootout. Two weeks after that Bahensky made the trip to the Four Nations Tournament of the Under-17 team, played in Podolsk, Russia. Just like at the previous tourney, he registered a marker against the Swedes to secure the Czechs a second-place finish.

This summer he hit the ice even with the senior team of Litvinov, head coach Frantisek Vyborny, father of Columbus Blue Jackets forward David Vyborny, wanted to give the youngster a chance and put him into the lineup for an all-star exhibition event first. Bahensky responded with being selected the game MVP and continued his stint with the senior team with an appearance in the summer Tipsport Cup, thus far in one game.

Bahensky also took part in the 2003 World Junior Cup, the first event of the Under-18 teams in the season. Counted on as one of the team leaders, even if Bahensky wasn’t a disappointment, he didn’t register an impressive showing. He battled for the pucks and displayed solid grit, but his offensive output was below average with just 1 assist in 5 games.

A computer freak, Zdenek Bahensky attends a high school in Litvinov which is focused on mechanical engineering and computers. This takes a good chunk of his non-hockey time, but Bahensky still finds time to relax and hang out with his friends. In other sports than hockey, Bahensky prefers to play table tennis or tennis. He also practices basketball a lot. A music fan, Bahensky lists the grunge legend from Seattle, Nirvana, his favorite and among movies he likes to watch the movie Gone in Sixty Seconds, starring Nicolas Cage. His eating habits coincide with the needs of a professional athlete, but he is still most happy with Chinese food with chips, which only have to be cooked by his mother.

Zdenek Bahensky’s goals for this season are cracking the senior team lineup, but didn’t rule out the possibility of coming over to play in the CHL next year. He has the tools to be a solid mid-round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.