Czech 2005 prospects: Tomas Kudelka

By Robert Neuhauser

Czech hockey is more known for developing top-notch offensive talent,
but a number of Czech defensemen enjoy solid NHL careers as well. One of those
eager to join the likes of Roman Hamrlik, Rostislav Klesla or Jaroslav
Modry is Tomas Kudelka, a defenseman from the Zlin junior team.

Kudelka had relatively a late beginning to his hockey career. He
wasn’t born in a family where anyone was involved in
hockey in any way and didn’t have anybody who would bring him to the
game. Kudelka just liked sports, but didn’t prefer any particular one. At that
time advertising of hockey paid off. The team in his native city,
Zlin, Czech Republic, made a call to all elementary schools in the
city, if any of the kids would be interested in playing organized
hockey. Tomas Kudelka was already eight years old and still not playing
any sport, so he decided to give hockey a try.

From that time on, he went to the Ludek Cajka Arena in Zlin
regularly. Kudelka laced up the skates for the first time and began to learn how
to skate and move the puck. He spent one year with practicing the
hockey basics and soon was good enough to compete at his respective age
level, the 4th grade. Some of his teammates were playing for a longer time
than Kudelka, but his strong attitude and a willingness to listen to
the advice given to him helped him to overcome this.

Zlin 4th grade head coach Jiri Solc put Kudelka on defense, with
occasional moves to the forward positions. Kudelka was happy with playing
defense and besides patrolling his own zone he also joined the rush
when he had the chance to do so. He wasn’t a player who would stand out
from the youngest grades, in the beginnings on his career he was just an
average defenseman on the Zlin 1987 borns team.

But Kudelka recorded a steady improvement in every one of his seasons at
the pee-wee level. He was competing at every practice or game and could
outplay the opponents who weren’t as dedicated as he was. Thanks to his
offensive flair Kudelka, nicknamed ‘Kudas’, ‘Koudel’ or ‘Kudis’
from his surname, could also support the offense and put up decent numbers for
a rearguard. In the 6th grade under head coach Eduard Svoboda he won
his first individual trophy for the Best Defenseman at one youth
tournament.

His play in the own end became more reliable and Kudelka learned how to
play in position more and added a bit of toughness to his game. His
season for the 7th grade team was above average and beginning with the
8th grade, Tomas Kudelka was voted captain of his team. Zlin 8th grade
coaches Zdenek Svoboda and Libor Zilka recognized the talent Kudelka
had and gave him lots of tips on improving his strength, which was
necessary in surviving in the upcoming leap to the midget Extraleague.
Kudelka could skate and make plays, but not outmuscle his opponents. This was
something he had to work on.

He captained his team for two seasons and after completing his season
for the 9th grade he was ready to perform for the Zlin midgets. He had
his season for the 9th grade shortened with a broken hand he suffered at
a meeting of the regional teams, but was ready to start the summer
workouts on time. Tomas Kudelka had a short call-up to the midget team
already in 2001-2002. Zlin midgets head coach Jaroslav Stuchlik gave him a
taste of the midget Extraleague in 7 games, where Kudelka went
scoreless, with a good +/- of +4 and 2 PIMs.

The 2002-2003 campaign was his first full midget season. Thanks to the
experience from the previous season Kudelka didn’t have any trouble
with his adjustment to the midget Extraleague pace. He provided his
team with solid defensive savvy and a decent offensive output. Kudelka
joined the rush frequently and also saw significant powerplay time. This
resulted into Kudelka posting good numbers. In 37 games for the Zlin
midgets Kudelka amassed 14 points for 2 goals and 12 assists and 38 PIMs.
He felt most comfortable when playing behind the Psurny twins, Kudelka
could feed them with smart passes and the two offensive forwards
chipped the pucks in. Kudelka shared with his teammates success as the Zlin
midgets fought their way into the midget Extraleague finals, where they
lost to Trinec, but the silver medals were also a respectable
achievement.

Tomas Kudelka burst onto the international stage in 2002-2003. He
pulled off an impressive showing at the evaluation camp of the Czech
Under-16 team and coaches Bretislav Kopriva and Vladimir Bednar have invited
Kudelka to all but one tournament of the international schedule.
Kudelka only didn’t make the trip to the three-game series against the
Under-16 team of Slovakia, played in August, 2002. So he had to wait till the
three-game series against the Under-16 team of Switzerland to make his
international debut. He notched 1 assist in that series.
Kudelka went scoreless at the upcoming event, a three-game series against
the Under-16 team of Russia. But he entered the scoresheet at the main
event of the season, the Four Nations Tournament of the Under-16 teams,
where he registered 1 assist. He closed out the season with
an appearance in a three-game series against the Under-16 team of
Slovakia, notching 2 assists. This rounded out Kudelka’s international stats
at 12 games played and 4 points for 4 assists.

After showing maturity beyond his age at the midget level, Tomas
Kudelka wasn’t invited back for his second full midget season and made the
leap already to the junior team. Zlin juniors head coach Stanislav
Prikrly was happy with the performance he saw from Kudelka at the summer camp
and rewarded him with a regular spot on the Zlin juniors defensive
rotation. So far has Kudelka dressed out for 15 junior games, scoring 4
points for 4 assists, a huge +/- of +14 and 16 PIMs.

He made his first appearance with the Czech Under-17 team at the Five
Nations Tournament, played in Prievizda, Slovakia this past August.
Kudelka went scoreless at this event, but will look to bounce back at the
upcoming tournament in Kuortane, Finland, which will be played the next
week.

A smooth skater, Tomas Kudelka impresses with his above-average speed
and agility. He is fast backwards and has solid lateral movement to go
along with his good balance. He is an offensive-minded rearguard and
displays remarkable poise when moving the puck. Kudelka uses his reach
effectively and is adept at distributing the pucks smartly. He is still
prone to the odd bad decision with the puck, though. Kudelka is
positionally sound and doesn’t tend to make mistakes in this aspect. He doesn’t
hesitate to fire his shot, which is quite accurate, but needs to
be more hard. On the downside Kudelka could play with more of a mean
streak and show his nasty edge more often. At 6’1”, 180 lbs. he possesses
a solid frame, but isn’t fully using it to his advantage. Overall he is
a good package of skill, smarts and offensive upside, once he develops
his aggressiveness enough then he can possibly think of a career in North
America.

Kudelka admires the play of Detroit Red
Wings star defenseman Niklas Lidstrom and considers Lidstrom the world’s
best defenseman these days.

Kudelka is careful about doing all his pre-game superstitions before
each game. He keeps them secret, except of one. He puts the gear always
from the right side first and sticks to this superstition for a long
time. On the Zlin junior team he had to give up his favorite number 15 as
this is the number of the team’s captain, overager Jakub
Venera. He had to switch to number 35, but has no problem with this.

Tomas Kudelka prefers to spend his free time with his girlfriend Pavla.
When they aren’t together, then you’ll find Kudelka mostly playing some other
sport. He is an all-round athlete and likes to play soccer or tennis. School takes a good chunk of Kudelka’s free time, he is in the
second year of his studies at a secondary school for sports in Zlin,
which is also attended by his teammates, the twins Roman and Michal
Psurny. A fond of hard rock music, Tomas Kudelka prefers to listen to the
groups Linkin Park or Blink 182, which always put him in a good mood.

Represented by agent Robert Spalenka, Kudelka isn’t rushing to the CHL.
He isn’t ruling out coming over, but his goal is to play at the
Under-18 WJC and only after that think about the CHL. In 2005 he has a very good chance of achieving this goal.