Czech 2005 prospects: Ondrej Pozivil

By Robert Neuhauser

The Czech Litvinov team is known far more for producing top offensive talent than raising quality blueliners. Still, a handful of rearguards from Litvinov have made it to the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks’ Jiri Slegr being the best known currently. But Litvinov juniors rearguard Ondrej Pozivil has his eyes set on enlarging the number of NHL defensemen hailing from the city.

The main factor which brought Ondrej Pozivil to the game of hockey was his brother Lukas, who is five years older. Their father played organized soccer, but he had his older son play hockey and Ondrej simply followed the footsteps of his brother.

From the time he was born Ondrej saw Lukas practicing and playing games, so Ondrej was eager to prove himself, too. When he was four years old, he laced up the skates for the first time. Pozivil didn’t need a very long time before he was enlisted in an entry level team. At the age of five was Ondrej Pozivil already a member of the Litvinov hockey club and both of the Pozivil brothers were on the way to successful hockey careers.

At that time Pozivil was regularly playing two sports. Besides hockey he was also on the Litvinov soccer team, where he could get valuable tips from his father. But hockey was simply more fun for Pozivil, who spent two years with playing organized soccer before quitting at seven years old.

Ondrej Pozivil displayed solid offensive instincts from the very beginning. He was eager to record many points and the coaches had no problem with letting him play offense. It was his brother again who made Ondrej change his plan. “My brother was playing at defense all the time and I wanted to be like him, so I finally chose to play defense, too,” Pozivil explains.

He still supported the offense a lot with his two-way play. Pozivil jumped into the rush when he had his defensive duties done and that rewarded him with an above-average offensive output. Coaches Petr Nekvinda and Vaclav Cerny, who coached Ondrej Pozivil for six seasons from the 3rd to the 8th grade, provided him with solid playing time. Pozivil felt more responsibility for the team’s success with an increased role on the team. He realized that he has to be a force in his own zone, too. He could take advantage of his slick skating skills and recorded a steady improvement in his play every season. “Personally I feel that my season for the 8th grade was my best before moving up to midgets. I played some pretty good hockey that year.” In fact, Pozivil earned individual trophies at two of the bigger tournaments in the 8th grade teams season. Pozivil took home the Top Defenseman honors at the tourneys played in Ceske Budejovice and Praha at the Sparta Praha arena. At that time he formed a strong defensive unit with Jakub Cerny, who is now playing for the Ceske Budjovice midgets and the two understood each other on the ice well.

A cherry on the top of the remarkable 2000-2001 season for Pozivil was an invitation to spend the summer camp with the midget team. He had a chance to fight out a spot on the Litvinov midget team as an underager for the next season and coaches Milan Kral and Kamil Kastak were curious if he was capable of handling the midget Extraleague.

Pozivil, nicknamed ‘Poza’ from his surname, turned heads at camp and was rewarded with a regular spot among the Litvinov midgets defensive corps. He was sent down to the 9th grade team only occasionally, but still managed to claim the Top Defenseman trophy at a tournament of the 9th grade teams, played at the Sparta Praha facility. Also because of his experience from the midget level, Pozivil adjusted to the faster pace smoothly and looked composed out on the ice. He filled more of a defensive role, but from time to time also joined the rush and showed his offensive flair. Even if the Litvinov midgets saw a first-round playoff exit, for Pozivil it was a solid season. He dressed out for 43 midget games, scoring 7 points for 7 assists, a strong +/- of +21 and 30 PIMs. He admires the play of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Martin Skoula. “I like him because he is a Czech on a strong NHL team. He is big, smart and stands out. And Skoula played for Litvinov, just like me.”

The next season Pozivil was asked to emerge as one of the team’s leaders and was awarded with the captain’s role. The 2002-2003 edition of the Litvinov midgets wasn’t a stellar one, Pozivil had to guide a bunch of average players and hopefully make the playoffs. He added more of a nasty side to his game, but still relied on his strong skills and vision. From the best Czech prospects Pozivil had one of the longest waits for his first midget Extraleague goal, though. It took him nearly 80 games to score that marker, which was also most likely his last on the midget level. His offensive output consisted mostly from assists. Very adept at running the powerplay, Pozivil registered 9 points for 1 goal and 8 assists in 41 games for the Litvinov midgets, along with 38 PIMs.

His steady two-way play caught the eye of the Litvinov juniors coaches. Josef Beranek, father of ex-NHLer of the same name, and Miroslav Kapoun decided to give the youngest a test in the junior Extraleague as a twice underager. Pozivil was promoted to three junior games in 2002-2003, in which he went scoreless with 4 PIMs. But he didn’t look out of place, which was a sign that he is a strong candidate for full-time promotion in 2003-2004.

The 2002-2003 season was the first Ondrej Pozivil spent on the international stage. As a player with enough midget Extraleague under his belt, he had a roster spot to lose on the Czech Under-16 team. Coaches Bretislav Kopriva and Vladimir Bednar invited Pozivil already to the first event of the season, a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Slovakia. That was followed with an appearance in a three-game series against the Russian Under-16 squad. In both of these series did Pozivil record at least one assist, proving that his offensive talent can shine also among international competition. Pozivil couldn’t participate at the major event of the season, the Four Nations tournament, because he had to play for his Litvinov team in an international tournament of the 1985 borns teams, played in Drummondville, Quebec. Litvinov has formed a team to participate in this tournament and Pozivil was invited as a twice underager. He went scoreless at that event, because he had to focus more on defense. He was still able to take part in the last event of the international season, again a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Slovakia.

Pozivil spent the summer with practicing with the junior team and convinced the coaches to keep him on the squad. He is still midget Extraleague eligible, but won’t benefit from playing at a level where he has nothing to prove. So far Pozivil appeared in 19 junior games, notching 3 points for 3 assists, a +/- of +3 and 27 PIMs.

He made the trip to Prievidza, Slovakia, for the Five Nations Tournament of the Under-17 teams in August. There Pozivil recorded one assist. Two weeks ago he was a member of the Czech Under-17 team, which squared off against the Under-17 team of Finland in a three-game series. Pozivil recorded 2 points for 2 assists there. He saw lots of playing time on the first defensive pair with fellow 2005 prospect Tomas Kudelka and registered an above-average showing.

Ondrej Pozivil impresses with his swift skating skills. A diminutive defenseman, he displays above-average speed and agility. He could only use more balance in his play. Pozivil possesses a solid offensive flair and doesn’t hesitate to join the rush. He boasts excellent vision, which enables him to make strong plays with the puck and run the powerplay effectively. Pozivil plays his position well and knows where his place on the ice is. He should further develop his shooting skills, Pozivil doesn’t fire the puck very often. His shots are quite accurate, but not very hard. At 5’10”, 170 lbs. Pozivil’s biggest downside is his smallish frame. He doesn’t play a tough style and relies on his finesse more than on toughness. Hulking forwards can cause him trouble as he doesn’t have the strength to outmuscle them now. Pozivil is expected to add an inch or two to his frame, but probably won’t ever be a behemoth.

If there is a way he can succeed in North America, then by using his terrific passing skills and vision. He is a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team he dreams of playing for. “They used to have a strong Czech presence in the past. Jiri Slegr and Robert Lang, who skated for the Pens, also hail from Litvinov and the team is my favorite. And I like that penguin on their jerseys.”

As an accomplished soccer player, Ondrej Pozivil never misses the opportunity to play soccer with his friends in his free time. Besides soccer Pozivil likes to be challenged to a game of tennis, basketball, or goes swimming. Gifted for sports, he also attends a secondary school focused on sports, this year is the second of Pozivil’s studies there. He prefers to relax by listening to music of various styles, with metal being his favorite.

Ondrej Pozivil has some pre-game superstitions he never misses. “Before each game I stand at the same spot on the blueline and then touch the goalie’s pads with my stick.” He is also sure about the number he would like to wear on his jersey. “My favorite number is definitely 22. Why? Because I never had the chance of wearing it in a game, but I like this number.”

Eligible for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Ondrej Pozivil will have to decide next summer what route to the draft he wants to take. “The CHL is a challenge for me, but I think that I would have to grow a few inches and get stronger before I can consider coming over. I’ll probably stay in Europe in the next season.” The NHL is of course his biggest dream, but Pozivil is aware that it takes a lot to make The Show.