Preview of the Czech Under-18 WJC team

By Robert Neuhauser

The bronze Under-18 WJC medals the young Czechs won in 2002 ended an eight-year medal drought from the World Championship of this age category. It was known that the Czech 1984 birthyear is exceptionally strong and nothing less than a medal was expected from a squad which boasted the likes of Jiri Hudler, Jakub Klepis, Jakub Koreis, Milan Michalek, Kamil Kreps or Lukas Mensator.

But the 2003 edition of the top international event in the Under-18 team’s schedule meant a step back for the Czechs. The young team, consisting of six 2004 eligible players, didn’t form a cohesive unit and a lack of chemistry from within the team caused the fall to the sixth place overall.

At this year’s tournament, played in Minsk, Belarus, the medal hopes are brighter. The 1986 birthyear can’t match the 1984’s in overall depth, but still some individuals do shine on this year’s Czech Under-18 team. The Czechs can be counted to the frontrunners for the medal places and potential first-rounders such as Ladislav Smid, Marek Schwarz or Jakub Sindelwill definitely draw lots of attention from NHL scouts and general managers, who all will gather at this event. Lack of experience won’t be an excuse for the young Czechs as five members witnessed the last year’s unlucky finish and three of them performed already at the 2004 Under-20 WJC, despite being hit by a flu bug.

Fortunately for the Czechs, injuries didn’t strike the Under-18 team. All members survived the playoff battles in either the junior or senior Extraleague without significant health problems, so that the Czechs can hit the ice with a complete roster. Unlike the previous years, the Czechs will dress only one CHL player at the Under-18 WJC games. From last year’s Under-17 teams Petr Pohl, Vaclav Meidl and Michal Gulasi were penciled as potential boosts of the Under-18 WJC team, but Lethbridge Hurricanes’ Gulasi was the only one who could arrive in time for the evaluation camp and will make the trip to Belarus.

The Czech Under-18 team invited the Under-20 team of Poland for a pair of exhibition games played at Hodonin and Breclav, Czech Republic, prior to the Under-18 WJC and was on the winning side both times. The first game turned out to be a 5-2 win of the Czechs while the second contest was a total 13-2 drubbing of the poor Polish team.

The Czech Under-18 team will face Slovakia, Russia, Finland and Norway in their first four Under-18 WJC games. The following is a look at every player on the Czech team.

Goaltenders

Marek Schwarz
Team: HC Sparta Praha Sr.
Birthdate: April, 1st, 1986
Birthplace: Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 173 lbs.
Catches: R
CSB mid-term rank: 1st among European goaltenders

Coping with the label of being the most talented netminder to come out from the Czech Republic in a decade, Marek Schwarz was the youngest starter in the 2003-2004 edition of the Czech senior Extraleague. He stood between the pipes for three teams, Trinec, Plzen and his parent Sparta Praha. The stint with Trinec turned out to be the best as Schwarz was key to the team’s success during the first third of the season. Schwarz boasts a wealth of experience from the international level. Last year he stole the starting job at the 2003 Under-18 WJC from Jakub Cech after the game against Canada. He performed also already at the 2004 Under-20 WJC, where he registered an average performance. Schwarz battled a leg injury prior to the tournament, but should be fine in time for the Under-18 WJC.

At 6’0”, 173 lbs. Schwarz already possesses decent size, covers the net quite well and has considerable smarts. He plays a butterfly style which is very effective and is tough to beat down low. Schwarz is a resilient goalie with exceptional quickness and reflexes. He uses his pads extremely well and has a quick glove hand. He also likes to challenge the shooter and plays the angles well. Schwarz plays with poise and confidence and doesn’t let in many bad goals. He is tough mentally, but still sometimes tends to lose focus for a while.

His drawbacks are average skating and he has to further develop his stickhandling. Schwarz play with the puck isn’t very good, but he is aware of this and working on this skill. This season Schwarz developed a penchant to go down sometimes too early, thus leaving the upper shelf uncovered and vulnerable to shooters. He has to get rid of this habit, but nevertheless he is the most talented netminder from this year’s European crop.

Jakub Lev
Team: HC Rabat Kladno Jr.
Birthdate: September, 19th, 1986
Birthplace: Kladno, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 188 lbs.
Catches: L
CSB mid-term rank: 2005 eligible

The perennial backup to Marek Schwarz on the Czech 1986 borns team, Jakub Lev already won two championship titles from both the Czech midget and junior Extraleague. Last year he held the starting job for the midget team, who swept aside all opponents including the final one from Vsetin and this season Lev emerged as a wall between the pipes for the Kladno junior team in the final series against Prostejov juniors. Barring an injury to starter Marek Schwarz, Jakub Lev probably won’t see much action. He was picked by the coaches also because of the fact that he is a good friend of Schwarz and will keep a good mood within the Czech team. This scenario was already used by the Czech Under-18 team coaches at the summer 2003 World Junior Cup and clicked well.

Jakub Lev possesses fast reflexes and is tough to beat on all first shots. His play consists a mix of stand-up and butterfly style and he doesn’t tend to flop around a lot. He possesses solid athleticism, but could use a bit more dexterity in his play. Lev boasts a decent glove hand and a good mental toughness. He doesn’t let a bad goal bother him and shows an above-average focus. He likes to challenge the shooter and stays square to him. There are still a few things for him to work on. Slightly overweight, his movement in the crease could be better and he has sometimes trouble with controlling the rebounds. Lev is just an average skater. His stickhandling skills need further polishing in order to avoid ‘adventures’ when moving the puck, but Lev is working on this drawback in the practices. Thanks to his late birthdate Lev isn’t draft eligible until the 2005 NHL Entry Draft comes around and is a decent prospect, but not an elite one.

Defensemen

Ladislav Smid
Team: HC Bili Tygri Liberec Sr.
Birthdate: February, 1st, 1986
Birthplace: Frydlant, Czech Republic
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 209 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 5th among European skaters

Ladislav Smid is belongs to the most known Czech prospects among hockey fans from all over the world. A blue-chipper for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Smid captained the Czech Under-18 team in the exhibition games and will feel the workload of a defensive anchor on his shoulders. Smid is a player proven in the major international battles as he already showcased his talent at both the 2003 Under-18 WJC and the 2004 Under-20 WJC. The latter can’t be counted to his most successful ones, but Smid is expected to shine against players of his age. Smid performed all season long for the Liberec senior team, skating on the second defensive unit and earning both power play and penalty killing time, which contributed to his role on the team.

Ladislav Smid already possesses a nice frame, but at 6’3”, 182 lbs. he is a lanky defenseman. Smid still has to bulk up not to be called skinny. One of his strongest assets is his very smooth puckhandling and an ability to handle huge traffic well. He is an above-average stickhandler and is very adept at making accurate outlet passes with precise timing. His solid slap shots contribute to his offensive flair, Smid only needs to release it more frequently. On the defensive aspect of his game Smid is positionally quite sound and stays with his man, but he could use some improvement in his defensive zone coverage. He isn’t a hard hitter, he relies more on his strong vision and reading of plays, which enables him to foresee what will happen. Smid doesn’t play afraid and his play doesn’t go south when he is physically challenged.

Smid’s skating is decent for a big man like him. He made strides in his agility and first-step quickness to go along with an upgraded balance. He shows an adequate lateral movement and isn’t easy to outskate, even if he still could work on this aspect of his game. Smid also needs to learn how to keep his game more simple and not to overhandle the puck.

Michal Gulasi
Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Birthdate: July, 18th, 1986
Birthplace: Ostrava, Czech Republic
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: unranked

The only CHL invitee on the team, Michal Gulasi recorded a solid, but unspectacular rookie season for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. He managed to overcome the transition problems which await every European rookie in the CHL also thanks to the presence of fellow countryman Patrik Valcak, who played with Gulasi before being traded to the Kelowna Rockets. Gulasi reduced his offensive raids in the WHL and played with a bigger reliability besides filling a more defensive role on the Hurricanes team. Prior to his leaving for the WHL, he held a regular spot on the Czech junior national team of the 1986 born players and the Under-18 WJC will mark his return to the international stage after an one-year hiatus.

Gulasi is a skilled defenseman who doesn’t rush forward without having his defensive duties done first. He is a solid skater, even if his pivots and lateral movement still needs some
improvement. He takes his man and stays with him all the way. Gulasi also positions himself quite well and has a strong use of his stick. Whether it is to steal the puck from
an opponent or to handle the puck, both Gulasi does with an above-average composure. He fires an adequate shot from the point, where he relies on his accuracy and a fast release more than on a rocket-like hardness. Also even with blessed with solid stickhandling ability, Gulasi has to further develop his decision making when carrying the puck out of his own zone. He is prone to the occasional breakdown when moving the puck and should develop more reliability in this aspect. Gulasi possesses an average hockey sense and don’t expect him to turn heads at the Under-18 WJC, he should emerge as a solid role player and fit that role well.

Jakub Kindl
Team: HC Moeller Pardubice Jr.
Birthdate: February, 10th, 1987
Birthplace: Sumperk, Czech Republic
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 195 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 2005 eligible

Easily the most talented prospect from the Czech 1987 born class, Jakub Kindl plays his entire junior career against players at least one year older. The 2004 Under-18 WJC will be his first major international tournament after making a good name for himself at the 2003 World Junior Cup, where he won the defensemen scoring on the Czech team and turned out to be a defensive anchor. Kindl didn’t manage to crack the star-laden Pardubice senior roster this season and had to spend the whole season with competing at the junior level. There he showed signs of dominance and an ability to play senior full-time next season.

Kindl impresses with his swift skating skills and a fluid stride. He shows remarkable agility and acceleration for a player of his size. At 6’3”, 195 lbs. he is still quite lanky but will be a feared player to play against when he fills out that frame. Kindl boasts an excellent vision and hockey sense, which enables him to make strong plays with the puck and run the power play effectively. He uses his reach very smartly and distributes the pucks with a precise timing. Kindl plays his position quite well, but tends to suffer from the occasional breakdown in his own zone. There is a good sign that he will get rid of those mistakes with more maturity at the senior level. He should further develop the accuracy of his shooting, he possesses a fast-released slapper but misses the net sometimes too often. Even if Kindl doesn’t play afraid, he could use his size more to his advantage. He isn’t an intimidating physical presence and will have to work on his feistiness. He can outsmart the opponents in the Czech leagues, but will have to use more of a mean streak in North America.

Adam Lukacovic
Team: HC Sparta Praha Jr.
Birthdate: April, 16th, 1986
Birthplace: Koprivnice, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 178 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 76th among European skaters

The heart-and-soul type of defenseman, Adam Lukacovic served as the captain of the Czech 1986 borns national team for one and a half seasons. He battled knee problems prior to the Under-18 WJC tournament, but was healthy in time for securing his spot on the team in the exhibition games. Lukacovic is a mainstay on the Czech Under-18 team, but he didn’t show the same progress rate in the last three seasons as some of his teammates did. In the junior Extraleague he couldn’t avoid same flaws in his game, which caused pegging him as an ordinary prospect.

An offensive minded rearguard, Adam Lukacovic’s strongest asset is his ability to join the rush and support the offense. He needs to learn when to jump into the play and when to stay in the defensive position, though. Lukacovic is a deft passer who is capable of making strong plays. A solid skater, Lukacovic possesses above-average straightaway speed, but has to further develop his acceleration and first-step quickness. His lateral movement is adequate. He doesn’t hesitate to unleash his slap shot, but has to keep it lower on the ice in order to make his shots more tipable. A player with lots of heart, Lukacovic brings natural leadership to the mix thanks to his fiery competitveness. He only needs to play all of his games at full intensity and determination. At 6’0”, 178 lbs. his frame is average by North American standards, but Lukacovic makes up for this deficiency with his tenacity and an ability to play the body. From the things to work on for him there is mostly his defensive zone coverage. Lukacovic tends to loose his position for a chance to make a play and has to stay with his man all the way.

Roman Polak
Team: HC Vitkovice Jr.
Birthdate: April, 28th, 1986
Birthplace: Ostrava, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 41st among European skaters

You wouldn’t find Roman Polak’s name anywhere on the roster of the Czech Under-16 team from two seasons ago, but with his improved play during the previous two campaigns it is impossible for head coach Sindel to miss on the tenacious defenseman Roman Polak. Polak arrived to the Vitkovice junior team last summer after performing in the system of the Sareza Ostrava junior team and made his presence felt with a steady play and a solid mean streak. He also fought out a regular spot on the Under-18 team and the Under-18 WJC is going to be his first major international tournament.

A smooth skater, Roman Polak impresses with his leg strength and balance. He is extremely tough to get knocked off his skates and possesses also solid acceleration and agility. At 6’1”, 190 lbs. Polak has a good frame and is willing to get physical it when fighting along the boards or clearing the crease from opposing forwards. He is a tough cookie who throws good hits with precise timing. Polak is positionally quite sound, but could make some strides in this aspect. He possesses a cannon of a shot, which he unleashes regularly. An adept player on both power play and penalty killing units, Polak passes the pucks smoothly, but is sometimes prone to the odd bad decision. He could use a bit more vision in his play. Overall is Roman Polak a very solid NHL prospect who has the needed attributes to succeed in the North American style of play.

Lubomir Stach
Team: HC Vsetin Jr.
Birthdate: May, 28th, 1986
Birthplace: Vsetin, Czech Republic
Height: 5’8”
Weight: 170 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: unranked

Lubomir Stach returned to the Czech junior national team of the 1986 borns just in time for the main event, the Under-18 WJC. A key performer for the Czech Under-16 team, Stach saw his role dip in the next season with the Under-17 team and was no longer invited to the international games after Christmas of 2002. However, he bounced back with solid showings for Vsetin in the junior Extraleague this year and the Five Nations Tournament of the Under-18 teams in Finland this past February marked Stach’s return onto the international stage. A member of the silver-medal winning Vsetin midget team from 2002-2003, Stach was used as a top-four defenseman on the junior team this year and was promoted even to the senior team occasionally, getting his feet wet on the senior Extraleague level.

Stach is a good skater with solid lateral moves and pivots and is able to
change direction quickly. His strongest asset is his smooth stickhandling. Stach handles
the puck very smoothly and likes to make nifty moves and dekes. He just needs to learn not
to overhandle the puck and pass it to a teammate instead of getting himself into trouble. Stach possesses good passing skills to go along with his decent vision and hockey sense. His shots need some improvement, he has to shoot the puck more hard. Lack of toughness may be a problem for him, but Stach relies on his smart positional play and thus making up for his severe size deficiency. He isn’t throwing his body around, he just waits for the
right moment and takes the puck away from the opposing forward by using his stick. Reliability is a thing to work on him, his plays look risky sometimes. Not much of a NHL prospect, Stach will most likely play his career in Europe.

Jaroslav Mrazek
Team: HC Sparta Praha Jr.
Birthdate: January, 14th, 1986
Birthplace: Milevsko, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 190 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 58th among European skaters

Lots of people around the hockey community in the Czech Republic were shaking their heads in disbelief when assessing the play of Jaroslav Mrazek this season. The coveted reliable defensive rearguard, who even captured the ‘Top defenseman’ trophy at the Four Nations Tournament of the Under-16 teams in 2001-2002, tried unsuccessfully to convert himself into a puck-moving defenseman and gave up on his smart safe play, which brought him low grades from the scouting world. Mrazek worked his way up from the Sparta Praha junior team late in the season, though, but was used only as a healthy scratch in most senior games. Discovered by the Czech 1986 borns junior national team coaches late in 2001-2002, Mrazek build a strong reputation during the last year’s campaign with the Under-17 team. Even if this season is far from being ideal for him, Mrazek can serve as a huge factor when he can be convinced to keep his game simple and this earned him a spot on the Under-18 WJC team.

At 6’2”, 190 lbs. one of the strongest assets of Mrazek is his above-average size. He is willing to use his frame when battling along the walls and in the corners, but could clear the crease with a bigger tenacity. Mrazek is reliable in his own end as he doesn’t suffer from glaring positional breakdowns and stays with his man. But he has to avoid wrong-timed offensive rushes and risky plays as he doesn’t have the needed puckhandling skills to succeed in one-on-one situations. Mrazek possesses just average hands and isn’t capable of many nifty stick moves. He sometimes tries to do too much with the puck, which leads to turnovers and odd-man rushes. Mrazek unleashes a rocket of a shot from the point, but his blasts needs to be more accurate. A solid penalty killing units player, he is a decent passer who needs to further develop his work on the offensive blue line, though. Mrazek needs to return to the play which garnered his respect in the last two seasons and realize that he won’t ever develop into a two-way force, else he is a solid blueliner.

Ondrej Smach
Team: HC Prostejov Jr.
Birthdate: July, 21st, 1986
Birthplace: Brno, Czech Republic
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: unranked

The former Brno midgets captain from the 2002-2003 season, Ondrej Smach said goodbye to his hometown and headed Prostejov to join a squad which had its goals set high in 2003-2004. A member of the Prostejov junior team, Smach played behind the elite two lines of Prostejov nearly all season long, making use of his junior Extraleague experience from last season with the Brno team. Smach helped the Prostejov juniors to sneak into the finals of the junior Extraleague, where they lost to the Kladno junior team. Going unnoticed at the Under-16 level in 2001-2002, Smach burst onto the Czech Under-17 team late in the last season and from that time he held a regular spot in the defensive rotation of the Czech 1986 borns team, displaying his skills also at the 2003 World Junior Cup.

A diminutive defenseman, Smach displays above-average footspeed and agility. He could only use more balance in his play and a more effective stride. He always keeps his feet moving, but isn’t accelerating as fast as expected. Smach possesses a solid offensive flair and doesn’t hesitate to join the rush. He boasts a strong vision, which enables him to make strong plays with the puck and run the power play effectively. Smach plays his position well and knows where his place on the ice is. He should further develop his shooting skills, has he doesn’t fire the puck very often. His shots are of solid accuracy, but not very hard. At 5’9”, 172 lbs. Smach’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. Smach isn’t expected to serve as a defensive anchor of the team, but should see playing time as a sixth or seventh defenseman.

Forwards

Jakub Sindel
Team: HC Sparta Praha Sr.
Birthdate: January, 24th, 1986
Birthplace: Jihlava, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 167 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB mid-term rank: 13th among European skaters

A nominee for the Czech senior Extraleague ‘Top rookie’ trophy, Jakub Sindel is coming off a solid first full season on the elite senior level, becoming the youngest player ever to record a hat trick in a senior Extraleague game. He was also the only junior-aged player on the Sparta Praha team who saw significant playing time during the playoff battles and proved that he plays with maturity beyond his age. Sindel is returning for his second Under-18 WJC term, where he opened some eyes last year. The underaged forward emerged as the leading scorer of the team and will be counted on to take a leading role on offense this year. He performed also at the 2004 Under-20 WJC in Finland, where he enjoyed a flu-ridden performance. All his previous experience makes from Sindel one of the team leaders and a likely candidate for the captain’s role, one which he held already at the 2003 World Junior Cup.

An excellent skater with a smooth stride, Sindel utilizes on his speed to slip through defenses. He also possesses above-average agility and a quick first step. He is a crafty stickhandler, who handles the puck well with his soft hands and capitalizes on his very good offensive instincts. Blessed with a knack for scoring goals, Sindel thrives in one-on-one situations and is a valuable power play threat. He has a very good vision and hockey sense to go along with solid passing skills. Sindel is a coachable player with a solid leadership ability. He prefers to lead by example rather than raise his voice in the dressing room. He is working on improving the defensive aspect of his game, but is no defensive forward. Another drawback for Sindel is his skinny frame, he has to bulk up if he wants to survive against meaner opposition. He was switched from right winger to center not earlier than in the previous season, but coped with the new role well and should serve as the first-line center at the Under-18 WJC.

Karel Hromas
Team: HC Sparta Praha Sr.
Birthdate: January, 27th, 1986
Birthplace: Beroun, Czech Republic
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 189 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 23rd among European skaters

Not elite skill, but an excellent belligerence accompanied by a strong attitude made from Karel Hromas a coveted performer on the junior national teams. He boasts a wealth of prowess from the international tournaments as he already has both Under-18 WJC and Under-20 WJC experience under his belt. However, Hromas’ showing at the 2004 Under-20 WJC wasn’t anywhere near the stellar class as he was hit by the nasty flu bug the most from all players on the team. The assets Hromas brings to every game earned him also a spot on the Sparta Praha senior team, where he was used as a multi-purpose fourth line forward. Given all his previous experience, look for Hromas to emerge as one of the leaders.

Karel Hromas’ combative in-your-face style of play brought him lots of respect. He displays an above-average aggresiveness, shutting down the offensive weapons of the opposition regularly with his huge defensive awareness and sticking his nose into tight corner battles. Hromas isn’t afraid to hit and perform in heavy traffic. He emerges as a solid physical presence, utilizing on his impressive 6’2”, 189 lbs. frame. Blessed with a tremendous quickness for a big man, Hromas has a good stride and balance. His agility has still some way to go, but Karel’s skating is fairly solid. He uses his long reach effectively and is a smart passer. Hromas has a decent vision and hockey sense to go along with a never-give-up attitude. He is always involved in the games, playing them with lots of heart and intensity. On the downside Hromas still needs to further improve his puckhandling skills, he doesn’t have the best hands and his variety of shots is also only average. He could work on the accuracy of both his wrist and slap shots, which are released with a good hardness.

Zdenek Bahensky
Team: HC Chemopetrol Litvinov Jr.
Birthdate: January, 3rd, 1986
Birthplace: Litvinov, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 183 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 40th among European skaters

Zdenek Bahensky didn’t have to carry the burden of a go-to star on the Czech junior national team of the 1986 born players, but he turned out to be a steady performer for all of his three years with the team. Bahensky played at all major international tournaments including the European’s Youth Olympics and the 2003 World Junior Cup, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for the skilled forward. However, after a solid but unspectacular season Bahensky bounced back with a strong showing in February at the Five Nations tournament in Finland, so there was no debate among the coaching staff whether to miss him on the final roster or not. Even if he spent the summer practicing already with the senior team of Litvinov, he wasn’t promoted for one single game due to overall depth at forward on the senior team and played the whole season for the junior team. There he battled inconsistency at times as he was a force in one game before being particularly invisible the next one.

Zdenek Bahensky’s strongest asset is his smooth skating and good quickness. He shows strong bursts of speed along with above-average agility. He isn’t afraid of the physical stuff, playing with an edge and going regularly into traffic areas. At 6’1”, 183 lbs. is Bahensky still a bit skinny and will need to bulk up, though. Bahensky possesses considerable smarts and has decent shooting skills. He could use better stickhandling skills as he sometimes gets into trouble when having to corral a bad pass or deke an opponent in a one-on-one situation. His wrist shot is blessed with a fast release, but could use some improving in the accuracy of his slap shot. Bahensky isn’t a 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.

Stanislav Balan
Team: HC Hame Zlin Jr.
Birthdate: January, 30th, 1986
Birthplace: Hodonin, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 163 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 65th among European skaters

A player whose stock is taking a steady rise during the season, Stanislav Balan broke into the senior Extraleague at mid-season, but still saw more playing time on the prospect-ladden junior squad. He was industrial in the bronze-medal winning playoff run of the Zlin junior team as a member of their elite two lines. Balan went through all junior national teams before making his first big splash at the 2003 World Junior Cup and jumpstaring an overly above-average 2003-2004 campaign. Balan spent the bigger part of his previous hockey career competing at the youth levels in Slovakia, but will be counted on to be an integral part of the Czech Under-18 WJC team after being invited regularly to the junior national team events during the last two years.

Stanislav Balan is a good skater for a player of his size. He takes advantage of his fluid stride and possesses a solid agility. He has an adequate first-step quickness and is able to execute at a high velocity. Balan is a tremendous puckhandler who sees the ice well. He is a deft playmaker who utilizes on his strong hand-eye coordination. Balan has an above-average hockey sense and plays well in position. He is capable of finishing the scoring chances, too, as he boasts a good wrist shot with a fast release. His slap shot could see some improvement in accuracy and hardness. Balan doesn’t refuse to help out the defense thanks to his solid defensive awareness, but still could block the opposing passing lanes more effectively. At 6’1”, 163 lbs. Balan has a very skinny frame at this point. He doesn’t play a physical style and relies on his finesse more than on his toughness.

Michal Psurny
Team: HC Hame Zlin Jr.
Birthdate: February, 23rd, 1986
Birthplace: Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 176 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB mid-term rank: 36th among European skaters

Always followed by his twin brother Roman in his hockey career, Michal Psurny is the first from the brother duo to achieve a goal at the elite senior Czech level. He got promoted to the Zlin senior team at mid-season along with his brother to a cup of coffee and managed to get his feet wet on the senior level at least. A clutch performer on the Zlin junior team, Michal Psurny enjoyed a decent season this year, but didn’t show the same improvement of his drawbacks as his brother Roman did. Michal Psurny is a mainstay on the Czech Under-18 team after he proved the coaches that he deserves a spot on the team with his spirited performance for the Czech Under-17 team last year. In February he played his debut with the Czech Under-20 team as he was invited to a Four Nations Tournament, played in Joensuu, Finland.

Michal Psurny is a solid skater with decent speed, but a better acceleration and a more fluid stride would be helpful for him. He handles the puck well with his soft hands and is very adept at both distributing it or finishing the scoring chances. Psurny is a good passer and he fires strong, accurate wrist shots. His slap shot needs to be worked on, Psurny’s blasts are not very hard. He sees the ice very well and doesn’t tend to take the odd shift off. He needs to find more defensive awareness, at times Psurny tends to float on the periphery and not limit the opposing players’ options effectively. At 6’0”, 176 lbs., Psurny is a skinny player and he doesn’t excel when the play gets too physical. Psurny has an excellent work ethic and attitude, which is wellcomed by the coaches. He uses his skill more than his size, which is no problem in Europe, but battling NHL traffic could be a problem for him.

Roman Psurny
Team: HC Hame Zlin Jr.
Birthdate: February, 23rd, 1986
Birthplace: Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 35th among European skaters

The slightly more talented player from the twin duo of Roman and Michal Psurny, Roman Psurny successfully battled the odds of being too soft and fragile for a noteworthy prospect. Just like his brother he made the jump to the Zlin senior team at Christmas time and filled the fourth-liner duties, but was more helpful to the Zlin junior team in their run to a third overall place in the junior Extraleague. After going nearly unnoticed by the coaches of the Czech Under-16 team, Roman Psurny managed to win a spot on the Czech Under-17 team prior to the 2002-2003 campaign and didn’t miss any single international tournament from then. Besides this, Roman Psurny experienced also the play at the Under-20 level with his appearance at the Under-20 tournament in February.

Roman Psurny is a slick skater with solid quickness and acceleration. He could only use more balance in his play. A smooth puckhandler, Psurny sees the ice very well and is capable of smart, well-timed passes. He is an opportunistic goalscorer and possesses solid finishing skills. His wrist shots are fired with strong accuracy and a fast release. He needs to further develop his slap shot, which is quite accurate, but not very hard. Psurny won’t hurt you defensively, he made strides in getting rid of the ‘one-dimensional’ label and is showing a bigger commitment to the defensive side of his game now. The biggest obstacle for him on the way to a coveted NHL prospect is his skinny frame. At 6’0”, 172 lbs., Psurny is no physical menace, but he isn’t afraid of throwing the occassional hit, though. A fond of open ice, where his excellent skills rule, Roman Psurny has to add 10 pounds of muscle if he wants to think of a NHL career.

David Krejci
Team: HC Rabat Kladno Jr.
Birthdate: August, 24th, 1986
Birthplace: Sternberk, Czech Republic
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB mid-term rank: 26th among European skaters

David Krejci joined the Kladno junior team prior to this season after losing to the team, coached by the Czech Under-18 team head coach Jaromir Sindel, last year in the junior Extraleague finals as a member of the Trinec junior squad. A player with championship titles from both the junior and midget levels, Krejci hoisted the championship trophy with the Trinec midgets two seasons ago and this year he added the junior Extraleague championship title with the Kladno juniors. Krejci centered the Kladno first line all season long, logging a big portion of playing time and convincing coach Sindel that he is ready to take on an important role on the Under-18 team. Krejci turned into a sparkplug for the Czech Under-17 team last season after enjoying a mediocre international campaign with the Under-16 team. He was solid all international season long, dressing out also for games of the Under-19 team, and his stock is going to soar with a good Under-18 WJC performance.

At 5’11”, 172 lbs. David Krejci won’t be a huge physical presence, but still shows that he
ins’t afraid of taking a hit to make a play. He drives hard to the net and will dig for the
pucks in corners. But David’s strongest asset is his elite skill. He has very soft hands
and is capable of handling the pucks smoothly. David is solid in the faceoff circle and
is a solid stickhandler. He isn’t afraid of playing in heavy traffic and shows remarkable
poise once on a scoring chance. The defensive side of David’s game is about average, he
won’t hurt you defensively, but also won’t rule as a backchecking forward. David has very
good shooting skills, he only needs to use his slapper more, the wrist shot is highly accurate.
He presents a big portion of vision and hockey sense in his play and is also able of very
smart, crisp passes. On the downside David could use more speed, he sometimes misses that
extra gear. His stride needs some polishing in effectiveness and more acceleration. On the
ice David could also more control his temper, he tends to loose it and take some dumb
penalties.

Jan Danecek
Team: HC Ocelari Trinec Jr.
Birthdate: February, 15th, 1986
Birthplace: Havirov, Czech Republic
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 161 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 143rd among European skaters

Coached by his father Jan on the Trinec junior team, Jan Danecek was promoted to the Trinec senior team for the final game of the regular season. He is a member of the championship trophy winning Trinec midgets team from two years ago, but had that season hampered with back-to-back ankle injuries. Once healthy last season, Danecek helped the Trinec juniors to slip into the junior Extraleague finals and this season he skated on the elite two lines of the team. Danecek is a regular with the Czech 1986 borns junior national team from the Under-16 category and a steady performer whose previous top came at the 2003 World Junior Cup of the Under-18 teams, played in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Jan Danecek impresses with his swift skating skills. He displays a fluid stride and above-average agility. Danecek accelerates well, but could use more balance on his skates. His soft hands contribute to the offensive talent, Danecek is a smooth, poised puckhandler who sees the ice quite well. He unleashes a quick wrist shot with a fast release, but could work on the hardness of his slap shot.

A creative passer, Danecek likes the finesse style of play, when he can make fast smart passes to his linemates. Tight traffic battles cause his problems because of his severe size deficiency. Danecek is also solid in the faceoff circle, even if he is far from a faceoff specialist. On the
downside, Danecek won’t jump at you as a physical presence. He is just 5’9” and his 161 lbs. aren’t a frame to throw around. He can get outmuscled by the bigger opponents and this factor will be always pointing against him in a possible North American career. Jan Danecek isn’t a total liability when it comes down to fulfilling the defensive duties, but he has to further improve on his defensive awareness and could block the opposing passing lanes more effectively.

Michal Birner
Team: HC Slavia Praha Jr.
Birthdate: March, 2nd, 1986
Birthplace: Litomerice, Czech Republic
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Shoots: R
CSB mid-term rank: 113th among European skaters

The longtime linemate of Jakub Sindel from his days with the Slavia Praha, Michal Birner remained loyal to his team after Sindel’s leaving for the Sparta Praha team. Birner was a solid force on the Slavia junior team and played his senior Extraleague debut on the last game of the regular season. However, the Slavia Praha junior team couldn’t reach the championship title this season, thus leaving the midget Extraleague championship title from the 1999-2000 season the only major success in Birner’s previous career. On the international stage is Birner a core player of the Czech junior national team consisting of the 1986 born players, appearing at all noteworthy tournaments of the three-year schedule.

A solid skater, Michal Birner shows decent agility and first-step quickness. He made strides in his balance during the last two seasons so that he can’t be knocked off his skates very easily. Birner is a dependable forward who is willing to work hard in the offensive zone. He isn’t afraid of executing in traffic, but doesn’t impress with his size. Even if he throws the occasional hit and added bulk in the offseason, Birner needs to use his frame more effectively and mainly drive the net harder. He tends to float on the periphery and sometimes particularly disappear. Blessed with a decent vision and hockey sense, Birner is an above-average passer who possesses solid puckhandling skills. He improved on his slap shot this season, letting it go with solid hardness and accuracy. Birner possesses an adequate wrist shot, but could use a faster release. He isn’t a liability when it comes down to filling the defensive duties, but still could use more awareness in this aspect.

Michael Frolik
Team: HC Rabat Kladno Jr.
Birthdate: February, 17th, 1988
Birthplace: Kladno, Czech Republic
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 180 lbs.
Shoots: L
CSB mid-term rank: 2006 eligible

The comet-like progress of Kladno 1988 born prodigy Michael Frolik couldn’t go unnoticed by the Under-18 team head coach Jaromir Sindel, who is also responsible for the development of the young player as the head coach of his Kladno junior team. The brother of former Drummondville Voltigeurs forward and current Kladno senior player Martin Frolik, Michael Frolik played his entire career against players older than him. Last year was Michael Frolik invited to a handful of tournaments with the Czech Under-16 team as an underager. The 2004 Under-18 WJC will be his first major international tournament after the 2004 Viking Cup with the Czech Under-17 team. It will mark the comeback of the name Frolik at this event since Martin Frolik skated at the 2000 Under-18 WJC.

One of the youngest players in this year’s junior Extraleague, Michael Frolik is riding an extraordinary three-year long streak of championship trophies winning. He began his series with a championship trophy with the Kladno 9th grade team in 2001-2002, followed by a midget Extraleague championship trophy from the last season and this year he completed his collection with the gold medal from the junior Extraleague finals. Coach Sindel has put lots of faith into Frolik, dressing him as a first-line winger for most of the season. Frolik developed a good chemistry with David Krejci and this duo is expected to wreak havoc also at the Under-18 WJC.

Frolik is a very good skater with deceptive quickness and solid bursts of speed. He is capable of sharp turns, but still could use more balance and lower-body strength. He is a tricky puckhandler who utilizes on his smooth stickhandling to create strong plays. Frolik possesses excellent vision and hockey sense, he only has to avoid overhandling of the puck. He releases a quick wrist shot with a fast release. The accuracy is very good, just like on his slap shot, but the slapper needs to be harder. Frolik is willing to execute in traffic, but isn’t much of a physical force at this point. He doesn’t play afraid, so once he adds bulk to his frame, he shouldn’t have problems with the rougher going. Frolik is average on the defensive aspect of the game, he is willing to return to his own zone, but is quite raw when blocking the opponent’s passing lanes and marking his man. Definitely a name to watch out for in 2006, though.