Czech 2004 prospects: Season Review Part 1

By Robert Neuhauser

Rostislav Olesz, C

2003-2004

HC Vitkovice Sr.40GP1G11A12P10PIM

playoffs6GP2G1A3P4PIM

HC Vitkovice Jr.3GP2G0A2P0PIM

Under-20 WJC6GP3G2A5P6PIM

The expectations were on high for Olesz, who was labeled the jewel of the Czech 2004 eligible crop and a possible second overall pick behind Russian prodigy Alexander Ovechkin. Olesz broke out in 2002-03 with a solid season for his HC Vitkovice team in the Czech senior Extraleague and this year he was expected to build on his experience from the previous year and emerge as one of the team’s strongest two-way forwards. However, he turned out to be a bit of a victim of the coach Ladislav Svozil’s system, who sacrificed Olesz’s offensive upside to make from him a shut-down player and a defensive specialist. This effected his offensive totals. The character player Olesz filled the defensive duties conscientiously, but didn’t show a significant improvement over the course of the season, which caused his stock to stagnate and be leapfrogged by the likes of Russian Evgeni Malkin. Olesz scored just one goal in 40 regular season games he dressed out for, but was a bigger force in the playoffs, where he averaged 0.5 points per game and showed glimpses of both grit and elite skill. He had to battle two injuries during the season, the first being the well-known concussion after Calgary Flames draft pick Dion Phaneuf laid a hard hit on him at the 2004 Under-20 WJC and the second was a face injury, which occured soon after the Under-20 WJC when an opponent’s stick hit his face.

Olesz was an integral part of the Czech Under-20 team. He appeared at two Four Nations Tournaments in August and November before taking part in the 2004 Under-20 WJC. The concussion ended his solid showing at this event, where the Czechs finished without a medal. In March he was invited to the evaluation camp of the Czech senior national team and managed to stick with the team also during the first exhibition games. In early April the Vitkovice team announced that they loaned Olesz for two seasons to the HC Sparta Praha team in exchange for a two-year loan of former NHLer Roman Simicek, meaning that Olesz will begin his 2004-2005 season in the white and black colors of Sparta.

Marek Schwarz, G

2003-2004

HC Sparta Praha Sr.8GP335MIN173SVS.8964SVP3.58GAA

HC Ocelari Trinec Sr.5GP280MIN163SVS.9314SVP2.57GAA

HC Lasselsberger Plzen Sr.10GP603MIN389SVS.9218SVS3.28GAA

HC Mlada Boleslav (Div I)1GP63MIN39SVS.8667SVS5.71GAA

HC Sparta Praha Jr.7GP352MIN185SVS.9296SVS2.39GAA

Under-20 WJC7GP388MIN169SVS.9037SVP2.78GAA

Under-18 WJC7GP419MIN139SVS.9392SVP1.29GAA

Perhaps the best investment Schwarz made in the 2003-2004 season was his suitcase as he dressed out for three different teams during this season. The junior Extraleague provided no more challenge for the young goaltending stud, who managed the full-time jump to the senior level. The clear position of ultra-experienced Petr Briza as the starter of his Sparta Praha team forced Schwarz to accept a loan to the HC Ocelari Trinec team. In the red and white colors of Trinec Schwarz registered the most succesful part of the season, when he looked like a veteran between the pipes and pulled off numerous impressive showings. At mid-season was Schwarz on the move again and this time he joined the HC Lasselsberger Plzen team. There behind a sometimes shaky and porous defense he faced a barrage of shots every game and let in the occasional soft goal. In Plzen, Schwarz developed some bad habits in his style like a tendency to go down too early and leaving the upper part of the net vulnerable to shooters. However, upon his return to Sparta Praha, he showed that he is capable of getting rid of those habits with proper coaching. Schwarz returned to his hometown Mlada Boleslav for one game to help the senior team, but this stint ended immediately after the game was over. A heavy workload he faced this season caused that Schwarz suffered a leg injury in March, the only injury he had to battle this season.

Schwarz marked his first appearance at the World Junior Cup in August, 2003 and the tournament’s top netminder backstopped the Czechs to a bronze medal. After another strong performance, this time for the Under-20 team in November, he had the starting job to lose at the 2004 Under-20 WJC. This tournament wasn’t one of his best showings, however. Schwarz battled inconsistency and was guilty of some soft goals. He bounced back with an above-average performance at the Five Nations Tournament of the Under-18 teams in February and mostly at the Under-18 WJC. Schwarz played for the second time at this tournament and this time he brought home a medal. The bronze medal from the Under-18 WJC and the ‘Top goaltender’ award meant the biggest international success of Schwarz in the 2003-2004 season. He solidified his spot as the top puckstopper from the 2004 crop and a possible top 15 pick.

Jakub Sindel, C

2003-2004

HC Sparta Praha Sr.34GP5G1A6P14PIM

playoffs13GP1G1A2P2PIM

HC Sparta Praha Jr.13GP8G14A22P4PIM

HC Dukla Jihlava (Div I)1GP0G0A0P0PIM

Under-20 WJC5GP0G1A1P0PIM

Under-18 WJC7GP3G3A6P6PIM

Jakub Sindel worked his way into the offensive rotation of the Sparta Praha senior team after arriving from the arch rival Slavia Praha late in the 2002-2003 campaign. Sindel skated constantly on the third or fourth line and was the only draft eligible player who saw significant playing time also during the playoff battles. Head coach Alois Hadamczik gave him quite a lot of room and Sindel responded with learning the ropes and bounds of elite senior hockey quickly, but also showing that he has holes in his game, which include average defensive play and a lack of strength and toughness. His season high came in a home game against Vitkovice, where Sindel entered the Czech Extraleague record book as the youngest player to ever record a hattrick on the elite Czech senior level. For his efforts on the senior team he was nominated on the ‘Top Rookie’ award, the Czech version of Calder Trophy. In this voting Sindel finished as one of the runner-ups to winning goaltender Tomas Duba, a draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jakub Sindel was loaned for one game to his hometown senior team, HC Dukla Jihlava, but rejoined his parent team immediately after the game.

On the international stage his season started at the 2003 World Junior Cup, where Sindel captained his Czech Under-18 team to a bronze medal and emerged as the best goalscorer. Because he showed that he can survive at the Under-20 level at the Four Nations Tournament in November, Sindel was invited to the 2004 Under-20 WJC. His performance on the Under-20 WJC was hampered by a nasty flu bug, which hit Sindel during the evaluation camp. Sindel couldn’t find his ‘A’ game during the whole event and wasn’t much of a force. On the Five nations tournament in Finland he was reunited with the Czech Under-18 team, setting the stage for another performance on the Under-18 WJC. In Minsk, Belarus, Sindel captained his team to yet another bronze medal and displayed a better play in his own zone than on the previous year’s event and completed the 2003-2004 campaign.

Ladislav Smid, D

2003-2004

HC Bili Tygri Liberec Sr.45GP1G1A2P51PIM

HC Bili Tygri Liberec Jr.16GP5G10A15P44PIM

HC Beroun (Div I)2GP1G0A1P6PIM

Under-20 WJC6GP1G2A3P4PIM

Under-18 WJC5GP0G2A2P0PIM

Ladislav Smid proved that he is capable of playing as a top-four defenseman in the Czech senior Extraleague already as a 17-year-old. He spent most of the season skating on the second defensive unit paired with experienced rearguard Valdemar Jirus. Smid displayed remarkable composure and maturity beyond his age this season, which boosted his draft stock. He was asked by the coaches to keep his game simple and back down from his usual puck-moving prowess a bit on the senior team. He could show his creativity on the junior team, where he was demoted occasionally when the junior squad needed help. Smid emerged as one of the very few defensemen who averaged almost a point per game in the 2003-2004 edition of the junior Extraleague. Once his Liberec senior team wasn’t able to reach the postseason play, Smid was loaned to the Beroun team of the Div I senior league to help the team in their playoff run. Beroun was eliminated in the semifinals and didn’t reach the championship series.

Ladislav Smid fought his way in both the Under-20 WJC and Under-18 WJC rosters. In August he was the defensive anchor of the Czech Under-18 team, which won bronze medals at the World Junior Cup in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In November he succeeded in the trial-by-fire on the Under-20 level at the Four Nations Tournament and guaranteed himself a roster spot on the Under-20 WJC team. In Finland he registered a tournament of ups and downs, showing solid poise in some games just like occasionally fading against older opposition. Smid re-joined the Under-18 team in February at the Five Nations Tournament and was a lock to make the Under-18 WJC team. His performance at the Under-18 WJC in Minsk, Belarus, was affected by a flu, which hit the tired rearguard and sidelined him for two games. But still he proved that he can be outstanding against players of his own age and worth a top 15 pick.

Lukas Kaspar, F

2003-2004

HC Chemopetrol Litvinov Sr.37GP4G2A6P10PIM

HC Chemopetrol Litvinov Jr.24GP21G14A35P56PIM

HC Usti nad Labem (Div I)1GP1G0A1P0PIM

HC Banik Most (Div II)1GP0G0A0P2PIM

Under-20 WJC6GP0G3A3P2PIM

Lukas Kaspar managed to make the awaited jump to the senior Extraleague after being invited to a cup of coffee in 2002-2003 and not looking out of place on the elite senior level. He tore up the junior Extraleague during the first three weeks of regular season play, scoring at a two goals per game average and earned a long look in the senior team. There he solidified his playing spot on the third or fourth line with his solid prowess in the offensive zone and also particularly upgraded defensive awareness, a factor he considerably lacked during his midget and early junior days. Kaspar was willing to sacrifice the body and play where it hurts, but still didn’t get rid of the bad habit to occasionally disappear in some games, mainly as far as defensive work is concerned. A bit of a headcase, Kaspar needs to fully mature and realize that he has to give his best efforts every night if he wants to make his living as a pro athlete. The arrivals of proven senior vets Roman Kadera and Michal Hreus late in the season meant a major cut of playing time for Kaspar, who was released on two short loans to Div I and Div II senior league teams respectively. Upon returning from his loans he was demoted to the junior team more often, helping them in the first round of the playoffs. However, the Litvinov juniors were defeated and Lukas Kaspar’s season came to an end.

Lukas Kaspar missed the opening tournament of the Under-20 team’s schedule, a Four Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic, where head coach Alois Hadamczik tested mostly players playing overseas in the CHL. But Kaspar was in the roster for the next tournament, a Four Nations Tournament, played in Tjumen, Russia. There he convinced the coach that he is ready to perform at the Under-20 WJC already this season and made the trip to Finland. At the Under-20 WJC Kaspar didn’t stand out among the other players, but showed that he can play in traffic and handle the physical aspects of the game. Would be a first-rounder based on talent and skills, but his tendency to take a game off and a somewhat problematic nature may push him to the second round.

Karel Hromas, F

2003-2004

HC Sparta Praha Jr.21GP10G10A20P16PIM

HC Sparta Praha Sr.13GP0G0A0P0PIM

playoffs2GP0G0A0P0PIM

Under-20 WJC3GP1G0A1P2PIM

Under-18 WJC7GP1G1A2P2PIM

Gritty and character play were two signs of Karel Hromas’ overall success in the 2003-2004 season. He showed that he doesn’t have much to prove on the junior level in the early stages of the season and after the first three months of play he earned a promotion to the Sparta Praha senior team. Soon before Christmas Hromas signed a professional contract with the senior team and was ready to jump into the Extraleague. There he didn’t have to cope with a heavy workload as he was used sparingly as a depth third- or fourth-liner. When Sparta Praha seniors head coach Alois Hadamczik iced just three lines, Hromas found himself mostly as a healthy scratch. But his spirited play and two-way savvy earned him respect from opponents and made his full-time promotion for next year more than likely. Hromas was benched for most of the playoffs, where his Sparta Praha team was eliminated by Slavia Praha in the semifinals.

Karel Hromas played most of the international 2003-2004 season against older and physically more mature opposition. But he began the season with the Under-18 team at the World Junior Cup, where he contributed to the bronze medal success with reliable play on both ends of the ice. In November he was promoted already to the Under-20 team to prove that he is capable of handling the pace of the game of players two years older. His season highlight should have come at the 2004 Under-20 WJC as he made the team out of evaluation camp, but he was sidelined with a flu for the bigger part of the tournament, which turned out to be more of a disappointment for the young Czechs. After his returning to the Czech Under-18 team better times were ahead for Hromas, who won a bronze medal with the Czech Under-18 team at the Under-18 WJC in Minsk, Belarus. There he filled his usual tenacious role, which fits him well and showed that he is well worth a second-round pick.