Known primarily as a sniper, 2003 Dallas Stars second round draft pick Vojtech Polak has been rounding out his game in 2005-06 with the AHL Iowa Stars after three full seasons of Czech Extraleague action.
Polak started 2005-06 with an impressive training camp with the Dallas Stars in September and was assigned to Iowa to start the season. After a three-point performance against the San Antonio Rampage Oct. 16, the parent club recalled the 20-year-old Czech October 21. Although Polak went scoreless in three games, he (along with Junior Lessard) became the first Iowa Star to be recalled by Dallas during the regular season.
Return to Iowa Oct. 30, Polak picked up where he left off, with another three-point performance. The rookie winger scored two of Iowa’s three goals in the 5-3 loss to Houston Nov. 3 and assisted on the other. Through December, Polak had eight goals and 11 assists in 24 games for the I-Stars.
Scoring is nothing new to Polak. He averaged nearly a point per game as a 14-year-old in Czech U18 Juniors in 1999-2000. As a 15-year-old, Polak averaged over a point per game in both Czech U18 and U20 juniors, and even skated a couple games with the Karlovy Vary in the Extraleague. By the 2002-03 season Polak was a regular in the Extraleague and represented his nation at the IIHF U18 World Championships, where he tied in Czech Republic team scoring with three goals and two assists in six games. By his 20th birthday, Polak had three full seasons of Extraleague experience, although he completed his third season with the Dukla Jihlava organization after a mid-season trade.
A major scorer in Czech juniors, and a contributor in the Extraleague, Polak is currently in the midst of a 17-game goalless drought in the AHL, although he did score impressive shootout goals against Omaha and Grand Rapids Jan. 27 and 28. He is no longer on the I-Stars first line as he was for most of the first half of the season, but he is proving valuable in the checking role. Polak is finishing his checks and showing a willingness to play in whatever role Iowa Stars head coach Dave Allison asks of the young Czech.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Polak after a 3-2 shootout loss over the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights Jan. 28, a game in which Polak set 8000-plus Iowa Stars fans into a roar with a roofed backhand past Brent Krahn. He would go on to duplicate the feat again the next day against Grand Rapids Griffins goalie Jim Howard, as the first shooter, with the same backhand move, but this time it was a 4-3 victory.
HF: You scored in the shootout tonight, were you thinking backhand the whole time?
VP: Yeah. I saw the goalie came out a little bit, and I’m trying all the time this move, like for the backhand, I just tried and it’s in.
HF: It seemed like the crowd was more into it tonight, did tonight’s atmosphere help the team at all?
VP: Yeah, it was nice, because the fans get us into the game. It would be nice [to have] every game like this.
HF: You’ve already skated with Dallas this season, what’s the biggest difference between the AHL and the NHL?
VP: Some games are almost the same like NHL. Some games are a little slower, but in the NHL the guys are smarter and a little bit physical. That’s the difference.
HF: What was your reaction the first time when you learned you were recalled by Dallas?
VP: (Smiling) It was awesome. I was like, ‘No, wait, you kidding me? It’s not a joke?’ It was very exciting. It was a great time up there.
HF: How does the AHL compare to the Czech Extraleague?
VP: Czech Extraleague is like, the players are smarter, maybe a little bit like defense play. So, I don’t know, right now here it’s different rules, so maybe it’s tougher to play home than here.
HF: What areas of your game are you working on so that you can skate full-time in Dallas?
VP: I’m trying all the time, make it a hard practice, doing the right things. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s not too good, but I’m trying all the time to do the right thing.
HF: What do you feel are the strong points of your game?
VP: I think my skating and shot, and maybe my pass, I don’t know (smiling and laughing).
HF: Any particular skills that you want to improve on?
VP: Everything. Year after year you have to try and make everything better.
HF: What type of NHL player do you hope to be?
VP: I don’t know, that’s a tough question. If I play there, I’ll be happy, doesn’t matter which type.
HF: Do you take more pride in scoring goals or making hits?
VP: Whatever coach tells me, I will do it.
HF: You started out scoring a lot this season, but not so much in January, what’s changed?
VP: I don’t know, that’s a tough question. I think nothing. I just do it on the ice, the job, what I think is the best. That was a tough one (smiling and laughing).
HF: You’ve represented the Czech Republic in the U18’s and the World Junior Championships, what’s it like to represent your nation?
VP: It’s nice. If you can play for your country and try to take your country to the sunshine, if you know what I mean. It’s nice all of the time.
HF: You excelled in the Czech Republic at a young age, as a 15-year-old you were scoring a lot of points in the J18s and you even played a game in the Czech Extraleague, what helped you excel at such a young age?
VP: When I was younger I was on the ice almost every shift, that’s not true, but I played too much. So, I had experience with the game. My family really helped me a lot. That was the thing, I think so.
HF: What was it like skating with the men in the Extraleague as a teenager?
VP: It was nice. Everywhere I was the youngest guy, you know? Sometimes guys made with me some jokes. It was exciting there, because I was the youngest there and I did a good job.
HF: Who were some of your favorite players growing up?
VP: You mean in the World, Czech League, doesn’t matter?
VP: I don’t know. I just try to work in every player and try and learn from other players in the NHL.
HF: No particular players as a kid?
VP: Maybe Jagr. He was everybody’s.
HF: Lastly, what are your goals the rest of the season?
VP: Every game, do a good job and help team and help teammates, and hopefully we’ll be making the playoffs.
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