After an impressive performance at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, which the Czech Republic co-hosted alongside Slovakia, the Czech U-18 national team is off to a successful season. Not only did they manage to play tight games with elite countries back in August, their perfect team play also caused Russia to lose one of three friendly games the two countries played in mid-December.
The Under-18 team is captained by Luboš Rob, Jr., whose father, Luboš Rob, played 700 games in the Czech and Finnish elite leagues and was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1990.
The seventeen-year-old native of, and player for, České Budějovice, the home of renowned Budweiser beer and players like Vinny Prospal and Roman Horák, is a lot like his father. He's a fast skater and a good playmaker. His great vision enables him to make unexpected passes and he also possesses fast reflexes. At 5'11“ and 172 pounds, Rob is more of a finesse player who can flash good technical skills, including not only passing plays but also slick dangles and dangerous wrist shots.
The captain of the Czech U-18 team must have taken a lot of advice from his father as he mostly plays with experience, respect and awareness. In the Czech Junior League (U-20), he is the leading point-scorer among players that haven't turned 18 yet. But, to get to the National Hockey League and be a solid contributor, he'll have to improve his physicality. He's not very tough along the boards and never goes for a big hit. That doesn't mean he can't play defensively, though. Thanks to his skilled hands, he is able to break up an attack at its very beginning, a sign that he might develop into a good forechecker.
This upcoming draft class probably won't see a lot of Czech names taken in comparison to the previous years. Luboš Rob, Jr., is, however, the most likely number-one offensive prospect based in the Czech Republic alongside his U-18 national team linemate, David Kämpf, and second behind Extraliga rookie blueliner, Jan Štencel, who played with the U-20 national team in Ufa, Russia.
We spoke to Luboš before Game Two of a three-game friendly series with the Russian U-18 team in Třemošná, just north of Pilsen, Czech Republic.
Hockey's Future: Luboš, this isn't your first time with the U-18 national team, but what does it feel like playing for your country?
Luboš Rob, Jr.: It's a good feeling, that's for sure. It's like a reward for the way I play in České Budějovice. Here, I play alongside the best players of my category and whenever we play someone, they have the best Under-18 players, as well. This makes me able to measure myself against the best players and it's also more difficult than in the Czech U-20 Extraliga.
HF: What does the captaincy mean to you?
LRJ: It means that the coach believes in my abilities, I'm happy for it and it makes me want to give it my best.
HF: As one of the leaders of the team, you're expected to go to the World U-18 Championship. What do you expect from that experience?
LRJ: The World U-18 Championship is the main event of this category and it's going to cap off our three-year work that we've done since the U-16 category. We will try to get the best result there and before we go, there are some things we need to improve. For all of us, it will be the first official world championship so we're all looking forward and we will get ready for it.
HF: What do you think was wrong in November when your team had a terrible World Jr. A Challenge?
LRJ: There were generally older players and we failed to get used to the smaller ice. Other teams played tough hockey and we just couldn't find the way to make things work. We scored just two goals in four games, but right now, we've just got to go forward and put it behind us.
HF: Your father played in the Czech Extraliga for a long time, how does he help you now?
LRJ: He helps me a lot and I wouldn't play hockey if it wasn't for him. He gives me advice I need and he talks with me about different game situations. I wouldn't say he's putting any pressure on me so it's really helpful to have such a dad.
HF: What about major junior hockey? Have you ever received an offer from a CHL team or would you want to go overseas?
LRJ: Yes, I had some offers, but we decided that I stay at home for at least another year. We'll see what happens next year.
HF: Let's say that you get drafted into the NHL, which team would you like the most to draft you?
LRJ: I think it doesn't matter if I get drafted, but I'd like to end up somewhere where hockey has tradition. In Canada, hockey is more important to people than in the United States, and that's important to me.
HF: What would you say about your playing style?
LRJ: I'd say I play smart hockey, I'm not a very tough player, but I look to pass the puck instead or shoot it. I like the way Roman Červenka plays the game.