Czech NHL rookies – Martin Havlat

By Robert Neuhauser
In the first part I’m going to feature a possible Calder trophy winner, Czech winger Martin Havlat, who is currently among the top NHL scoring rookies. And it’s most likely that he’ll stay there till the end of the season.

Martin was born on April 19th, 1981, already with a god-given hockey talent. His father, former Brno defenseman and a current coach, soon recognized the talent of his son. At the age of 2 Martin already stood on skates. He sometimes followed his father to the practices and so he had a lot of opportunities to learn skating.

As time passed, little Martin found himself a player for the HC Ytong Brno 1st grade kids team with his father as his coach. The god-given hockey sense and good skating immediately made him the superstar of the team. He had to score goals and he knew how to do it, besides it is said that Martin was treated bad by his father if he failed to score in a single period! The purpose was to force Martin to fight for the puck as hard as he could to score that goal. And he scored, but not everyone was pleased with his play, people raved that he was too afraid to fight along the boards and the skinny Martin wasn’t the king when it came to weight-lifting. At the bantam age Martin wasn’t satisfied with the ice time he got in Ytong and so he moved to a much weaker Div II bantam team, where he played up to 30 minutes a game. After that year he returned to Ytong in great shape and became a regular with the Under-16 team. Michal Sivek was the star of this team, with Martin following him closely. After the 1996-97 season Sivek moved up to the Under-18 team, leaving Martin as a leader of the Under-17 team. He played well against international competition, just like against the opponents in the midget league. He is a finesse winger with excellent speed, vision and hockey sense. After the time with the Under-17 team it was time to say goodbye to his parent club of HC Ytong Brno and move to an Extraleague team.

It was the HC Zelezarny (now Ocelari – Steelers) Trinec. In Trinec, Martin played his first game for a senior team and at the end of the season he played in 24 games, scoring two goals (one on a penalty shot against almost 20 years older goalie Ladislav Blazek of HC Slavia Praha) and adding three assists. Due to his duties in Trinec, who fought in the playoffs, Martin missed a part of the Under-18 WJC, played in 1999 in Germany. Even then he was able to claim the team’s third best scorer title, when he scored 6 points (2+4) in 6 games for the 5th placed Czechs. That didn’t remain unnoticed by the NHL scouts and Martin was regarded as a top prospect prior to the 1999 NHL Entry Draft in Boston. He took part at the Top prospects preview in Toronto the month before and was judged to go either to Anaheim or St. Louis. But none of these clubs selected him. Martin saw his stock drop until the 26th placed Ottawa Senators took him to the podium. His NHL career was clear now, but Martin wanted to stay with Trinec for at least one year to hone his skills. He had a great preseason, which guaranteed him a roster spot with the senior team and he began to show why he was a first round pick. In the first half of the season Martin was always among the top 20 scorers in the whole league (once he scored 4 points in a game) and was one of the top stars of the Czech Under-20 team, when the WJC began in Sweden. The Czechs had built a team full of future stars, who were both skilled and lucky to make it to the finals against Russia. The game was a tough battle, 0:0 after overtime and the penalty shots had to decide. Zdenek Smid showed miracles in the net and Milan Kraft scored, so Martin Havlat could be the first to share the joy of winning the championship with Smid after he had a save on the last shot. If Milan Kraft failed to score, Martin Havlat would be the next to try his skills against Ilya Bryzgalov. But he could celebrate with a gold medal around his neck. Martin was one of the heroes of the team and the fourth best scorer.

After that the Extraleague continued, with Trinec finishing 6th and Martin the teams 4th best scorer with 42 points on 13 goals and 29 assists in 46 games. In the playoffs he recorded another two points on two assists in four games.

The next event was the Sweden Hockey Games, which saw Martin dress up for the first four games for the Senior National team. In the second game in the 51st minute Martin scored his first goal for the big Nats, after his wrister from the faceoff circle found his way into the net. After the tournament he played four exhibition games against Canada and Slovakia, going scoreless. After a short stint with HC Ytong Brno, when his father asked Martin to help his team in the Div II league playoffs Martin started to prepare for the World Championships and missed the last tournament of the Under-20 team.

Martin, the youngster of the team traveled to Russia next to Czech stars Jiri Dopita, Robert Reichel, Frantisek Kucera, and Pavel Patera! That was something. Coach Josef Augusta told him to play his game and he did. Martin showed all of his skills, which led to goals in games against Italy and Japan in the Quarterfinal division. Important was the possibility to see the Czech stars practice and learn something from them. Martin spent most of the tournament on a line with San Jose’s Michal Bros and Zlin’s star Petr Cajanek. After the championship game Martin became the first player in Czech history to claim both WJC and World Championship titles. And that in a single season! With a NHL contract under his belt it was most likely that Martin will come over to Ottawa. After an impressive rookie tournament he established himself on the roster, recording an assist in the opener on Oct. 5 at Boston. By now Martin has 12 points on 5 goals and 7 assists in 14 games and is riding a 3 game scoring streak. He plays on a line with Rob Zamuner and fellow Czech Vaclav Prospal. Good luck!

                                 GP   G   A   P
1997-98 HC Ytong Brno  ELHD      27   29  26  55
1998-99 HC Zelezarny Trinec Jr.  31   28  23  51
        HC Zelezarny Trinec      24    2   3   5
        Playoffs                  8    0   0   0
        Under-18 WJC              6    2   4   6
1999-00 HC Zelezarny Trinec      46   13  29  42
        Playoffs                  4    0   2   2
        HC Zelezarny Trinec Jr.   1    0   1   1
        WJC                       7    3   2   5
        World Championships       9    2   1   3