Robin Kovar – The Giant prospect

By Robert Neuhauser
Having your dad a former or active hockey player can be often one of the most important things at the
very beginning of your hockey career. There is nothing like getting the first tips from a
knowledgeable man who has spent lots of his life at hockey rinks. Just have a look at the
Czech roster from the WJC. Filip Novak is a son of a hockey player. So is Jiri Hudler or
Frantisek Lukes. And Miloslav Horava, a still undrafted forward prospect and arguably the best
Czech player at the WJC, is even a son of a world champion and a NHL player.
Robin Kovar had also this advantage of a dad playing hockey. He was born in the small Czech
city Valasske Mezirici, where his dad was playing for the local team in the lower leagues.
He didn’t have a gold medal from the World Hockey Championship around his neck like the
older Miloslav Horava, but brought his son to the game immediately. As soon as it was
possible he started taking Robin with him to the practices so the little Kovar was familiar
with the arena in Valasske Mezirici already at the age of three. Besides watching the
practices of the senior team Robin Kovar started to take his first strides in winter under
the watchful eye of his dad. Robin liked this very much and soon he also held the stick in his
hands and started to chase the puck.

When Robin was about to start attending elementary school, he also decided what sport he
wants to do. It was hockey, of course. So at 6 he entered the team of the youngest kids
in Valasske Mezirici. There he also met Josef Vavra, a fellow 2002 NHL prospect and the
two were almost immediately the bright spots on the roster. Among the youngest kids it is
very important to have lots of skill and to practice a lot. Robin did a lot of offseason
workouts and had hockey in his blood, so the puckhandling whiz ruled on the ice with his
nifty stick moves soon. There made the tips of his father the first use and Robin was on every
important shift. His parents really supported him a lot, Robin’s mum helped him with
school duties so that Robin could have time for both education and hockey.

As a great natural talent, Robin’s name was soon concerned among the people from Extraleague
teams, looking for a boost in their pipeline of youngest kids’ prospect. The new Vsetin
team broke into the Extraleague in the fall of 1994 and wanted to establish a solid base of
prospects of all ages, from 1st grade to juniors, soon. The two gems from the nearby
Valasske Mezirici became an offer among the first ones and so at the age of ten Robin Kovar
and Josef Vavra moved to the city where a new dynasty in hockey was founded. Vsetin won
seven Extraleague titles in the following eight seasons, but also their team consisting
of 1984 born players was very succesfull. Still without Jiri Hudler and Ondrej Nemec Vsetin
1984 born pee-wees grabbed the championship title among the 8th grades and the following
year the situation was nearly the same among the 9th grades.

But both Robin Kovar and Josef Vavra were simply too good to play only against kids of their
own age. Vsetin midgets head coach Hudler promoted the two to the midget Extraleague one
year before they were normally eligible and they played as underagers. For Robin Kovar
the 1998-99 season was hampered by mononucleosis. He had to battle the sickness during the
whole course of the season and coach Hudler, father of Jiri Hudler, didn’t want him to loose the joy from hockey,
so he has let him to play sparingly some games at least. Robin didn’t loose contact with
the game and coach Hudler helped him at this point of his career.
The next season Kovar soon became one of the go-to players in the Vsetin midget team because of his
style of play. Robin combines in his style the perfect blend of size and top-notch skill.
He posesses nearly the size of Jiri Dopita and the soft hands of Robert Reichel. The finesse
center Reichel is also along with Mario Lemieux and of course Jaromir Jagr Robin’s hockey role model.

Robin Kovar is a very good skater with solid acceleration and fast turns, but his biggest
asset are his hands. He handles the stick really well and likes to have the puck on the tape.
That makes along with his tremendous vision and hockey sense the opposing defenses
fear. Robin can score and pass equally well but he tends to pass the puck than just fire it
at the net. He can make surprising smart passes and is very effective on the powerplay.
When speaking of Robin’s drawbacks, then you’ll hear defensive play and lack of toughness.
For a player of his size Robin could throw in his body more when fighting along the boards
and deliver more hits. The defensive play also isn’t one of his strengths, but Robin is asked
to play offense, where his top-notch skills rule, so he doesn’t concentrate on
defense that much.

He wore the jersey of the Czech junior national team already before he entered the Under-16
team. It was in the season when he had to fight mononucleosis and this made at least one
bright spot at a season which was probably to forget for Robin.
He was selected to perform against Finland in a meeting of the unofficial Under-15
teams of both countries. Robin shone in that contest which turned out to be a 4:2 win of
the Czechs and it was sure that he’ll perform also for the Under-16 team.
He didn’t miss any game of the Czech Under-16 team in the 1999-2000 season, but didn’t also
register any goal. The season in the midget Extraleague was very succesfull for Robin,
who played the full schedule for the first time. In the summer he worked out a lot to gain
strength he lost when was sick and also to add some bulk to his frame. Robin concentrates
on leg strength a lot and in the offseason he loves to ride the bike and he also takes part
in various bike races.
So in the 1999-2000 season he wanted to prove everybody that he is ready to score and fight
his way into the Vsetin junior team. And he really showed that he has nothing to prove among the midgets.
Robin Kovar won by far Vsetin midgets’ scoring with 58 points for 26 goals and 32 assists
in 46 games, leaving second Josef Vavra 12 points behind. Kovar also reached one of the
highest point per game averages in the whole midget Extraleague, finishing seventh overall
with 1.26.

That was enough for the Vsetin juniors coaches to let him skate as an underage in the junior
Extraleague the following season. Playung against older competition wasn’t a huge problem
for Robin, he was used to it as he battled older opponents for nearly the whole length of
his previous career. Robin Kovar played 25 games for the Vsetin juniors last season, scoring
13 points for 6 goals and 7 assists. Solid numbers for a rookie, but the biggest surprise
came as he got invited to play one game with the Vsetin seniors and so make his debut in
the Extraleague. Without practicing one single time with the seniors Robin entered the
locker room of the senior team, where he could see the stars like Jiri Dopita, Jan Pardavy
or Jiri Burger. He didn’t have a jersey with his favorite number 8 on, for the game the
equipment manager gave him a jersey with the number 29. In the game Robin went scoreless, but
this was a huge experience for the talented forward.

His 2000-2001 international season was also quite succesfull. Robin Kovar was one of the
most consistant scorers for the Under-17 team. He didn’t score a goal only at the Four Nations
tournament played in the Czech Republic. Jakub Koreis, Petr Kanko and Kamil Kreps were
able to score at every tournament they participated and so Robin was the second best in this cathegory. From
the scoring point of view his best tournament was the first one, a three-game series against
Germany, where Robin notched 4 points for 2 goals and 2 assists. The World Hockey Challenge
wasn’t a huge scoring explosion for Robin with 1 goal, but overall he left a solid
impression with his play.

So in the summer of 2001 Robin Kovar had a tough time with deciding whether to stay at home
and try to grab a regular spot with the seniors or to come over and try his luck in the CHL.
The WHL’s expansion franchise Vancouver Giants secured the rights on Robin as they picked
him in the second round of the CHL Import Draft, after making Marian Havel the top Import
pick overall.
Robin Kovar practiced with the Vsetin seniors during the summer and first it looked like he
would stay. Almost every player from the senior team which played in Vsetin in 2000-2001 left due to
salary problems and Robin could have a regular spot on the senior team. But then he changed
his mind and soon was aboard a plane heading Vancouver.

There he had to cope with other culture and the biggest problem was the language. Marian Havel
has spent one season playing in North America before and he helped and still helps his fellow countryman
to overcome those problems. In the scrimmages at the camp they played for different teams
so that Robin had to use English to speak with his teammates. But on the ice he didn’t need
to speak that much, his skills were evident and he ruled also in the gym. Robin Kovar was
one of the top Giants’ players in every workout and was in a very good shape.
No wonder that he dressed up for the franchise opener. The game didn’t turn out to be a lucky
one for Robin who suffered an injury in the opener and had to sit out the following games.
He could at least do the things he prefers to do in his free time – search the internet,
play videogames and watch Sylvester Stallone in the “Rocky” series of movies. The “Rocky”
is by far the favorite movie of Robin. Besides hockey and biking, Robin Kovar is also
an accomplished tennis player and he likes to play tennis in his free time in the summer.

Even if playing only very limited time, Robin Kovar was ranked 21st among WHL skaters in the
CSB preliminary ranking. In his first 12 WHL games Robin posted only average numbers as he scored
4 points for 1 goal and 3 assists. He has to bounce back in the second half of the season
in which he already suffered two injuries.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Atlanta Thrashers fan hopes some NHL team will pick him in June,
but doesn’t care which one. He wants to reach the NHL to fulfill his dream and by this way also return
his parents all the efforts they have put in his hockey career. He definitely has the tools,
it’s up to him how he succeeds. Hope Robin Kovar will do it!