Watch out! Ondrej Nemec on the ice!

By Ivana Paulova

Vsetin a 6 times Extralegue Champion was facing financial crisis before the start of this season. But still managed to perform well and bravely struggled to reach the play-offs (which they at the end didn’t make and ended up on unpopular 9th spot). The key to success was to build the team on young players. The two youngsters who boosted into stars were Jiri Hudler and Ondrej Nemec. There were other young players like Vampola, Valko, Vaic, and older players like Kucharzcyk, Lang, Sochor who are at the start of their career but already proved to be good enough to play in the Extraleague.

Not many people knew the name Ondrej Nemec before this season. As an ordinary teenage player he was playing for the juniors of Vsetin. With admiration he was watching the Extraleague, in his spear time he was going to watch all their home games and some of the away games. Not even in his dreams he would imagine what would 2001/02 season bring.

His friend Jiri Hudler already played last season in the Extraleague team of Havirov. Vsetin had strong team and there was no regular spot for Jiri but in Havirov roaster there was. They both met again in the summer practice before the start of this season. Coach Tabara had a hard position while most of the players left and finical uncertainty made many players think twice before signing the contract with Vsetin. But for Hudler and Nemec the most important thing was to play regularly in the Extraleague and gain the inevitable experience. This opportunity was used by 100% by both of these players. Hudler was the key man in the offense while Nemec was a hero among the blueliners.

The story of young talented defender began in Moravian town of Trebic. At the age of 7 he went to the try out of the beginner hockey players. Coaches seeing his natural talents grabbed him to the team. Ondrej didn’t come from a hockey family and it was his own independent decision to do this sport. He was always attracted to scoring goals and playing in the forward but coaches were always placing him in the defense. His father started to follow hockey after he found out that Ondrej really takes hockey seriously. Ondrej also played soccer but that was never his main interest while he played it only when there was no hockey around. Ondrej soon found out that he has unconditional support from his parents who really helped him as much as they could and as in many other families sacrificed a lot for their kid’s good. Ondrej says that without this support he would never be able to play on such a level and he is very thankful for this.

Ondrej stayed in Trebic till the 9th grade. He received offers from many teams such as Sparta Praha, Slavia Praha, Zlin, Vitkovice and some others. But Ondrej chose Vsetin mainly because that was at the time when Vsetin won his 4th Extraleague Champion title.

He wasn’t such a bright gem as Hudler but Ondrej Nemec still usually played against one year older guys. He played as an underage in both the midget and the junior Extraleagues and it was the same in the junior national teams. Ondrej played most of the schedule of the Under-16 team of the 1983 born players but he stayed in the Under-16 team for two years and played for the 1983 only occasionally. In 2000-2001, when he was eligible for the Under-17 team, Ondrej played for the Under-18 only at one tournament, three-game series against Finland. But he spent the whole season playing already for the Vsetin juniors and a promotion was waiting for him. The skilled defenseman was very good with the puck and useful on PP units, had a nice hockey sense and vision so he could prepare with the senior team for this season.

At the beginning of the season Ondrej was benched for the senior games and was a blueline leader on the junior team, when he amassed 9 points after 6 games. But a chance was waiting for him. Poor play of defenseman Marek Vasut forced the Vsetin coaches to make some changes to the lineup and Ondrej Nemec gained a regular spot in Vsetin’s defensive rotation while Vasut was mostly benched. In a pair with more proven defenseman Martin Strbak Ondrej Nemec learned the tools of the Extraleague trade and he looked more and more confident on the ice. At the beginning Ondrej tried to keep the play simple and not to make mistakes. He distributed the puck wise, but when under pressure, he didn’t hesitate to fire it simply away. With the seniors he didn’t join the rush so often as he did with the juniors, he stayed more back and played defensively, but he learned soon when to join the rush and when to stay back. In his rookie season Ondrej scored 5 goals which enormously boosted his confidence and gained great deal of experience. At the end of the season his play seemed nothing like a play of a rookie. He made smart moves and could easily predict opponents’ intentions. It was a great pleasure watching him getting mature in the Extraleague. He was learning fast and developed to one of the key defenders of Vsetin back rows.

Like Hudler Nemec is a very smart player who won’t deliver bone crushing hits. Ondrej relies on his very good reading of plays, excellent smarts, poise and sound defensive play with lots of offensive upside. Ondrej skates and stickhandles well enough to handle all the abilities. He is blessed with tremendous vision, strong outlet passing and a hard slap shot from the point. He isn’t the type of stay-at-home defender who stays at one position waiting for the opponent to approach him. He is always in motion and a lot of movement is very typical for his style of play. Ondrej lacks only size, steel toughness and superb skating ability else he is a complete defenseman. He isn’t soft but for Canadian style he has to show much more of his nasty edge. He has undoubtedly very high individual skills, skating, passing and a quite accurate slap shot, but the lack of size is still there. It is very likely that Ondrej will be over 6’0” coming the NHL draft and he could be around 6’1” when his growing is finished. He is also quite stocky, now he stands at 190 lbs. and has lots of strength.

Ondrej never wanted to play in CHL. It just didn’t attract him. He preferred to stay at home and now he is glad he decided this way. Because playing in the Extralegue here is more helpful for a young player than a junior league anywhere in the world. Last season worked out well for Ondrej, as an underage in the juniors he gained 22 points in 42 games. Still on the international scene he didn’t manage to do good enough to be selected for the U-18 team for the World Championship (1983 born players). But he compensated it this season when he played really well not only in Vsetin but also in the U-18 selection plus he played 9 play-off games for Trebic seniors in the second highest league (1.CP league) where he manages to score 1 goal. He played at one tournament with the U-20 selection but he was struggling there while had new skates on and over all it just didn’t fit him well. Before the U-20 World Championship he was preparing with the team and was on the preliminary roster but at the end he wasn’t selected. There was no doubt that he will be the anchor of the Czech defenders for the U-18 World Championship. And he really was! With Marek Chvatal he was the first defensive pair of the Czech team. While Marek was taking care of the defensive problems Ondrej could start off offensive attacks. At the end he had 7 points for 1 goal and 6 assists and ended up 1st among Czech defender scoring leaders.

Teamwork is always a priority for Ondrej. He isn’t the type of player that would show off even though this season he already reached much more than any other Czech defender in his age. Not even Roman Hamrlik played that many games for seniors when being drafted as over all number 1 in 1992 NHL entry draft. While playing Ondrej tries not to get disturbed and keeps his poise but still he is an emotive player. On the international scene he dominated with his confidence. In the private Ondrej is a great friend and a guy you can rely on. He likes fun and you will always see him with a smile on his face. In his free time he mostly tries to catch up in the school work. Next year he will graduate from the high school and that is the main reason why he wants to stay in Vsetin at least for one more year. When all homeworks are done he likes to play on the play station or go out with his friends.

Ondrej not only has the skills and the potential he also he the smarts and the willingness that he will need in his way to the NHL. It would be a huge mistake to overlook this prospect, he may not have the perfect size but he won a spot in the senior Extraleague with his play and he was an alternate captain for the Under-18 team where he played almost every powerplay. He will develop into a top two-way defenseman and he has the potential to be a first round pick or early second round pick.