Martin Lojek – The Big One

By Robert Neuhauser
When judging a players’ chances to succeed in NHL hockey all general managers and scouts
look also at size. Smallish players with a diminutive frame are often labeled as ‘too small
to succeed’ and even if the times when every player over 6’2” was automatically ‘very good’
are over, size is still a coveted asset. Players like Sami Kapanen, Paul Kariya or Saku Koivu
proved that also not very big players can survive but this story is about a guy which
will never be slotted into the ‘diminutive’ cathegory. Meet Mr. Giant, Pardubice defenseman
Martin Lojek.

Martin Lojek was a kid who had two choices when it was to decide which sport to choose. He
liked both soccer and hockey and was considering to start attending practices of one of those
sports. Martin was very skilled with the ball and could have solid chances on a soccer career.
From the hockey point of view he was lacing up the skates since the age of five, when he
made his first strides at a rink in his native city Zdar nad Sazavou. He was a quick study
and soon could skate very well, so hockey was also a choice. His parents wanted him to do
some sport and be active and it was up to Martin to choose which one. The main factor in this
decision was here his father, who is a huge fan of hockey. When Martin was six years old,
he took him to a practice of the youngest kids of the local team. Martin was excited and this
made his decision easy. It was hockey which won and from now on Martin Lojek was performing
for the youngest grade of the Zdar nad Sazavou kids.

Thanks to his solid skating skills
and creativity with the puck the coaches have selected him to play the forward position.
Martin was satisfied with this fact and started learning how to slip through defenses and deke
the goalies in many ways. Martin was playing center and was soon among the leaders of his team,
which was proved till the 5th grade with a ‘C’ on his jersey.
He was happy to make the goalies unhappy and scoring goals wasn’t a problem for him, just
like making plays. But Martin wasn’t a top forward prospects in the whole country, he was
just one of the more skilled kids. Already at that time he was nicknamed ‘Lojza’, just like
these days. This nickname comes of course from his surname, Lojza is another way how to say
the name Alois and Lojza sounds simillar to Lojek.

When Martin was playing for the 4th grade and was ten years old, he had a rapid growth spurt,
so the coaches began to consider switching him to the defenseman position, where he could
make use of his fast-gained size. Due to the growth spurt he also couldn’t be as agile as
he would like to and probably wouldn’t make it as a top forward prospect. So starting with
the 5th grade Martin was slotted to play defense. He spent that season with getting used
how to prevent the other forwards from scoring and with the fact, that a blocked shot was now
nearly more valuable than one fired shot. Martin felt on defense comfortable very soon and
the lanky kid was now patrolling the blue line.
The next season when Martin skated with the
6th grade team his overall play went super-nova. He was unleashing blasts from the blue line
and scored like a forward, but still punished the opposing forwards with hard checks and
showed a defensive savvy. Martin was able to score 36 points for 24 goals and 12 assists for
the Zdar nad Sazavou 6th grades.

After this very offensive season he was told not to rush
forward so much and better concentrate on rock-solid defense and using his imposing frame
better. Martin listened to the advices and was slowly turning into a stay-at-homer, even if
his hard slapper was still valued by coaches and teammates. Besides working his butt off at
the practices he also did various off-ice workouts to bulk up, gain more strength and make
his body look like the one of a professional bodybuilder. Martin admires Detroit Red Wings
defenseman Jiri Fischer for his strong physical attributes and terrific defensive play. His
another role model is Tampa Bay Lightning rearguard Pavel Kubina, another hulking player
who covers the defensive zone well and has a hard shot.

His season for the 8th grade had its top at a tournament played in Martin’s hometown Zdar nad
Sazavou where nearly all the elite teams participated. Martin was outstanding there and
finally received the Top defenseman honors and a trophy. This helped him to come into talk
as one of the better 1985 born defensemen in the whole Czech Republic.
Martin didn’t play much for the 9th grade also to the fact that the Zdar nad Sazavou midget
team wasn’t that strong and they needed help of a big, reliable rearguard who was clearly
able to take his game to another level if provided with a chance to face older opposition.
So it came that already in December of 1998 Martin was promoted to the Zdar nad Sazavou midgets
to play in the midget Extraleague as a twice-underage. He didn’t return to the 9th grade
any more, he played the remainder of the season with the midgets and with his smooth
transition to the midget level he proved that he is ready for full-time duty the next season.

The 1999-2000 season was to become Martin’s underage season among the midgets. He had to
play in the Div I midget league as there was no midget Extraleague franchise in Zdar that
season. He stepped up with a bigger role on the team ans even if he was a youngster, he
was often on the ice when the situation was hot. He was also a factor offensively while
showing a gentleman’s style. In fact, Martin didn’t register any single PIM during the 1999-2000
season because he could foresee the plays and take the pucks away from the opposing forward
without the need of doing a foul. Overall in 31 games for the Zdar nad Sazavou midgets
Martin scored 10 points for 6 goals and 4 assists.

But after that year it was time for Martin to say goodbye to his native city. In Zdar nad
Sazavou he wasn’t provided with a chance to compete at the elite midget level, which was
definitely a must in Martin’s further development. He hadn’t problems with offers, as a
coveted defenseman who entered midget age the Extraleague teams were looking to bring him
into the system. The nearby Pardubice team succeeded in the chase for Martin, who didn’t
need to move a long way into his new home. In Pardubice he had everything he was looking for.
A strong team which was playing atop the midget Extraleague, highly skilled teammates and
an experienced coaching staff. Martin credits coaches Milan Sumichrast and Lubos Slama who
coached him back in Zdar nad Sazavou but now he could judge the methods of Pardubice coaches.

He got used to his new teammates immediately and also to the midget Extraleague level, which
is much above the Div I midget level. After a few practices and games Martin felt like he
would play always for Pardubice. He was among the cornerstones of the team and was relied
upon heavily. His offensive output suffered but Martin has added a nice portion of toughness
to his play. He also showed lots of durability as he played 53 games for the Pardubice midgets,
where he registered 4 points for 2 goals and 2 assists while racking up 48 PIMs.
Martin Lojek
also contributed to the championship title of the Pardubice juniors, even if he dressed up
for only 2 games in which he went scoreless. The junior team needed help on the back line
and promoted Martin from the midget team so that he could have a cup of coffee already with
the juniors as a twice underage. For the second time in his career Martin had to face players
who sometimes were even four years older than him.

In 2000-2001 he didn’t have a posssibility to wear the Czech national jersey as he was
overlooked by Under-16 team coaches Karel Najman and Jaroslav Beck. But in 2001-2002 this
fact was to change because missing out one of the best Czech 1985 born defensemen would
definitely be not very smart. Lojek was of course the biggest and heaviest player of the
Under-17 team and started showing up immediately. He played at tournaments in Finland and
Slovakia, this was a three-game series. But most importantly he left a huge impression at
the famed World Hockey Challenge. He was outstanding on the smaller ice surface and could
dominate the games with his size and strong defensive play. Even if he went scoreless, he
was one of the most important parts of the team. Also thanks to this showing he got invited
to the selection camp for the Under-18 WJC team. A rocket-like career, from a player who
didn’t perform at all for the Under-16 team to a player who plays against one year older
opposition. Unfortunately, no underagers were selected to the team, so Martin Lojek went home
after two exhibition games.

His season in both the midget and junior Extraleague was much better. He was totally outstanding
among the Pardubice midgets, where he played 20 games. He proved his dominancy at this level
as he did allow the opposition almost no scoring chances when he was on the ice. He scored
5 points for 3 goals and 2 assists to go along with 20 PIMs.
A bigger portion of the season he spent playing already for the junior team. Frequently on
a pair with Michal Pelant Martin was a part of the team which succesfully defended the
championship title from the previous year. This time they defeated Ceske Budejovice juniors
in the finals to grab the back-to-back title. Martin was a factor also in the final series
and for an underaged rookie he logged a huge portion of playing time. His size and reach were
usful also there. Overall he skated 34 games with the Pardubice juniors, scoring 1 goal
and 3 assists for a total of 4 points. He spent 12 minutes in the penalty box.

For the next season he has a clear plan. He wants to come over and try his luck in the CHL.
After some talk with his agent Jiri Crha he decided that he is mature enough to cross the
pond and play his first North American season. Martin already played games in the Czech
junior Extraleague and because the senior Extraleague team doesn’t count on him, he thinks
that the CHL route will be the best for him.

Martin Lojek’s biggest asset is definitely his size. With his 6’5”, 221 lbs. frame he can
throw bone-crushing hits and sweep the opponents from the crease. Martin is very effective
along the boards where he sometimes reminds of a freight train which is out of control.
Even then he doesn’t tend to take dumb penalties and tries to avoid any fouls. He values
a clean check way more. His defensive zone coverage is very good and Martin tries to keep
his game simple and mistake-free. Better than making a risky play he dishes the puck off
and makes the safe play. He uses his superb reach to distribute pucks well even if he
doesn’t join the rush very often. Martin is more of a stay-at-homer who has a cannon of a shot.
He can fire hard blasts from the point, which is very useful on the powerplay. He has a decent
vision and average passing skills. On the downside Martin has to further develop his skating
and mobility, which isn’t very good by this time, but this is quite common by players of
that size. Martin is a very talented defenseman with exceptional size and those players don’t
appear very often.

His free time Martin splits between resting and other sports. As a top athlete he is aware
of how resting is important for his performance and is a “dedicated rester”. From other
sports Martin likes to play of course soccer, which he liked from the time he was a small
kid and was deciding which sport to do. The second favorite is then tennis, for Martin it’s
a challenge to play against his dad who is just like his son a skilled tennis player. Martin
isn’t superstitious and doesn’t have an exact order of things he does before each game. This
involves also food, Martin likes to eat (nearly) everything he has on the plate for his
dinner. When he is resting, then he prefers to listen to music done by Robbie Williams, who
is Martin’s favorite singer. From the NHL teams Martin supports the Detroit Red Wings and
is now very happy that Dominik Hasek has won the Stanley Cup he deserves. With Martin’s
skill level and dedication to the game it can happen that some day also he can hoist the
Holy Grail of Hockey over his head. Good luck!