(Hockey’s Future spoke with Vladimir Mihalik in Tampa Bay during the main camp in September and again in October, during a Western Hockey League game against the Kelowna Rockets.)
One would think that making a point to be noticed on the ice has become a non-issue for Vladimir Mihalik. At 6’7, 235 lbs, the native of Presov, Slovakia can hardly make a move without being seen.
Yet there is a need for the 19-year-old defenseman to show the Tampa Bay Lightning he belongs among the organization’s elite players. In recent years, size did indeed matter in the NHL with the prevalence of the trap and obstruction techniques. The new standard of enforcement, however, will require a more focused commitment on skating ability as a means to fend off offensively gifted opponents.
“It was a big experience for me at training camp in Tampa and I really learned a lot of new things about the position,” Mihalik said, back with his team. “The speed in the NHL is faster than here, but also the players seem to be smarter in their play.”
Mihalik, who is currently sidelined with a separated shoulder, is scheduled to return to the ice by Nov. 1. During a game in Prince George against the defending WHL champion Vancouver Giants, Mihalik was checked from behind and fell heavily into the boards. So far he has one assist and six penalty minutes in four games.
Although he spent some extra time at the Bolts’ main training camp, Mihalik is comfortable with a return to the WHL this season. He’s suiting up for a new team, thanks to an offseason trade from the Red Deer Rebels to the Prince George Cougars.
“They tell me they are happy to have me here,” Mihalik said. “I like Mike Vandecamp. He’s a young coach and I like what he is telling me. (General manager) Dallas Thompson knows very much about the game too. They are good guys.
“I am excited to be in Prince George, but I am disappointed that I am hurt right now.”
During the Bolts’ training camp in Brandon, Florida, Mihalik’s play received plenty of attention from the club’s decision makers.
“He’s been very good,” confirmed Tampa Bay general manager, Jay Feaster, at the time. “He was very, very good in Traverse City at the rookie tournament. I thought, and our scouts felt, that he was our best defenseman in Traverse City.”
Mihalik too was pleased with his play.
“At the rookie tournament, the coaches told me that I played pretty good,” Mihalik said. “They sent me to the main camp and I had good fitness testings. I guess I did well because they made some cuts and I was still [there]. I traveled with the team to exhibition games in Washington and Detroit.”
Unfortunately for Mihalik, he did not play in the two preseason games. But still, Feaster was pleased with his development.
“He’s came in here and more than held his own,” Feaster explained. “As the camp progressed though, I think he showed some fatigue. I thought it showed in his last scrimmage game. His group played against the (Brad) Richards, (Martin) St. Louis team and he got spun around pretty good a couple times.
“But again, where he is as far as his development, we like him a lot and we think he’s going to be a good pro. We wanted to keep him around and see him a bit more.”
Feaster is comfortable with Mihalik’s situation in the WHL.
“We thought we would send him back to junior because we’re deeper on the blue line here this year,” Feaster said. “So, as far as his development, I think another year in the WHL will be good for him. Stew Malgunas coaches the defense out there in Prince George. We all know Stew very well here and feel he will help continue Vlad’s development.”
For Mihalik, the upcoming season in Prince George means he’ll play an important role with a club on the rise. Last year in Red Deer, the club had a miserable regular season and missed the playoffs.
“I played in Red Deer last year and it was a big experience for me,” Mihalik said. “I felt I played pretty good for the first half of the season, but then I don’t know what happened. Maybe I was tired after the WJC. After the season I was traded to Prince George, where I know we will have a good team. I hope this will be a great year.”
In addressing the challenges last season, Mihalik confirmed the activity level was a new experience.
“The biggest challenge, well, it was a tough year,” he said. “Playing 72 games was different. In Slovakia, we maybe played 45 games in the regular season. I was tired last year after a bunch of training camps. I was going all the time with little rest.”
Mihalik played in the WJC, which was held in Kelowna and Vancouver last season. Indeed, there was little opportunity for the first-year rearguard to rest. However, he is thankful for the opportunities and is pleased to represent his country at international events. It enables him to reconnect with friends and learn from other elite players.
“I enjoyed the WJC,” Mihalik recalled. “Boris Valabik (ATL) is a good friend, he’s a good guy and I learned he is so tough. And Stanislav Lascek (TB), we are good friends. I spent time with him at the WJC last year. He is one year older than I am. He is a good playmaker with good hands. I like playing with him.
“I learned a lot from the Canadian players too, especially the quick plays and positioning on the ice. They are very good puck handlers.”
The workload is not likely to decrease in Prince George, as the Cougars will be looking for an important leadership contribution from Mihalik. And if the Lightning’s wishes are granted, the learning process will prepare Mihalik to become an effective professional along their blue line, making life difficult for opponents for many years to come.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.