International Ice Hockey Federation

Building on Hlinka success

Building on Hlinka success

Czechs will count on production from Jenik

Published 20.04.2018 12:20 GMT+5 | Author Derek O'Brien
Building on Hlinka success
Czech forward Jan Jenik was one of the surprise players of the Czech U18 national team last August at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. Photo: Andreas Robanser
When the Czech Republic takes to the ice at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, one of the players on everybody’s watchlist is forward Jan Jenik.

That wasn’t the case eight months ago, on home ice in Breclav at the start of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. However, a rash of injuries to the team during the group stage resulted in an opportunity for Jenik, who was still a month shy of his 17th birthday at the time. He took it, scoring a tournament-leading six goals in five games as the Czechs made the final.

“That was a fantastic experience,” Jenik smiled as he remembered last summer. “We had a really good team. It was a great group of guys all working together perfectly as a team toward a common goal, and I just benefited from that.”

Among the injured players was captain and top defenceman Libor Zabransky, but Janik said: “We had to deal with a lot of things and rely on some of the other guys who had trained with us but weren’t expected to play big roles in the games, but everyone just came together and meshed well.”

His performance at the Hlinka Memorial helped put Jenik on the radar as far as discussion about the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. It also helped give him his first taste of professional hockey the 2017/18 season, which was hampered somewhat by health issues – first a concussion and then pneumonia – that ruined his chances of competing for a roster spot in the World Junior Championship. However, when he played, he played well.

“It was a good season. I’m pretty satisfied with it,” Jenik said. “I think certain parts of it could have been better, but overall I’m very happy to have had the opportunities that I got.”

One of those opportunities was a six-game stint in the Extraliga with Bili Tygri Liberec. He called the top Czech league “more complicated hockey”, adding: “The players are faster, bigger and stronger but also smarter.”

Jenik also played 30 games in the WSM Liga – the second tier of Czech senior hockey – and registered 11 points with HC Benatky nad Jizerou. Benatky is a perennial cellar dweller in the league and generally only attracts 200 or so fans to home games, but the team had a brief appearance in the international spotlight in early February when a scheduled home game against HC Kladno marked the homecoming of Czech legend Jaromir Jagr. The game, which had to be moved to Liberec to accommodate everyone who wanted to see it, also saw Petr Nedved come out of retirement for one “farewell” game the day before his number was retired in Liberec.

“That was amazing,” Jenik marvelled. “The atmosphere throughout the arena with all the fans, and I can say I skated on the ice with those two guys.”

While he didn’t get a chance to get to know Jagr, he said the whole Benatky team was in awe of Nedved’s presence in the dressing room, and everyone was impressed with how well the 46-year-old played. “He’s a legendary player, and when you consider his age and that he hadn’t been practising, it was an amazing performance he put on. The way he can still skate… truly inspirational.”

Late in the season, however, Jenik was bitten by the injury bug once again when he injured his knee, and for a time it was uncertain whether he’d be able to play at the U18 Worlds. However, the 17-year-old was determined, and was medically cleared to play about 10 days before the start of the tournament.

“I had a problem with my knee. Now it’s good but still not 100 per cent,” he admitted some days before the Czechs’ debut on Friday against Slovakia, but he knows that the team needs him to produce if it hopes to have any success.

“I’ll be playing on the second line,” he said. “It’s really difficult to say what will happen, but I know that the reason I’m there is to score like I did at the Hlinka Memorial, so the team’s going to be expecting that from me and that’s what I’ll try to do.”

The Czech team in Chelyabinsk is very similar to the won that finished second at the Hlinka Memorial in August, and Jenik believes that’s an advantage that the team has as they get ready to battle Slovakia, Russia, Finland and France in Group B. Other than Zabransky, who is once again the captain, other key players are expected to be goaltender Lukas Dostal and forward Jakub Lauko, as well as 2019 draft-eligible Vojtech Strondala.

“It’s pretty similar,” he said of the Czech roster. “The core of the team is still together. These are our best players at this age category, so it’s a strong team and we’re all looking forward (to the U18 World Championship). It’s a big event and it should be a great experience.”

 

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