Editor’s note: This article was published on December 25th on the Czech news site iDNES.cz. You can find the full, untranslated version on their site here.
Meeting and talking to Joe Sakic, former icon and current general manager of Colorado Avalanche, used to be stressful for him, “but I’ve got used to him calling me from time to time” says 19-year old Martin Kaut. “He’s a great guy. He was at various games and tournaments with us during training camp, we’ve played Stiga (table) hockey against each other. He beat me.”
The latest call with hockey legend was fun, not only for Kaut but also the Czech national team. Sakic has confirming his participation at World Junior Hockey Championship.
Colorado had set a very specific path for the sixteenth pick in the latest draft, the same one as for Mikko Rantanen – currently one of the most productive player in NHL.
“They told me upfront that they have the same plan for me. After the draft he was playing in the minors where he was improving. Then they’ve sent him to WJHC,” explained the youngster from Zdar nad Sazavou. “I was hoping and kind of expecting to go there as well.”
He has played 26 games for Colorado Eagles before the tournament and scored five goals and seven assists for 12 points.
Are you satisfied with your AHL production?
Good question. I had like two points in my first seven games, I was getting used to the new league. I’ve stopped worrying about it and started getting a few more points. People say that points are important in America, but what I can see from Colorado is that they mainly want me to improve myself as a player – going to the net, finishing checks, getting stronger and faster. That’s why I don’t have to focus on points so much.
Do you feel the pressure of being team’s first choice in June’s draft?
I guess so. It would be weird if there wasn’t any pressure. But it’s a positive pressure which tells me that they want to help me. I was not too good on the right wing so they’ve put me to the left and I’ve started scoring goals all of a sudden. They support me. I am grateful for it and I hope I will be able to pay it back to them on the ice.
How did you get used to America?
I was here alone but now I get a lot of support from Pavel Francouz. He’s become my second father (smiles). The beginning was not easy. I flew to Colorado before Pavel because I underwent a heart surgery and the club wanted me to train there. But I didn’t mind it, the elevation was the biggest problem. Colorado is really high up and I’ve had issues breathing and after first couple of practices I’ve... is vomiting a polite word?
Those practices were just extremely tough. There was a lot of cycling tests or sprints after a short break. It was also because I couldn’t train much before so I had to get used to it. Plus the hockey in AHL.
How would you describe that?
It’s every man for himself. Everybody wants to get up to NHL. When I compare it to Pardubice (his team in the Czech hockey league), it’s completely different. It’s not as much about friendships, the game is a lot faster. It’s about finishing checks a lot. Teams have two or three fighters, there’s a fight every second game. Luckily I’ve only been in net battles or part of some scrums, I’ve never dropped the gloves. But I have to get used to playing with my head up.
How are you getting used to playing in a selfish environment?
I have to adjust to it even though I was never that type of a player. I’d rather send a pass but here I know that doing that I will never get the puck back. It’s not ideal but I try to shoot anytime I can.
Are the coaches pushing you to do so as well?
They talk to me about it a lot. I have a good shot and I should use it, they say. I’m an offensive player so I should be spending time in the offensive zone. So I’m trying to listen to them.
What did you improve the most since summer?
I’ve got used to American hockey and playing more selfish. I’ve gotten stronger as well. Summer was not good at all but I’m getting there. Our coach wants to play a style I’ve never played before. We play 1, 1, 3 in neutral zone. Also forechecking... I’m learning to play close the net, battling and driving. It’s a trend in America, in Czech we play it more nicely – to score goals into empty nets. There’s nothing like that in here. Goals are scored via rebounds and tips. I’m doing my best to improve in that aspect.
And non-hockey growth? You’re living away from your parents for the first time.
When I was playing for Pardubice they lived an hour away from me. I had everything I needed. But there’s no mommy and daddy here. It was tough at the beginning and it still is not easy. We had a seven game losing streak, that gets under your skin. You’re angry and don’t know what to do. In Czech I had parents who would cheer me up. Now we’re calling each other all the time but I don’t have them here. We’re always talking about it with Pavel Francouz.
How exactly does it help to have an older fellow countryman beside you?
Pavel helped me at the start with getting an apartment and a car. I’m not good with that kind of thing so he’s given me advice about which one to buy. We live about three hundred meters from each other, Francík (a nickname of Francouz, obviously) has his wife with him so I visit them for lunch and dinners. I’m having Czech meals which is great. I’m sending pictures of svíčková (most typical Czech meal) to Nečas (Martin Nečas – same aged center for Carolina Hurricanes) to piss him off.
Unlike you, Martin Nečas has already played in NHL. Did you at least go see a game?
Our club is situated in Loveland. It’s neither a city, nor a village. It’s more like a suburb with an arena and about a thousand citizens. But it is still like a part of Denver so whenever we have free time we jump into a car and in 40 minutes we’re at the Avalanche arena. Unfortunately our games frequently overlap so we’ve only seen like two or three games.
Did seeing the NHL live give you the urge to play?
Very much so! But that’s why I need to work hard during practice. It is completely different hockey than what I’ve experienced. You can see that first line of Colorado is the best in the NHL, it’s a sight for sore eyes. They have an insane chemistry and when I can’t watch the game itself I’m at least checking livesport. When I get notification of a goal it’s 80% by the first line.
Your time to shine is near. The junior championship is coming up.
I’m looking forward and I’m glad that clubs allowed to play Martin Nečas and Filip Zadina. Then again I read everywhere that we have a super team but it has to be super especially in the locker room. If we don’t make a good enough atmosphere in there we can have twenty drafted players. But I’d say we have a good bunch there.
Could it be stressful knowing that you have promising team which could end the 14 year drought without a medal?
A bit, yes. But we can’t let it get to us. We won the Hlinka Memorial under coach Varaďa (in 2016) which nobody was expecting us to do. We’ll try to do well in the group and advance from first or second place and then we’ll see.
Last year’s tournament has helped you significantly. You’ve been rolling in Pardubice, become a part of the senior national team...
... and I wouldn’t mind to continue with this pace and bringing it to Colorado.
I’m mentioning this because your predecessor Rantanen was called up to NHL after WJHC three years ago.
Exactly! I was thinking about it but I cannot count on it. If I’m not going to work hard they’ll not call me up even if I was next MacKinnon. It’s all up to me.