International Ice Hockey Federation

Kubalik eyes Olympics & NHL

Kubalik eyes Olympics & NHL

Young Czech thriving during hectic season

Published 12.02.2018 02:13 GMT+10 | Author Derek O'Brien
Kubalik eyes Olympics & NHL
Czech forward Dominik Kubalik captained the U20 team at the 20015 IIHF World Junior Championship. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
As men’s teams play their last exhibition games ahead of the Olympics, Czech forward Dominik Kubalik is hoping for the Olympics and then the NHL as his future.

“I hope so, of course,” said Kubalik, who was the Czechs youngest player when they tested at the last tournament, the Channel One Cup in December. “That’s the goal for everyone here and hopefully I get a chance at that, but I don’t want to look too far ahead. I’m just taking it step by step and every game is huge for me and I try to do my best.”

It’s been an eventful season for the 22-year-old from Plzen, in the west of the Czech Republic. After putting up impressive offensive numbers for his hometown team in his first two full pro seasons (97 points in 121 Extraliga regular-season and playoff games), Kubalik decided it was time to spread his wings and play abroad.

He had previously played a couple of years of junior hockey in Canada for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves and Kitchener Rangers between 2012 and 2014, but that experience didn’t quite prepare him for what was in store this season.

“It’s been kinda crazy, for sure,” he began. “Some people ask me why I’m always smiling because three leagues in one season is not usual.”

In the summer he signed with Salavat Yulayev Ufa of the KHL, but due to a roster situation beyond his control, he didn’t stay long.

“It started in Russia and most people know the story there already, they already had (the maximum) six imports, so I only played a few pre-season games and then we had to find a new place for me to play,” he described. “Then we found a place in Ambri and I’m happy about it. It’s a great league and I’m happy to be there.”

But instead of starting the regular season in Switzerland, Kubalik was loaned out and found himself back in a familiar place. Playing for his hometown Plzen team again in the Czech Extraliga, he started the season at a torrid pace, scoring 16 goals and adding eight assists in 20 games.

“When I came there, they put me on the same line that I played before. We had good chemistry between us and it wasn’t hard to rejoin the team,” he said of his success.

With a player like that under contract, it stood to reason that HC Ambri-Piotta was quick to find a spot for him on its roster. Kubalik didn’t mind the move, even though he was leaving his hometown and a first-place team.

“I wasn’t disappointed because before the season I was ready to go somewhere new and I really wanted to try it,” he said.

Ambri wasn’t the only team interested in Kubalik, however. Back in 2013, he was drafted in the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings. With his fast start to this season, they contacted him about going overseas.

“A couple of months ago, we spoke about it with the L.A. management. They wanted me to sign a contract for the rest of this season, but Ambri said they wanted to keep me so I’m still in Europe for now, but maybe next year. We’ll see what happens.”

On playing in Switzerland’s National League, he said: “It’s a different league with different cities. I’m glad that Ambri gave me that opportunity to play part of the season in Plzen, but I’m very happy in Ambri right now.”

On the village itself, which is located in southern Switzerland in the Italian-speaking part of the country, he said: “It’s beautiful. The only drawback is the rink there is open on the sides, so it can get pretty cold. But otherwise it’s good – we’ve got a good locker room, good massage tables and things like that, so everything’s working pretty well and I’m happy.”

Kubalik’s scoring touch hasn’t diminished any with his move to the new league. He has nine goals and 17 assists in his first 23 games with Ambri-Piotta, meaning that he has totalled 50 points in 43 games in the Czech and Swiss leagues combined so far.

It’s therefore not surprising that he is one of the players in the running for a spot on the Czech Olympic team. Just before Christmas, the national team came together in Prague in preparation for the Channel One Cup. Most of the tournament was played in Moscow, but the Czechs opened up with a 3-2 overtime win against Finland at Prague’s O2 Arena.

“It’s nice to come home,” he said. “It’s always nice to see the other guys from all over Europe, and of course it’s always an honour to represent your country. So it’s great to be here.”

Although he’s never played in a major tournament such as the World Championships or Olympics, Kubalik has played for the Czech national team on a few previous occasions over the past few seasons and was the captain of the Czech team at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. Still, it’s a thrill for him to play together on a team with some of the players he idolized as a child.

“I can’t even describe it,” he admitted about looking around the dressing room at his teammates. “Playing with a guy like Martin Erat was one of my goals, for sure. I really enjoy these moments.”

Another one of his boyhood idols was Martin Straka, the long-time NHLer who is now the owner, general manager and head coach of HC Plzen. Kubalik credits Straka as playing a big role in helping him become the player he is today.

“He was a great player himself and he always had great advice for me to make me a better player. We talked a lot and he showed me videos of what I could do better. That was great to have somebody like that behind me and it really helped me.”

Although of all the players he’s looked up to throughout his career, he didn’t even hesitate when asked who comes first. “My brother, no question,” he said of older brother Tomas, 27, who played 12 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets between 2010 and 2012 and currently plays in the Czech Extraliga for Dukla Jihlava.

Now, Kubalik knows that in order to fulfill his goals of playing in the Olympics and the NHL, he has to show he belongs there, which means, in addition to putting up impressive numbers for his club teams, playing as well when he gets a chance with the Czech national team. So far, he has two goals and an assist in five games this season.

 

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