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Rebels fill Czech-list at drafts


The Red Deer Rebels have a Czech-ered past.

Concerning their selections in the Canadian Hockey League import draft, they are clearly biased, and that’s a fact Jack . . . er, Dzaek.

Since the inception of the import draft, which coincided with the Rebels’ inaugural WHL season of 1992-93, the club has selected 12 players from the Czech Republic. That number includes forward Vaclav Slansky, who hailed from Czechoslovakia, which the following year split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The other picks over the years include four from Russia, three from Finland and one player from each of Slovakia, Ukraine, Sweden and Switzerland.

Slansky was the first-ever Rebels import pick and despite scoring the first goal in franchise history, was somewhat of a bust, scoring nine goals and collecting 26 points in his first season and garnering five points (4g,1a) in 13 games before being released the following year.

It can, in fact, be argued that the players taken outside of the Czech Republic have been among the best finds. Russian centre Mikhail Yakubov sniped 32 goals and collected 89 points in 2001-02 — his only season with the Rebels — and Swiss winger Roman Wick scored 32 times and picked up 70 points during the 2004-05 campaign before being dealt to Lethbridge the following season after producing 17 points (7-10) in 23 games.

In addition, Finnish defenceman Mikko Kuukka proved to be a valuable piece of the puzzle for two seasons starting in 2003 and fellow countryman and winger Masi Marjamaki enjoyed a fine rookie season of ‘02-03 with 15 goals and 35 points in 65 games.

Russian forward Kirill Starkov fired 34 goals and amassed 71 points in 72 games in ‘06-07 and, of course, Swedish winger John Persson was highly productive during his second and third seasons in Red Deer with 33 goals and 61 points in 2010-11 and 23 goals and 58 points last winter.

Then there’s Slovak winger Andrej Kudrna, who put up 54 points (30-24) in 64 games in 2009-10 and 82 points (29-53) in 65 outings the next season.

But, without further delay, here are the top five Czech imports to don a Rebels sweater (including years of duty and total regular-season statistics):

Martin Hanzal (2006-07; GP-60, G-26, A-59, Pts-85, PIM-94)

With the exception of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and possibly Martin Erat, Hanzal was the most dynamic and purely talented forward to wear a Rebels jersey, albeit for just one season.

But what a season (2006-07) it was, with the six-foot-six centre contributing 85 points in 60 games. The Prague native didn’t mind venturing into the difficult areas, either, as his 94 penalty minutes showed.

Hanzal, with more moves than U-Haul, made opposing goaltenders guess when he broke in alone. He possessed both a major-league shot and butter-smooth hands.

A first-round pick of Phoenix in the 2005 NHL entry draft, Hanzal has played five seasons with the Coyotes and is skating in the Czech League during the NHL lockout.

Note: Hanzal was not selected by Red Deer in the import draft, but rather was obtained in a trade with the Chilliwack Bruins.

Patrik Bartosak (2011-present; GP-42, GAA-2.75)

The Rebels were in dire need of a goaltender heading into the 2011 import draft and Bartosak proved to be both a perfect pick and fit.

Already possessing international experience with the Czech U16 to U18 national teams, Bartosak at first struggled somewhat while adjusting to the North American style, but before long he was playing the role of game-saver.

He was likely on the Czech Republic national team junior radar in regards to the 2012 world championship before suffering a serious shoulder injury in December. To that point, he had recorded a 14-10-1 won-loss record with a 2.74 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 25 appearances.

So for this season, the 19-year-old is 8-6-1 with a 2.76 GAA and .923 save percentage in 17 outings.

Frank Mrazek (1997-99; GP-125, G-64, A-66, Pts-130, PIM-150)

Mrazek was a productive power forward who used his size to force turnovers and participate in an effective cycle. He also had a nose for the net, as shown by his statistics which improved during his second season with Terry Simpson as head coach.

Big Frank had the potential to be even more than what he was, but didn’t always give 100 per cent. Regardless, he remains as one of the better left wingers in franchise history. He was also one of the most enigmatic players to wear a Rebels uniform, in reference to the fact his command of the English seemed to improve if the subject of a media interview was positive.

Mrazek was taken by Toronto in the fifth round of the 1997 entry draft and was with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate — the St. John’s Maple Leafs — during the 2000-01 season and part of the following campaign. However, he never dressed for a single game in the NHL, instead making his way back to his home country where he played until 2010.

Mrazek, six-foot-four and 220 pounds, is now in his third season with the Landshutt Cannibals of the German League Second Division.

David Hruska (two months, 1995; GP-28, G-14, A-14, Pts-28, PIM-6)

Hruska dazzled during his time in Red Deer, unfortunately he pulled the pin a mere 28 games into the ‘95-96 season, claiming that the calibre of play in the WHL was not up to his standards.

If the truth be told, the talented forward didn’t care much for the physical aspect of the game.

Hruska was a dynamic WHL star-in-the-making before heading back to the Czech Republic, where he turned pro and also suited up with his country’s junior national team. Selected by the Ottawa Senators in the 1995 NHL entry draft, he never returned to North America to play and the 35-year-old is now with Chomutov Pirati of the Czech League.

Lukas Bednarik (1998-99; GP-72, G-25, A-36, Pts-61, PIM-16)

Bednarik came to the Rebels at the age of 19 and fit in without missing a beat.

He certainly didn’t disappoint during his lone winter in Red Deer, and in fact was a go-to forward during a mildly successful season for the team that included two playoff series.

Steady, if unspectacular, Bednarik didn’t return as an overage player despite the Rebels’ wishes and turned pro in his home country. According to hockeydb.com, Bednarik last played in the 2008-09 season, with Nitra MHC of the Slovak League.

 
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