Czech teen Pavel Zacha hopes to follow Tomas Hertl

Ryan Kennedy

The Czech Republic has churned out quality, but far less quantity in recent years when it comes to prospects. Jakub Voracek, Radek Faksa and of course Tomas Hertl have kept the nation relevant, but when only a handful of native are taken in the NHL draft each season, it’s a problem. Good showings at international tournaments helps and that’s where Pavel Zacha comes in. Already 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, the talented left winger just turned 17 this week, but he has already played on a team with Petr Nedved in his country’s top league, gotten his feet wet at the world juniors and learned more English than some Czech NHLers. Now he has his sites set on a good showing at the world under-18s in Finland next week.

“We have a very good team,” Zacha said. “We played good at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the summer and I hope we can get a medal this time.”

Eligible for the loaded 2015 draft, Zacha is shaping up to be the first top-10 pick from the Czech Republic since Voracek went seventh to Columbus in 2007. “He’s a big, strong, powerful winger,” said one NHL scout. “Really good skater, too. He’s fast and he shoots the puck.”

While the race to get Zacha over to North American shores will be a feverish one when the CHL Import Draft determines major junior destinations for Euros in the summer, Zacha signed a three-year contract with Liberec this season, so his path will most likely mirror that of Hertl, who came over to San Jose this season as more or less a finished product from the Slavia Prague squad. “Everybody says it’s the best way in the Czech Republic,” he said. “I like Hertl because he did the same.”

Zacha spent the majority of his season with Liberec’s main club after dominating at the junior level and also spending time loaned out to a second-tier men’s club. He tallied eight points in 38 games for Liberec and saw action in three playoff games. It was quite the intro to the next level of hockey for the teen.

“It was hard in the beginning,” he said. “But I played with Petr Nedved and he told me good things about how to play and really supported me.”

And Nedved isn’t the first elder statesman to lend Zacha a hand. The youngster has trained in the summer before with former No. 1 overall pick Patrik Stefan in Los Angeles and will likely head to Montreal this summer for a camp arranged by agent Allan Walsh’s Octagon firm. The big houses and ocean vistas of L.A. were certainly awe-inspiring for the product of land-locked Brno in the Czech Republic, but those trips also helped him learn English – on top of movie trailers and Hollywood comedies. Growing up as a multi-sport athlete, Zacha also played tennis and soccer, but his size and skill made him a phenom on the ice. He’s been ahead of the development curve for years back home and even though he played sparingly at the world juniors in Sweden, it did open his eyes. “It was great for me, seeing players like Jonathan Drouin,” he said. “For me it was a very good tournament.”

Zacha wants to work on the mental side of his game and a great acid test will be the under-18s. In a pool with Denmark, Switzerland, Finland and Team USA, the Czechs should at least make the quarterfinal, especially with first-round 2014 draft prospects Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak in the lineup.

If Zacha can build his resume from there, next season will be filled with opportunities and a chance to add his name to a prospect list that already features Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington. And that would be great for the visibility of both Zacha and his home country.

Golden boy Nicholson has NHL in his future


There will be no need for Hockey Canada to give Bob Nicholson a golden handshake or a gold watch when he officially announces his departure on Friday. Nicholson already has approximately as much gold as Fort Knox.

Under his watch as president and CEO of Hockey Canada, his country has won seven Olympic gold medals (three men, four women), five World championship golds, 12 World Junior golds and 10 World Women’s gold medals. And speaking of gold, he has presided over Hockey Canada becoming a money-making monolith, both in terms of attracting sponsorship money and generating revenues from events. For example, the WJC in Montreal and Toronto could make a profit of up to $30 million, 50 percent of which goes to Hockey Canada. Read more

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson stepping down, but leaves organization at its peak

Adam Proteau

Longtime Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson is scheduled to officially announce his resignation from the organization at a news conference in Toronto Friday. There was no indication as to what he planned to do after spending more than 15 years in the position, but the longtime executive has been linked to NHL GM discussions in the past – and given that he leaves with Canada’s national team enjoying an incredible run of success, it’s unlikely he’ll be out of work very long.

Nicholson has held the title of president and C.E.O. for Hockey Canada since 1998, but was senior vice-president of the Canadian Hockey Association for the previous six years. During his time running the program Nicholson led Hockey Canada to seven Olympic gold medals (three men’s and four women’s, including both golds at the 2014 Sochi Games), 12 International Ice Hockey Federation world junior championships, five IIHF men’s world championships and 10 IIHF women’s world championships. To say other hockey federations want to match his results is an understatement. The Vancouver native has also steered the organization in its role as Canada’s sole governing body for the amateur side of the sport (ice hockey and sledge hockey) and produced phenomenal metrics in growing the game. Read more

Why Finland is producing more elite prospects than ever


Admit it. You were a little misty-eyed watching Teemu Selanne at the 2014 Olympics. At 43, he had us choked up, winning the tournament MVP award and leading injury-depleted Finland to a bronze medal. It was just one more feat heaped upon a mountain of them and it was what we’ve come to expect from one of the game’s classiest veterans since he exploded onto the scene in 1992-93.

Selanne the rookie was a true revelation. He embarrassed the NHL’s freshman records, potting 76 goals, many of them spectacular, some punctuated by his trademark celebration of throwing his glove in the air and miming a rifle to blow it away. With all due respect to Jari Kurri, who had some awfully good running mates in Edmonton, Selanne was special because he was the first Finn to truly dominate the NHL as the featured star on a team.

He had broken a barrier for Finnish superstars, yet no one else followed. We’ve seen a bevy of fantastic Suomi players over the years, and the goaltending factory there needs no introduction, but no Finn has ever won the league’s scoring crown. No Finn has won the Norris as the NHL’s top defenseman nor the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. Finland hasn’t produced a superstar skater since Selanne.

But the events of the past year suggest that is about to change. Seth Jones, THN’s Draft Preview cover boy, sat idle as Finland’s Aleksander Barkov went No. 2 overall in 2013. The Buffalo Sabres chose big blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen six slots later. At the 2014 world juniors, a shifty Finn named Teuvo Teravainen left the field in the dust to win the scoring race. Ristolainen sealed the gold medal for Finland with an overtime goal:

On top of that, Minnesota prospect Mikael Granlund rode shotgun as Selanne’s 2014 Olympic linemate and made the Games’ all-star team.

The new class of Finns is on the way and its members project not just as the admirable, head-down, team-first types, but also as superstars and award winners. Just ask our Future Watch scouts and NHL executives. Teravainen and Ristolainen rank third and seventh in the 2014 overall rankings, with No. 24 Sami Vatanen giving Finland three players in the top 25. Last year, Granlund was the lone Finn in the top 30. While goalies like Tuukka Rask ranked highly in recent years, Finland had no skaters in the top 50 from 2007 to 2010. It had one in 2011, two in 2012, four in 2013.

So we know Finland has begun producing prospects with higher ceilings, but why?

According to Goran Stubb, the NHL’s director of European scouting, it started with a summit. Sweden famously had one in 2003 to improve its hockey development and Finland had one just a few years ago in Helsinki, with far less publicity. Coaches, scouts, management and all sorts of hockey minds were on hand.

“They changed the way of training, so now the Finnish players, the coaches, are trying to teach the young Finnish players more individual skills than before,” Stubb says. “And of course, that was exactly what Sweden did 10 years ago. They are delivering the most players from European countries nowadays, so it’s kind of a Swedish model that the Finns have taken.”

Read more

Canadian Olympic pride is good – but not at the expense of other countries

Adam Proteau
Canadian crowd

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is here – and when the games begin, we’ll see what we always see at these events: inspirational athletes being celebrated for all the right reasons, but also, waves of jingoism for all the wrong ones.

Such behavior is particularly embarrassing for Canada, where for three months and 50 weeks of every Olympic cycle we go out of our way to define ourselves as nowhere near as bombastic and self-involved as our friendly North American neighbors to the south. Yet for some reason, when it’s time for Olympic hockey, many Canadians remove that pretense of humility and and let our boor flags fly. They expect the rest of the puck-loving community to genuflect before what they erroneously perceive as Canada’s inherent advantage in the sport.

And if they don’t? Well, that’s “legitimate” grounds for them to ridicule and slander the rest of the hockey world. That’s license to call Russians enigmatic, frigid and/or selfish louts who just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to win any tournament. That’s cause to rip American athletes for being boisterous, confident and hailing from the world’s mightiest superpower. That’s permission to rant and rave about European teenagers coming here to play junior hockey and “stealing” roster spots. That’s all the excuse they need to condescend to proud hockey nations such as Sweden and Finland for riding our coattails and only succeeding when they play “the Canadian way”.

It’s all quite exhausting and unbecoming. Read more

Ryan Suter looks to equal Dad’s gold standard

Ryan Suter

There have been times when Bob Suter’s gold medal from the 1980 Miracle on Ice would go missing for a week. He never worried about it, just figured one of his kids forgot it in his locker at school.

“To be honest, I had it in here at the rink yesterday,” said Suter, who now runs a hockey rink in Madison, Wisc. “And I forgot to bring it in so it’s sitting between the seats in my pickup truck right now.” Suter obviously thought that when it came to his gold medal, an object’s utility lies in its accessibility. That’s why he never squirreled it away in a safety deposit box, instead allowing his kids to take it to school for Show and Tell. “If somebody wanted to take it to school or one of my parents’ or my wife’s friends wanted to see it, then you have to go through the hassle of getting it,” he said. “And if I put it in a safe, I might forget the combination.” Read more

Hall Monitor: Does Thornton need a Cup to make Hall of Fame?

Brian Costello
Buffalo Sabres v San Jose Sharks

To his harshest critics, Joe Thornton wears a label of being a playoff underperformer who has never been able to lead his team to a championship.

While it’s true Jumbo Joe has never guided his team to the Stanley Cup through 15 seasons, he does have an Olympic gold medal in his top drawer and a Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy on his mantle. Thornton will also go down as one of the most unselfish stars in the history of the game.

Those accolades, along with offensive stats that will one day rank him among the top 20 of all-time, will be enough to land Thornton in the Hall of Fame three years after he retires – Stanley Cup or not.

Read more

Campbell: Has WJC become too important in Canada?

Ken Campbell
Scott Laughton

Hockey Canada will officially end Canada’s favorite pastime and bar game tomorrow when it names its team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. You’d have to look far and wide to find 23 men who will face more pressure, given that Canada hasn’t won a gold medal at either the senior or junior level since the last Olympics. But these guys are millionaires and the best in the world at what they do. They can handle it.

But to expect a bunch of teenagers to perform under that kind of backbreaking scrutiny, it appears, might be a little too much to ask. As Canada embarks on the second favorite pastime and bar game – which is What Happened to Canada’s World Junior Team? ™ – there are a number of theories out there. But it strikes this corner that perhaps one of the reasons Canada’s teenagers have come up so limp in the most crucial games of the World Junior Championship the past four years is they’re withering under the heat of the most intense spotlight they’ve ever experienced.

You certainly can’t chalk it up to the old ‘It’s not just Canada’s game anymore,’ excuse because that one has been around for about two decades now. Other countries have caught up in terms of skill, but to suggest that Canada is lacking in that department is absurd. Go to any local rink in this country any day of the week and chances are, you’ll see kids doing some very special things. But it does strike an observer that has been watching this tournament for a long time that one area where teams such as Finland and Sweden and Russia have caught up to Canada is swagger. The Finns proved in the WJC they fear no one. The Swedes pound their chests a lot more than they ever have and the Russians, Czechs, Slovaks and even the Swiss are matching the mental preparation and confidence levels of teams from Canada and USA.

Meanwhile, teams from Canada look as though they’re wilting under the pressure. So perhaps it’s time everyone from Hockey Canada to TSN to sponsors to fans in Canada take a step back and display a little perspective here. On the one hand, Canada’s obsession with all things stick and puck are what make it so unique. On the other hand, it seems to be choking the life out of its young players.

And in my opinion, it starts with Hockey Canada. The governing body for hockey in this country realized quite some time ago that the World Junior program represents a cash cow and it rarely fails to capitalize on that. (The kids, of course, get nothing for their efforts, but that’s a rant for another day.) In order to maximize the profits, Hockey Canada has found it extremely lucrative to turn the spotlight on these young men. And judging by the ticket prices for next year’s event in Montreal and Toronto, one that could generate as much as $100 million in profits for Hockey Canada and its partners, that isn’t about to end anytime soon. After all, people paying that kind of money to watch the tournament are going to expect their team to win it all.

Perhaps, though, Hockey Canada could take things down a notch. Perhaps it could stop pimping out its players for advertisers. Perhaps it could move the occasional WJC tournament back to a smaller center. Maybe it could not charge a king’s ransom to watch the games, then not parse up the tournament so that fans are basically forced to pay for two different ticket packages – one in Montreal and another in Toronto – if they want to see all of Canada’s games.

Meanwhile, this “holiday tradition” that TSN has created has spiralled out of control. After all, is it really necessary to show all Canada’s pre-tournament games? Do we really need to hear what some kid who has just been cut is thinking as he does the walk of shame through the team’s hotel lobby? But again, this is about money. Like Hockey Canada, TSN has found a cash cow in the WJC, and it comes at a time when advertisers have already sold most of their cars and stereos and hockey equipment for Christmas and traditionally wouldn’t be buying ad time. The more TSN perpetuates this tournament as the absolute be-all and end-all for Canadians, the more the dollars flow. And now that TSN has lost rights to the NHL, the prospects of this one changing are looking pretty dim, too.

That leaves you, hockey fans. Yes, you love Canada and you love hockey. We get that. But one of the problems in Canada is that so much of the national psyche and self-esteem is tied up in how it does in hockey. Don’t these kids get smothered enough when the tournament is in Canada? Is it really necessary to go traipsing en masse across the globe to watch a bunch of teenagers play hockey at a time of year when you might want to be home with your families?

When Canada fails in this tournament, among the navel gazing often emerges the notion that when it comes down to it, these kids, as wildly talented as they are, are teenagers and perhaps it’s not fair to come down too hard on them for not winning. That’s fine, if everyone involved remembers that before the tournament starts. Otherwise, nothing is going to change and Canada’s teenagers are going to continue to skate around at the WJC as though they have pianos strapped to their backs.

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.