By Tim Campbell
Czech Republic | Group B | Roster | THN odds to win: 15:1 It was always going to be a big ask for Michael Spacek, 18, to transplant himself from his native Czech Republic to the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and be an instant hit. He’d never lived away from home. His command of English was minimal. The dynamic of smaller North American rinks is not processed in a week or two. Spacek, though, has made a fine start to this major career move, and Brent Sutter, his coach in Red Deer, thinks he knows why. This was a voluntary move, and Spacek is invested in the result.
“He just had to suck it up,” Sutter said. “He’s 18 years of age, and he wanted to come over here to play, and this is what he chose. We wanted him here, and there’s work involved in it, making the adjustments on and off the ice…everything, the language, culture.” Spacek was running near the top of the WHL’s rookie scoring chart in the season’s first half, making him a prime candidate as a centerpiece for the Czech Republic team at the 2016 World Junior Championship. It will be the gifted center’s second go at the tournament, having posted one assist in five games at last year’s event. In 2014-15, Spacek also played against men in the Czech League, recording a modest 12 points in 40 games, but enough to catch the eyes of the Winnipeg Jets, who called his name in the fourth round of the NHL draft, and the Rebels, who selected him in the first round of the CHL’s 2015 import draft. Along with Sutter, the Jets are intrigued and encouraged. “I feel for Michael,” said Jimmy Roy, the Jets’ director of player development. “I had that experience when I went to Germany to play. I know what it’s like for a person to go to a different country and not know what the coach is saying and what players are saying and trying to fit in. “He’s maybe had some homesickness, but he’s a really good kid, and Brent is one of my favorite coaches because he’s so good with those guys, makes them feel good and helps them learn the North American game and what it takes to be a pro.” Spacek is lucky to have Adam Musil, the Ottawa-born son of Czech Republic native and former NHL defenseman Frank Musil, as a teammate in Red Deer. Adjustments, like adapting to tighter checking after a quick start with 18 points in his first 12 WHL games, are going to be Spacek’s story for the foreseeable future. And Sutter hopes they’ll continue after the world juniors. “He’ll go back to the tournament, and things change again,” Sutter said. “But he has to make the adjustments. That’s part of his responsibility. When he comes back to us, it can’t take him a month or six weeks to get going again. He’ll have to be coming back in the right frame of mind and with the right attitude, and if he does that, everything’s going to be fine.”