The grin plastered on Michael Frolik’s face during practice seems to indicate he’s a happy guy. And why not? The 17-year-old is considered a candidate to become the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. This season he’s playing for his hometown team, HC Rabat Kladno, in the Czech Extraleague, competing against grown men on a nightly basis. He’s currently in Kamloops with the Czech Republic’s U20 team in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, and his team stands a very good chance of taking home a medal from the tournament.
The 6-0, 176-pound forward is a smooth skater with soft hands and a snappy wrist shot. Scouts rave about his hockey sense and on-ice vision. And as he’s still a teenager, he has plenty of time to grow, fill out his already strong upper body, and become a physical presence on the ice as well as a scoring threat
Frolik had four points in seven games as a 16-year-old at last year’s World Juniors in North Dakota, but was held scoreless in the Czechs’ first game this year, a 5-1 win over Latvia. He’s confident, though, that the points will come. He said, with the translation aid of Czech Assistant Coach Jan Votruba, that his line is playing well, and had many chances last night. Frolik had two shots on net.
“I feel very well,” said Frolik. “I’m happy and the hockey is going well.” He is impressed with the facilities and the rabid hockey fans here in British Columbia.
As the youngest member of the Czech Republic’s entry in this year’s World Juniors, Frolik knows that he must do whatever is asked of him in order to guarantee his team’s success. He said he doesn’t care how many points he gets, so long as the team does well. His first job is to serve the team, but of course, it would be nice to get some points.
Watching him on the ice with his teammates, it becomes apparent that the affable youngster is very much like a pesky younger brother, who, though well-liked, is still subject to good-natured taunting and horseplay. Frolik doesn’t seem to have a big ego, either, remaining on the ice after practice to help pick up pucks.
The team, brimming with self-confidence, has played well so far, said Frolik. Most of the players have played together at one point or another on different national teams such as the U-18 squads, so they are familiar with each other. It’s only a matter of time before this particular Czech team becomes something greater than the sum of its parts, he said.
As for his decision to remain in the Czech Republic instead of coming to North America to play junior hockey, the opportunity to play at a high level, such as in the Czech Extraleague, was simply too great to pass up. The skill level there is much higher, in his opinion, and playing in the city where he began his hockey career is a chance most players don’t get.
At this point, it’s unlikely Frolik will come to Canada to play junior hockey next year, but he has yet to make up his mind about his future. He’ll decide on a career path after the NHL Draft in June, but his dream of one day playing in the NHL remains in the back of his mind.
With just eight points in 34 games so far this year with HC Rabat Kladno, Frolik is not satisfied with his performance. He expected more of himself, but chalks his low point total up to bad luck, not a lack of effort.
Still, it’s hard to imagine how a 17-year-old competing against men in a high-powered European elite league can be disappointed. Just suiting up for one’s hometown team is an honour that is reserved for a very select few. How can he not smile?