Horak winging it
ABBOTSFORD, BC -- Last fall, Roman Horak attended his first Calgary Flames training camp with tempered expectations. He believed he would spend some time at the main camp, perhaps get in an exhibition game or two, and would then be assigned to the Abbotsford Heat for the duration of the season.
But Horak's steady, responsible play impressed the Flames brass and the coaching staff and when the season kicked off, the Czech forward was on the roster. In total, he played 61 games for the Flames, collecting three goals and 11 points with a plus-three rating.
"You learn so much, being there, about all parts of the game," Horak said of his first NHL season.
When Horak's minutes started to drop late in the season, management decided to assign him to the Abbotsford Heat to maximize his playing time and keep his development on track. Rather than playing on the third or fourth line and getting under 10 minutes a game, Horak took on much more responsibility and often played a top-six role for the Heat.
The other big difference for Horak during his time in Abbotsford? He played on the wing.
Horak was used exclusively as a centreman in Calgary. His strong two-play and predisposition to the position kept him at centre ice, even at the expense of veterans who were shuffled around to accommodate the youngster. However, Heat head coach Troy Ward had a plethora of bodies down the middle and couldn't find the right spot for Horak. Rather than limiting his charge's minutes, he put Horak on the wing.
And with nine of the remaining 18 forwards at the Heat training camp listed as centre's, Horak may find himself once again on the wing to start the season. During scrimmages at training camp, he was placed on the wing and the
"We've got a lot of centre's here," Ward said. "We've got to utilize our players where we think they're going to be most useful - both down here and looking at (the Flames).
"Roman's a type of guy where there is a lot of trust in the organization for him to play at that level. So those are organizational decisions but there's only four guys that can play in the middle here and we'll have to see where he stacks up. At the end of the day, most importantly we have to get him comfortable in a position where we know he's going to play up top."
While Horak acknowledges his natural position is at centre ice, he enjoys playing on the wing as well. Moving over to the wing presented different challenges for him but relished the opportunity to showcase his versatility.
"It's a little bit different," he smiled. "But it depends on who is your centre. I played with Ben Walter and he was great. I didn't mind it all.
"I like to play centre, I like to play in the middle but if the coach wants me on the side, as a winger, I don't mind."
Horak is anxiously awaiting the start of the 2012-13 season after a summer of training at home in the Czech Republic with a group that includes the likes of Milan Michalek and Ales Kotalik. In addition to on-ice practices, he spent a lot of time in the weight room and refining his diet.
"I found out last year that the guys in the NHL are really strong and big," he said. "That's what I tried to do. It's not easy to bulk up though. You've got to be a type who can easily put up some weight and I'm not one of those guys.
"I'm still trying to eat more, add all kinds of supplements and work out hard so I can get there."
Heading into the season, Horak is looking to improve his offensive numbers with the Heat. In 14 games last year, he scored two goals and posted four points. In eight postseason dates, he recorded three assists.
"I want to play more offensively, put up some more points and score some more goals."
Horak was acquired in the trade that sent Tim Erixon's rights to the New York Rangers. He spent his junior career in the WHL with the Chilliwack Bruins, scoring 47 goals and 125 points in 130 games.