Czech connection raises hope, expectations
CALGARY, AB -- A few video meetings and an on-ice session.
It didn’t much matter.
Despite missing parts of training camp and the opening three games of the season, the Czech duo was impressive in their first action wearing the ‘Flaming C’, creating a plethora of chances in the offensive end with center Matt Stajan.
Their play left more then an impression on coach Bob Hartley.
“It’s unbelievable the game that they gave us based on a couple of video meetings and one practice,” he said. “With all the traveling those guys have done and especially Jiri, those guys played an unbelievable game for so if it gets better, it might be ugly.”
Cervenka’s start was delayed by doctor’s orders. Hudler was away on bereavement leave.
To Stajan, neither looked like they missed a beat.
“It’s that creativity that they both bring,” he said. “Obviously they’re skilled guys and have the confidence to make plays. It makes our line really dangerous because you make plays like that it keeps other teams on their heels. I think we just have to keep going, keep getting a feel for each other. It gets easier and easier as you play games. I think we have some good things to come.”
Hudler managed an assist in 17:36 of action. Playing eight seconds more, Cervenka was held scoreless but helped set the stage for Lee Stempniak’s second period goal – the eventual game winner.
“He reads the play really well,” Stajan said of Cervenka. “Look at Stempy’s goal last game. I know it was on the power play, but the play he made there for that play to happen. I don’t know if a lot of guys saw it, but he lifted their d-man’s stick. If he doesn’t do that, Jay Bouwmeester never gets that puck. That’s just great hockey sense that a lot of people might not see.”
With that sense already evident, it’s now up to the trio to build on the chemistry established against Edmonton. With four days off between games that will see the Flames practice on three consecutive days, that comfort will have an opportunity to blossom in time for Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.
Despite Cervenka’s limited English, that process has already started.
“I can still communicate with Roman,” Stajan said. “He understands when you’re looking at a sheet of ice or talking about a play. The language barrier, obviously, is a challenge for him and anybody that has to communicate to him, but when you’re talking the game of hockey, we all speak that same language.”
Which will help develop chemistry.
“You always want to build,” Stajan added. “For us, we’re pretty fresh as a line here and that’s a challenge to make sure we get going and we had a good start but we want to score a few goals as well. That’s the goal here.”
Building off an impressive initial game, the bar has been raised. Cursed with a strong performance out of the gate for the trio, Hartley now expects more out of Stajan and his Czech connection.
Expectations, it seems, only go one way for the coach.
“They always go up for everyone,” Hartley said. “I can be satisfied but I’m never happy. That’s one thing that we have to raise the bar.”
And while it’ll only be a couple of practices and a handful of video sessions before they take to the ice again, both Hudler and Cervenka have also raised hopes.