Frolik fired up for success
Frolik fired up for success
Czech veteran has unusual collection of medals
He’s not as famous as another 27-year-old graduate of the QMJHL’s Rimouskic Oceanic, Sidney Crosby. But this gifted, tenacious winger owns a Stanley Cup ring (2013, Chicago), and also suited up for the last two Czech teams to medal at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (bronze in 2011 and 2012).
Currently, Frolik’s Jets are fighting to secure their first playoff berth since relocating to Winnipeg from Atlanta. Frolik, in his second year with the club, is among the offensive leaders and could equal or better his single-season points high. He scored 45 points (21-24-45) as a rookie in 2008/09 with the Florida Panthers, who chose him 10th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
What’s been the key to making this 185-cm, 91-kg veteran a dangerous weapon in coach Paul Maurice’s arsenal?
“I got good ice time here and tried to play hard and smart,” Frolik told IIHF.com after a 5-2 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks ended Winnipeg’s five-game winning streak. “That’s the key thing: if you get more ice time, you get more chances to score and play with better guys. I would say it’s working for me, and we’ll keep going.”
Frolik fired a game-high seven shots on goal in the loss, tied with fellow Czech Radim Vrbata of the Canucks in that category. Vrbata, who scored twice in the win over Winnipeg, could set a career high in goals (he scored 35 for Phoenix in 2011/12). But he didn’t join Frolik in making his Olympic debut in Sochi last year. The Czechs finished sixth, and Frolik concedes a sniper like Vrbata could have been a difference-maker in that low-scoring tournament.Continue reading
“I don’t know what happened there,” Frolik said. “We didn’t bring him. Obviously, I wish him good luck, but I would be happier if he didn’t score two goals against us! He’s having a great season again this year and he’s a great player.”
Jaromir Jagr, the greatest Czech forward ever, hails from Frolik’s hometown of Kladno, and he’s been laying waste to the all-time NHL record book this season. Now with the Panthers, the five-time NHL scoring champion passed Phil Esposito for fifth all-time in goals when he got his 718th career tally in a 3-1 win over Detroit on March 19. In overall points, Jagr could still overtake Ron Francis (1798) before the end of the sesaon.
So are Frolik and Jagr texting back and forth about the feats of “Mario Jr.”?
“Not really. He’s a little bit of a quiet guy. He kind of keeps to himself. We are not in touch. But obviously I follow him and watch what he does. It’s unbelievable how long he plays in this league. Hopefully, I think he’s got a couple more [seasons] left.”
One of Frolik’s favourite memories of Jagr as a teammate came when number 68 tallied a hat trick against the Americans in a 4-0 quarter-final win in Bratislava in 2011.
The following year, goalie Ondrej Pavelec was between the pipes when the Czechs beat Russia 7-4 in the bronze medal game in Helsinki. Now Pavelec, Frolik, and fellow Czech Jiri Tlusty are all teammates in Winnipeg.
“With Pav here, we grew up as friends,” Frolik said. “So it’s kind of special. Same with Jiri. We knew each other from when we were six or seven years old. We played together on the same team back home. It’s something unbelievable that we ended up here. We definitely try to enjoy it and have fun with it.”
Their nation of 10.5 million is fired up about hosting the World Championship for the first time in 11 years (May 1-17, Prague and Ostrava). The Czech Republic set the record for total World Championship attendance in 2004 (552,097), which was only surpassed by Belarus last year (643,434).
“It’s going to be a great tournament. The people are excited. It’s going to be a full building. I remember in Bratislava in 2011, it was in Slovakia, so it was close. The atmosphere was awesome there, and I think it’s going to be even better in Czech. When they cheer like that for you, it’s always special.”
Speaking of special, Frolik is the only player in NHL history to score twice on penalty shots during the playoffs, but his IIHF medal count is almost as unusual. In addition to his two Worlds bronzes, the four-time World Junior participant captured bronze in 2005 in Grand Forks, and added two U18 bronzes (2004, 2006).
That’s five bronze medals, in case you lost count. All hanging in his bedroom at his parents’ house.
“It’s crazy,” Frolik said with a laugh. “It would be nice to get a silver or gold one. It’s kind of funny. They kind of look all the same.”
Now, no NHL team in Winnipeg has ever advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. If history is any guide, we might see Frolik in a Czech uniform in Prague, getting his first chance to quest for a medal under returning head coach Vladimir Ruzicka. “Rosie” captained the Czechs to gold at the first NHL Olympics in Nagano 1998, and was behind the bench for their last two world titles (2005, 2010).
“He’s got something,” said Frolik. “When he’s there, we’re winning. So hopefully he can keep it up this year. It would be great if we could have some success. He’s a great coach, and he’s proved it in the past.”
And remember: just when you think Czech hockey glory has been consigned to the past, this nation tends to rise up and surprise everyone.
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