Cervenka ready to play on the ice, but Czech still faces steep learning curve off the ice
English mastery not there yet, but Hudler helping nicely with the transition for new Flame
The Calgary Flames are happy to report that Roman Cervenka is good to go and his on-ice debut is drawing near.
But his conversational use of the English language? Still day-to-day.
The coaching staff and his teammates are still relying on fellow Czech Jiri Hudler for translation for matters such as . . . well, everything. The 27-year-old Kontinental Hockey League star was cleared to return to practice on Tuesday following an appointment with a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.
He, along with defenceman Anton Babchuk and Hudler, skated with the Hitmen on Wednesday and were put through the paces by the Flames coaching staff Thursday upon their return from Vancouver.
“He’s real happy, coming back from Phoenix,” reported Hudler. “The doctor told him he was cleared to play. That was his dream (to play in the NHL). I told him, don’t be over-excited.
“Just play your game.”
Head coach Bob Hartley got a feel for the players’ progress on Thursday. Following Friday’s practice, he’ll make the final call if they make their 2012-13 season debuts Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers on Hockey Night in Canada.
“Those guys have travelled, especially Jiri (who was dealing with the death of his father in the Czech Republic,” Hartley said. “I want to make sure they’re comfortable with it. We’ll see (Friday) and sit later (Thursday) and we’ll make plans. (Friday) we’ll practise and after we’ll decide on the Oilers.
“Whenever you have new players, we’re reviewing the entire system to make sure they understand. Roman has been sitting in all of our meetings, but (Friday) he’ll get a real feel.”
After Thursday’s skate, however, it was evident that his Kontinental Hockey League stats (23 goals and 16 assists in 54 games last year and 31 goals and 30 assists in 51 games during the 2010-11 season for Avangard Omsk) weren’t made up. Hartley feels the five-foot-11 201 pound centreman is the real deal.
“I think he’s going to be a real good hockey player,” he said. “I’ve talked to many guys in Europe. They say he’s a gifted, gifted player. You saw him shooting on the goalies. He knows what to do with the puck and he’s fairly strong. If you see the frame he has on him, he puts in lots of hours in the gym and he’s a good athlete. He wants to do good.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to him, but we all know that’s part of the game.”
It’s hard to say where Cervenka will be pencilled in but there is natural chemistry forming with Hudler. For one, the two can communicate to each other.
However, at this point, Hartley and Cervenka (via translation, of course) are open to ideas.
“Roman’s English is fairly good, but not that you can get a feel of what he really wants,” Hartley said. “It might be a natural to try them together, especially to start to ease the way with Roman. He’s a very open-minded guy, he’s a fun guy. He smiles. He laughs. It’s his first time to North America.”
Definitely an adjustment period.
Hudler, himself, made the transition during the 2003-04 season, playing 12 games with the Red Wings and spending time in the American Hockey League. At the time, he was 19, trying to learn a foreign language in a foreign country. So, Hudler feels for Cervenka’s growing pains off the ice.
“Of course, it’s tough,” he said. “You live in some life at home. You’re used to a lot of stuff. You come here and everything is new. People speak a different language. You don’t understand. You don’t speak. You cannot tell them how you feel. You cannot go for groceries. Little things like that. That’s normal for everyone coming here from Europe. That’s what I’m here for. To help him. The Flames organization is doing a great job of helping him with that as well.
“That’s not going to be a problem.”
Cervenka, he says, gets it.
“He’s just asking questions and I’m not coming to him every day,” Hudler added. “He’s a grown man and really smart player. He’s going to figure it out. Obviously we’re going to have meetings and he’s going to ask me some questions and I’m going to be there. We’re just talking about hockey.
“There’s a lot of hockey on TV right now. It’s all hockey.”
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