Horak turns into red-hot sniper in Abbotsford
Former Flame already has seven goals in a young American Hockey League season
So Sven Baertschi figures he is one lucky cat for drawing fellow Calgary Flames prospect Roman Horak on the road with the Abbotsford Heat.
“It’s always good to have another European buddy in the room,” Baertschi says. “When you Skype with your family, it’s not that weird. The American and Canadian guys always say, ‘what are you talking about? That’s such a weird language.’
“Both of us speak different languages, but I think it’s fun to listen to him.”
Baertschi indeed speaks Swiss-German. Horak is Czech. Neither can’t understand a word the other says in his native tongue.
Regardless, the two are speaking the exact same dialect on the ice.
Assigned to Abbotsford because of the lockout, Baertschi has three goals and eight points in seven games. In other words, the top prospect in the organization is living up to expectation.
No one, however, predicted the defensive-minded Horak would share the team lead in scoring with Baertschi. But sure enough, the Chilliwack Bruins product is right up there with his roommate with eight points.
Even more impressive? the unassuming Horak is tied with Drayson Bowman, of the Charlotte Checkers, for the league lead in goals with seven a piece.
“I’ve used him on right wing,” Heat head coach Troy Ward says of Horak. “I’ve used him on the fourth line. I used him the other day at centre when I sat Ben Walter. I’ve used him at left wing. I’ve pretty much played him everywhere, and he’s still been able to score, and he’s still been able to put up good numbers. On Sunday, after three games in three days, he led us with eight shots.
“He’s in the zone right now.”
Is he ever. Consider the fact Horak suited up for 61 games for the Flames last year as a relatively anonymous 20-year-old. At the end of training camp, the Czech centreman shocked the entire city last season by winning a spot in the opening-day lineup. Night after night, he suited up on the fourth line between a rotating cast on his wings.
In the end, he tallied three goals and 11 points in 61 games before finishing the season in Abbotsford where he collected just three two goals and four assists in 14 games.
So how in the world does he have seven goals in seven games?
“I don’t know,” Horak says. “I’m just trying to play the same way I always played. Sometimes you’re hot. Sometimes you’re in a slump. Now I’m hot, and obviously my teammates are helping me a lot. I appreciate that.”
Did he change his diet over the summer? Mix up his off-season workout? Pack on some weight?
“Nope,” he says. ”I just did the same thing over the summer that I did last year. Maybe I’m just a year older and more experienced now. Maybe that’s why I’m successful right now.
“But we’re only seven games in, you know. I don’t want to get too high.”
As an NHL rookie last season, Horak remained even-keeled whether head coach Brent Sutter heaped on the ice-time or parked him in the press box. He followed orders at all times, played a responsible game and avoided coughing up the puck.
Before this season started, Horak realized the new coaching staff in Calgary probably had no idea how to label him. Is he a checker? A career fourth-liner?
Or something more?
“I would like to be a top-six forward,” he says. “It’s always up to the coaches where they want to put you, but you want to show them you can score the goals. So that’s what I’m trying to do right now. Every time I get a chance to go out there, I’m trying to produce something. So far, it’s been good.
“Hopefully I can keep it going.”
On the surface, Baertschi and Horak have little in common when it comes to their playing style. Baertschi is pure offence. Horak is a much more complicated mix.
But don’t go telling that to Ward.
“Roman and Sven are kind of like the same guy,” he says. “Their temperament for success or failure is the same. Neither of them go too high or too low, and that’s part of Roman’s strength. He has good balance. He’s had some chances where he probably felt like he should have scored and he didn’t score, but it didn’t seem to bother him or weight him down like it does for other players.
“He just keeps plugging along and has that hot stick.”
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