Sekac's father not only one celebrating after Hab's first NHL goal

 

 
 
 
 
Montreal Canadiens' Jiri Sekac, of Czech Republic, reacts as the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning won 7-1.
 

Montreal Canadiens' Jiri Sekac, of Czech Republic, reacts as the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning won 7-1.

Photograph by: MIKE CARLSON, Montreal Gazette

Jiri Sekac’s father wasn’t the only one celebrating after his son scored the first goal of his NHL career for the Canadiens in a 6-4 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

Television cameras caught Jiri Sekac Sr., who had travelled from the Czech Republic for the game, celebrating wildly in the stands. It might have been the best off-ice goal celebration since Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin got caught by a TV camera doing a little dance after an overtime winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning during last season’s playoffs.

Bergevin might be dancing again in one of his snazzy suits after signing the 22-year-old free agent to a two-year, two-way contract during the off-season and then watching him make the club out of training camp after spending the last three seasons in the KHL. Sekac’s contract pays him $70,000 in the AHL and $925,000 in the NHL.

It looks like it could be money very well spent.

Another person who was celebrating Sekac’s goal on Thursday night after watching it on TV was Curtis Carr, who coached Sekac for two seasons in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms in Ohio after the forward came to North America from the Czech Republic with a dream of one day playing in the NHL.

“I was happy for him. He’s a good player,” Carr said over the phone Friday from North Andover, Massachusetts, where he is now an associate head coach at Merrimack College. “He was a kid we felt had the ability or the potential to play at that (NHL) level with his skill set when we first got him. I know he works extremely hard and has dedicated himself. To make it to the Canadiens I thought was great and to see him actually get on the scoreboard, I was pretty excited for him.”

Sekac played eight games with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes in 2009-10 as a 17-year-old before jumping to the USHL with Youngstown after his agent sent a video of Sekac in action to the Phantoms. Carr said he was impressed by Sekac’s skill set, his ability to control the puck at full speed and his shot.

The Phantoms decided to offer Sekac an import spot on their roster and Carr sent a couple of players to the Pittsburgh airport to pick him up. Since they had never seen Sekac before, the players asked Carr how they would know who he was when they got there.

“I said, ‘He’ll be the guy who looks like he’s from an ’80s music video with a hockey bag,” Carr said. “We’d always bust on him a little bit about his (European) style with the tight pants and the high-tops.

“He’s a little bit of a character … not in a bad way,” Carr added. “His teammates really liked him. He had a lot of energy off the ice … he was always ready to go. He was always goofing around. He was usually the guy at the back of the bus who would have a funny comment at the right time. He was the guy who would crack jokes. ”

But Sekac’s choice of music wasn’t popular with his teammates.

“I think he was upset that his music didn’t get played a lot in the locker room,” Carr said with a laugh. “His (European) techno-music didn’t get a lot of playing time.”

During his first season with the Phantoms, Sekac posted 2-9-11 totals in 38 games and was minus-14. He needed to work on his defensive game.

“I just thought he needed some work playing the game without the puck,” Carr recalled. “Being an offensive guy he was pretty hard on himself when he didn’t produce points. He learned to be positive within his game, saying, ‘Hey, you’re not going to score every game, but you did a lot of good things out there.’ Just maturing and understanding that he can be productive and help us win games, but it’s not always necessarily going to show up on the scoresheet.”

The next season Sekac posted 18-27-45 totals in 58 games and was plus-5, but he still wasn’t selected at the NHL entry draft.

“I was surprised,” Carr said. “His second year with us when he was still draft eligible and I thought for sure somebody would take him middle to late rounds just because of his skill set … kind of take a flyer on him, thinking, ‘Hey, if he turns out it would be really nice.’”

Bergevin took that chance on Sekac this summer after the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder spent three years in the KHL. In 47 games last season with Prague Lev, he posted 11-17-28 totals and was plus-12.

Another person who was cheering after Sekac’s first NHL goal Thursday night was Connie Black. During his two seasons with the Phantoms, Sekac lived with Connie and Rod Black and their three children in Poland, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown.

“I knew he would score,” Connie said over the phone Friday. “I have more faith in that kid than anyone. I don’t doubt his abilities whatsoever.

“It’s just his drive … this is what he’s always wanted to do … to play in the NHL,” she added. “I know how hard he’s worked for this and I know he’s going to do well.”

Connie still remembers the first time Sekac showed up at her front door.

“He was just a skinny foreign kid … but he was awesome from the day that we opened our doors to him we loved him,” she said. “He was a great kid all around.”

The Blacks helped Sekac improve his English and Rod would cook him Czech Chicken to give the teenager a little taste of home. He became like a big brother to the Blacks’ three children: boys Zachary, now 19, Ethan, 17, and daughter Baileigh, 15.

“He has a great sense of humour … but that’s something that took him a while to learn,” Connie said about Sekac. “We’re a very sarcastic family and he did not understand that whatsoever when he first came here, so that was kind of funny. But now he’s a very sarcastic kid. He’s eager to please and strives to do his best. He’s just a good kid … we had no problems with him at all.”

Connie still keeps in regular contact with Sekac online, but had a message she wanted to pass along to him on Friday.

“Keep it up … keep it going,” she said. “I’m smiling ear to ear … I’m just so happy for the kid.”

She also had a message for Montrealers:

“Take care of him for me.”

scowan@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: StuCowan1

 
 
 
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Montreal Canadiens' Jiri Sekac, of Czech Republic, reacts as the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning won 7-1.
 

Montreal Canadiens' Jiri Sekac, of Czech Republic, reacts as the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning won 7-1.

Photograph by: MIKE CARLSON, Montreal Gazette

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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