What a difference a year can make.
Tomas Pavelka’s second season in North America with the P.E.I. Rocket has been much better than his first.
“Last year was pretty hard for me because it was the first year without my family,” the Czech defenceman told The Guardian. “I didn’t speak English really well. It was a big change.”
He was an 18-year-old blue-liner playing on smaller ice surfaces than he was used to with the worst team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The offensive defenceman ended up with a -45 rating.
The signs of potential were undeniable. After working hard during the summer to improve his game, Pavelka feels more confident this season and it has shown on and off the ice.
“Quietly he’s been a top guy for us on the back end and if you look at all the European imports throughout the league he stands right up there with some of the top guys,” coach Gordie Dwyer said. “Credit to Tomas for really taking his game to the next level this season.”
He played three seasons in Europe after playing in the National, American, International and East Coast hockey leagues.
“Even as a seasoned veteran you were still kind of shell-shocked with the culture change, let alone the game itself, how different it is played over there,” Dwyer recalled.
Pavelka played on national teams before coming to Canada and was teammates with Rocket forward Matej Beran. Pavelka said having a fellow countryman on his new squad made the transition easier.
“I cannot even imagined if I was here a lone without someone who talks my language,” he said. “It was a great thing that he was here with me.”
Beran is happy his teammate’s game has improved this season. He said Pavelka has good hands, vision and skates well. “All of his passes are on the blade,” he said.
The Czech imports had an opportunity to play in the World Junior Hockey Championships in Russia during the Christmas break.
“Playing against the top Canadians and U.S. players . . . that was huge for me,” Pavelka said.
He is excited for the playoffs to start after missing the post-season in his first year in town. The Rocket hosts Val-d’Or in Game 1 Friday at 7 p.m.
“That’s a great team,” Pavelka said, noting the Foreurs have a lot of size. “It’s hard to win on their ice in Val-d’Or and the travel will be hard. Hopefully we go on a very long run in the playoffs, but it will be really tough.”