Havel vying to improve with Vancouver Giants

Originally published in the Prague Post in 2001

By Lucas Aykroyd

If Marian Havel is selected in the first round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, as expected, it’ll be thanks to his finesse skills. The 17-year-old hockey forward skates and stickhandles at high speed with ease. He also boasts a laser slapshot.

That’s why the expansion Vancouver Giants of the junior Western Hockey League chose Havel number one overall in last June’s Canadian Hockey League import draft.

But curiously, the Jihlava native didn’t idolize Mats Sundin and Pavel Bure, his current favorites, when he was a young boy.

“Back then, I loved Marty McSorley!” Havel told The Prague Post after his first WHL game in Vancouver. “You know, he was tough, a real fighter. I saw it on TV and it was like, ‘Wow, who is this guy?'”

You don’t need a crystal ball to foresee that Havel will never accumulate 3,000 penalty minutes in the NHL. Nor is he likely to commit a vicious stick foul and land the type of long-term suspension that ended McSorley’s reign of terror last year.

But Havel is convinced that exposure to the tougher North American style of hockey will boost his chances of making the NHL. The 180-cm, 81-kg sniper got a little taste with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League two years ago.

Last season, he put up decent numbers with Dukla Jihlava’s senior team (2-2-4 in 23 games), especially considering his youth. He’s eager to improve.

“I want to learn different hockey than I would in the Czech Republic,” said Havel. “If I stayed there, I’d still be one of the top ten players my age, and I wouldn’t learn anything new. I need new skills, like lots of hitting.”

With the Giants, Havel is already proving he can operate in traffic and generate offense. In his second game, he scored a natural hat trick to lead his team to a 9-5 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Fairly fluent in English, Havel said he’s not homesick. He benefits from a good support network. His older brother Lukas starred for the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League for three years.

“Lukas told me everything about this league,” said Havel. “I’ve seen lots of tapes from the OHL, so I know exactly how the league looks.”

Havel may get to match his brother’s international exploits. Lukas helped the Czech Republic win the gold medal at the 2001 World Junior Championships, while Marian performed at tournaments with both the national under-17 and under-18 teams.

Havel’s strong work ethic is reflected in his background. His parents, Milan and Renata, own and operate a plumbing business in Jihlava. But it’s clear their youngest son is not going to be a plumber in hockey terms.

In Vancouver, Havel forms a potent offensive line with Robin Kovar and Jeff Coulter. Kovar played in the Vsetin junior system, with one Extraleague appearance last year. The two Czechs first met through the national program. Havel, who can play left wing or center, is enthralled with his linemate’s blend of size and skill.

“If he starts cycling the puck, it’s awesome,” said Havel. “I know where he is even if I don’t see him. He’s a very good skater and he has a good shot too.”

With a touch of adolescent cockiness, Havel warns against overconfidence based on the Czech Republic’s recent success in international hockey.

“Everybody in the Czech Republic thinks our hockey is the best. The Czechs win all the world championships, the Olympics, everything. But if you just think about it, all the players play in the NHL, so they learn lots from the Canadian hockey players.”

This season may be a learning experience for Havel’s club. The Giants are the first Vancouver-area WHL team since the New Westminster Bruins relocated to the United States in 1988. Even though the junior squad features five 20-year-olds, a new franchise inevitably faces its struggles.

Head coach Milan Dragicevic fines Giants players $50 CDN for using the word “expansion.” The competitive Havel has no problem with that.

“I want lots of wins for this team,” said Havel. “When I played last year for Dukla Jihlava, we were the second team in the league, so we won lots of games. I don’t like losing. If we lose, I don’t feel too good and I can’t sleep. We better win every game.”

It’s an attitude that is sure to catch the eye of NHL scouts this season.

The Marian Havel File

Born: January 26, 1984
Height: 180 cm
Weight: 81 kg
Position: Center/left wing
Current Team: Vancouver Giants
Past Teams: Dukla Jihlava, Sioux City Musketeers
International: Czech Under-17 and Under-18 teams
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2002
The Bottom Line: Expect this flashy scoring forward to tear up the Western Hockey League in his rookie year. This could be Havel’s ticket to the NHL, much like Pavel Brendl (Philadelphia), Martin Erat (Nashville) and Kristian Kudroc (Tampa Bay).

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