BROSSARD, Quebec – Tomas Plekanec has always been one to find his summers a little bit too long, particularly since his Montreal Canadiens have not made the Stanley Cup Final once in his eight seasons with the club.
He is a hockey junkie, and is always itching to play.
But this year, Plekanec wanted to spend a little extra time at his home in Kladno, Czech Republic because, for one of the few times in his life, hockey had to take a back seat to something more serious.
Plekanec’s father Pavel fell seriously ill a few weeks ago before passing away at the age of 58 over the Labor Day weekend.
"It’s never easy, but it’s life, there’s not much you can do about it," Plekanec said at the opening of Canadiens training camp Wednesday. "The last few weeks were stressful for our whole family. But that’s life and you go through it. You have nice days when your son is born, and then you have days like this when you lose someone you love. That’s life, now it’s over and you have to move forward."
Plekanec, an only child, stayed at home a bit longer than he usually would, arriving in Montreal on Tuesday and missing the Canadiens’ charity golf tournament last week in order to be with his mother, Kveta.
"I wanted to stay there with my mom to help her to get through it," Plekanec said. "Now we move on."
Clearly, arriving in town and going through the physical testing he underwent Wednesday has allowed Plekanec to focus on something that provides some normalcy in his life, and that is playing the game he loves.
Plekanec turns 31 years old on Oct. 31, and he is the longest-serving forward on the team. Over the course of his career he’s been groomed to become one of the top two-way centers in the NHL, a great penalty killer who can be relied upon to produce 55 to 60 points on a consistent basis and who has missed just 11 games over the past seven seasons.
"He doesn’t give you anything [defensively], so that makes him tough to play against," said the Canadiens big offseason acquisition Daniel Briere of his new teammate. "The important thing with him is you have to stay patient because he doesn’t give you much. The problem with most guys is that he makes them lose their patience, so he gets in your head a little bit."
Over the past few seasons, Plekanec’s role as the team’s top center in any situation was unquestioned; he was on the top power play unit, the top penalty kill unit and he faced the opposition’s top forward lines on a nightly basis.
The emergence of young center Lars Eller last season has led to suggestions he may be in a position to take over some of those jobs from Plekanec. But Plekanec is not terribly concerned about what his role will be and where he slots in the lineup, largely because his track record is proven.
"I’ve been here for a long time, they know what role I have and what kind of player I am and the job I’m going to do," Plekanec said. "Whether that’s the number one or number two or number three, it’s going to be up to the coach to decide that."