Rostislav Klesla is known to his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates and fans simply as “Rusty.” The 25-year-old defenseman, who was Columbus’ first-ever draft pick (fourth overall) in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, has become much more than just a friendly nickname.
Throughout Nationwide Arena, his home away from his Czech Republic home, Rusty can pass as a native Buckeye – one with a lingering and proud Czech accent.
Some things you just can’t shake. And Rusty is just fine with that.
Klesla, who hails from Novy Jincin, a scenic city boasting a population of more than 26,000 people and has a backdrop of the Carpathian Mountains, returns every summer and does what he does best. Like an average 20-something, he catches up with friends, goes to concerts, and bangs around on his drum kit that he stores in the garage of his home.
“I play a little drums, but just a little bit,” Klesla insists. “I’m not really good; I just try to match the beat of the drums in songs. I just kind of mess around with my brother back home, just for fun. We take turns at the drums and play the stereo loud - like Metallica - and play along with it,” he laughs.
Klesla is a huge music fan whose favorites include Metallica, U2, Guns N’ Roses, and 1980s metal. And he also is a fan of Czech and Slovakian rock bands, too.
“Back home we go see the home groups, like Kabát,” says Klesla. “It’s pretty cool to see bands in the summer -- on your free time when you don’t train -- that are from home and are very popular. In Columbus, it’s all work, no play.”
Kabát, which translates to The Coat, is a hard-rock band hailing from Teplice, Czech Republic, and is one of Klesla’s all-time favorites. He listens to the band, along with other hard-rock groups from back home, whenever he gets a chance. The music helps pump Klesla up before games. He likes listening to their 2006 album, Corrida, and their 2002 best-of record, Suma Sumárum (All Things Considered), the band’s most popular album and the best-selling Czech album ever, with 128,000 copies sold.
But back in Columbus, where Klesla resides during the hockey season, he won’t be waking the neighbors on his drum kit, trying to match Kabát’s sound.
“It’s too big to bring with me to Columbus,” he says. “It’s just a summer hobby.”
But it doesn’t mean Klesla can’t have a little fun when not playing hockey, or training.
“Sometimes we go for a beer when we can, if we have the day off,” Klesla says. “And we talk about things we wouldn’t talk about at the rink. We have to clear the head sometimes, just like everybody else.”
It’s not far-fetched to say Klesla is not only popular with the Columbus fan base; but just as popular among his teammates for his friendly demeanor. They may do battle on the ice, but still make time to break bread, and talk of normal things like television shows, recent movies and the latest video games.
“We have a really great bunch,” Klesla says. “Even the older guys, like Adam Foote, he invites us over to his house and his wife cooks for us. I’m also good friends with Jody Shelly, and all the Czech guys, David Vyborny, Jiri Novotny and Jan Hejda, and (Canadian-born) Pascal Leclaire, too.
Klesla, a gritty physical defenseman, is on pace to reach 400 career games this season. Currently, he’s played in 332 games, with 30 career goals, 59 assists, 89 points, and 362 penalty minutes. Last season, he led Jackets defensemen in goals (nine) and set career highs for goals and points (22), and ranked second on the club in ice time with an average of 22:54 per game.
It was no surprise when he signed a four-year contract extension with the Blue Jackets in April 2006.
Klesla scored his first goal this season against Peter Budaj and the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 15, the only marker in the Blue Jackets’ 5-1 defeat, but he’s a plus-2 rating. Though he may be called Rusty, he’s proving to Columbus fans that he is anything but.
“We got a pretty good thing going on here in Columbus,” Klesla smiled. “I see great things ahead.”