Rookie camp is underway in Denver and there are 28 players looking to make a lasting impact with Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy and the rest of the Avs and Lake Erie Monsters staff in attendance. Among those on display is Czech Republic netminder Roman Will, one of three goalies taking part in the run up to the full NHL camp.
For the 22-year-old Will, the excitement of his first training camp is coupled with the fact that he will be on the same ice as one of his hockey idols.
“This is my first NHL camp, and I’m so excited about that. This is my dream,” Will said as camp was set to begin. “Patrick Roy is a big person in hockey. Maybe one of the biggest guy in NHL. I’m so excited. He was my favorite, one of my favorite goalies.
“Can’t wait to be on the ice with him.”
Will, who counts Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers), Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), Semyon Varlamov, Dominik Hasek and Roy among his favorite puck stoppers, signed an entry-level contract with the Avalanche over the summer after an sensational season playing for BK Mladá Boleslav of the Czech Extraliga.
Will finished the year—his second in the professional Czech league—with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage through 20 regular-season games, championing the best team in the relegation league amidst lofty expectations from those watching the games.
“Last season I played back in Czech Republic, and it was great season. We won the whole league, and it was great experience,” said Will. “It was a very hard season because we’re supposed to win the season, so everybody expect that from us. Everybody want to beat us because we (were) the favorite team and so everybody played very hard on us.”
Will was just as dominant in the postseason as he was during the regular campaign, owning an impressive 1.81 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage through 10 games to win the league championship, helping his club move up into the Extraliga.
“It was kind of a good experience for me too because I played with all guys. It was my second pro year in Czech. I think the season went very good, and I got a lot of experience there and I’m very happy for that,” said Will. “I played with great players. They helped me a lot, and it was good team chemistry. Everything was right in the place. Everything was good.”
Two straight seasons with fantastic numbers—Will posted a 1.87 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage the year before—in the Czech Republic, as well as a campaign spent with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, certainly helped put the young goaltender on the radar of the Avalanche.
“Two years ago, I was in Canada and I just fell in love with the style of living (in North America). I like to be here and I wish to be here as long as I can, and I will do everything for it,” said Will.
Having spent the majority of his young career playing on the larger international ice, facing the European style of game, Will certainly has some adjusting to do during his time in Denver and beyond.
“It’s maybe harder for me but I like when I get a lot of shots and, with small ice, that’s coming. My favorite is small ice,” said Will. “It’s a lot different. It’s a lot of shots and physical games. In Czech, it’s a lot of technique players. So they angle in passes a lot. And there is bigger ice. Here it is more fast, and I probably like it more playing here.”
Camp has only been going on for a couple of days but Will got an early start, flying in two weeks early to get acclimated. He was rewarded for his dedication with some face time with one of his favorite goaltenders.
“I’m here 14 days already so I went on with (Varlamov) on the ice, and it was great to be with him on the ice," he said. "Also with Reto Berra. Can’t wait to be with them again.”
Will, just like each of the other players at rookie camp, is looking to find a groove before full camp begins on Friday.