MONTREAL – If you thought you caught a glimpse of former Canadiens defenseman Jaroslav Spacek in town recently, your eyes weren’t deceiving you.
Though he only called Montreal home for a little over two years, it was enough time for Spacek to fall in love with the city. Traded by the Canadiens to the Carolina Hurricanes in December 2011, Spacek decided to return to his native Czech Republic to wrap up his professional career where it all began.
The 42-year-old, who celebrated his birthday this past Thursday, recently made a rare visit to Montreal. It was more than just a courtesy visit for him, though. The 880-game NHL veteran now occupies an important position as an assistant coach on the Czech national team. The job will bring him to North America for the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto this coming September.
Although he’s thoroughly enjoyed his new role behind the bench since taking on the challenge two years ago, Spacek readily admits that becoming a coach was not always part of his post-retirement plan.
“Earlier in my career, I was probably thinking that I would go into coaching after I’d retire,” admitted Spacek, who first joined the Canadiens as a free agent back in July 2009. “Later on, I didn’t really want to do it anymore. When I moved back home to the Czech Republic, I started working for Martin Straka, who owns HC Plzen, the team from my hometown. At first he asked me to play, but I told him that I was done playing. Then, he asked me if I wanted to help him out with his defensemen. I started going on the ice with them. Two years ago when Vladimir Ruzicka became head coach of the Czech National team, he asked me to join them as an assistant coach and I accepted his offer.”
International competition has not been kind to the Czech Republic. The past few years have seen the squad settle for a disappointing sixth place finish at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. That was followed up by a fourth place finish at the last two World Championships. Spacek, however, is optimistic about his team’s chances in the World Cup.
Unlike most other countries, the influx of young talent on the Czech roster is lacking, which could prove to be a potential red flag as hockey becomes a more youth-driven sport.
|Spacek might just have a chance to coach his former teammate, Tomas Plekanec, at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. |
“I think there’s starting to be a problem with Czech hockey. There’s hasn’t been a lot of good young players coming up in our program and making it to the NHL with the exception of David Pastrnak in Boston. It’s a small program,” explained Spacek, who is not the lone former Canadiens player amongst the Czech Republic hockey brass, seeing as Martin Rucinsky is the side’s general manager. “Up front, I think we’ll be okay, but we’ll have some trouble at the blue line. We have some good goalies with Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth, too.”
The trip to Montreal not only affords Spacek the opportunity to evaluate the performance of countrymen Tomas Plekanec and Tomas Fleischmann, but also gives him a chance to reconnect with friends he made over the years in Quebec.
Quick to admit that he misses the sights and sounds of the historic Bell Centre, Spacek has countless memories from his 162-game stint in a Canadiens uniform.
“I remember every time I scored a goal,” cracked the former No. 6, who scored four goals during his time with the Habs. “I’ll always remember my first year here when we reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Too bad I missed some time because I was hurt a little bit. The people and the fans here are great. If you play well, they know it. But if you play bad, they let you know. That’s what I liked about this building. There’s so much life in it.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Jared Ostroff.