CALGARY, AB -- Roman Horak isn't a man of many words but when asked about his presence at the Calgary Flames training camp in the dying days of September, the soft-spoken pivot's voice goes up a few notches in volume.
"It's a great opportunity, right? I appreciate it," he stated. "I appreciate the chance I have right now and I'll try to do my best on the ice. I'll see what happens."
Horak has been a pleasant surprise at camp this fall, surviving the first two rounds of cuts made by the club. The Flames are down to 30 players on the roster and while he thought he had performed well enough to make it through the first roster trimming, he fully expected to be assigned to Abbotsford before this point.
"I was kind of surprised actually," he smiled when asked about his reaction to Monday's cut list. "I'm really excited and I'm happy."
The 20 year-old has been so impressive the coaching staff placed him on the top line, perched between Alex Tanguay and Lee Stempniak, on Tuesday night against the New York Islanders.
If he was nervous, you couldn't tell. He meshed seamlessly with the wingers and the trio's instantaneous chemistry led to several excellent scoring opportunities.
"They're both such good players," he said after the 2-0 victory. "It's kind of easy to play with them."
It wasn't just his linemates he gelled with. At one point, he teamed up with fellow Flames newcomer Chris Butler on a give-and-go scoring chance that nearly handcuffed veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
"I thought Roman was very good again,” head coach Brent Sutter said in his post-game press conference. "He’s a heady player. He’s a smart player. He understands the ice and understands positioning very well.
"He was certainly very noticeable tonight in a lot of different ways."
The gifted centerman has hockey in his genes. His father was a member of the Czech Republic national team and represented his country at the Olympics. Horak points directly to his father when asked what inspired him to get into the sport.
"All the things I know and know about hockey, he taught me ... he was a really good player," he said. "He was kind of my role model."
His father kept a watchful eye on the forward made this way through the Czech junior hockey program, impressing those around him with his skill and determination. He put in two seasons with HC Ceské Budejovice in the U20 Czech league, amassing 65 points through 65 games. He also played nine games with HC Ceské Budejovice's elite team before the 2009 NHL Entry Draft rolled around.
Selected in the fifth round, 127th overall, by the New York Rangers, the club wanted Horak to head over to North America to make getting acclimatized to North American hockey. He didn't have to be asked twice.
The following season, he made his debut with the Chilliwack Bruins. Although the transition wasn't easy - a new language, a new culture and new style of hockey thrown at him all at once - he still managed 21 goals and 47 points in his first year in the WHL.
His stock continued to rise in his sophomore year. He potted 26 goals and 78 points in 2010-11 and became a go-to guy for the Bruins.
When Tim Erixon refused to sign in Calgary and general manager was forced to deal the disgruntled defenceman, he jumped at the opportunity to add Horak to the organization.
"We project that in some point in time, he's going to play in the National Hockey League," Feaster said after acquiring the forward. "He plays a very hard game as far as his work ethic. He competes, he battles, he takes hits to make a play, he delivers hits.
There's no quit in his game."
The Flames play their final preseason game on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes and if Wednesday's practice lines are any indication, Horak will be reunited with Tanguay and Stempniak is his final audition with the club.
He understands his entire body of work will be evaluated when it comes to the Flames final cuts but he knows that he needs to bring his best game to the table on Thursday night if he wants to stick with the team.
"I had a couple good games but it doesn't mean anything. I still have to push hard and see what happens."
That being said, if he continues to play at the level he has over the past week, Horak may force management to make some tough decisions up center ice but that is a conundrum Feaster has to be pleased to deal with.
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