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David Rittich is soaking his first experience at the tournament


The opportunity, he confesses, was his for the taking.

And there was no way Calgary Flames goaltender David Rittich was turning down the opportunity.

Not this one.

Not his first.

Rittich jumped at the chance to represent the Czech Republic at the 2018 IIHF World Championship -- his national first sweater-donning stint of his career.

"I had an offer that if I wanted to go, I could," said Rittich, who has two wins, one shutout, a 1.98 GAA and a .900 save percentage through his first three appearances.

"If I would've left this offer, I would've been very stupid. It's my first offer. I had to go. It's my first experience with the national team. It's huge for me.

"It's my first time having the national team jersey on my body. It's a pretty good experience and a really nice feeling for me. It's the first time for me. For every single player, having the national jersey on your body is the biggest thing."

It's been a long journey to his first national team experience for the six-foot-three stopper from Jihlava.

Never drafted, Rittich spent his entire career in his home country before inking a one-year pact with the Flames, two years ago next month to be precise, to venture across to North America.

High risk for the then 23-year-old.

High reward, it turns out. Thanks to some quick development.

On and off the ice.

Mikael Backlund remembers.

The once-shy Czech goalie, who spoke but a few words of English, has blossomed at the rink.

And away from it.

"I remember," said Backlund, who is captaining Sweden and is now friend turned foe for Rittich at the World Championship.

"He was struggling with his English, but I was trying to chirp him as much as I could anyways. He was a European. I was trying to make him feel somewhat comfortable.

"I knew one Czech word. I called him that all the time."

It's not to be repeated.

But safe to say, Rittich can now fire back in multiple languages after flourishing in his time in North America.

His first go-round featured a formidable effort; he went 15-11-1 with a 2.27 GAA, .924 save percentage and five shutouts with Stockton of the American Hockey League in 2016-17.

He also made his NHL debut, allowing one goal on 10 shots in a relief role against the San Jose Sharks on Apr. 8, 2017, followed by an equally memorable post-game ride, alongside Stockton teammate Rasmus Andersson, with Sharks superstar blueliner Brent Burns.

Another one-year deal was offered last summer, and a full-time option as understudy to Mike Smith opened up for Rittich on Nov. 24. He spent the next 177 days on Calgary's roster, piecing together an 8-6-3 record with a 2.92 GAA and .904 save percentage.

"He played very well for us, especially earlier on in the season," said Backlund, who again swapped a playful jab or two with Rittich when the Czechs fell 3-2 to Sweden eight days ago.

"But overall, he had a really good, solid year. I look forward to having him back next year.

"He's become more and more comfortable around the organization, around the team and in the locker room. I really think that since he's come to North America he's adjusted well and enjoyed life.

"He's taken some big steps for sure."

Big strides.

And a long way from his days with BK Mlada Boleslav of the Czech Extraliga.

In a short time, too.

"Everyone is always asking me about this question," he said. "I'm a pretty hard worker. That's part of me. Maybe that's helped me be here (in Denmark) and in Calgary.

"It's a pretty nice feeling. I have to say thank you to the Flames organization, coaches, teammates, everyone who is there. I have to say thank you to the national team coaches for letting me be here, too."

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