CALGARY, AB – At the tender age of 19, a young Jiri Hudler left the Czech Republic in search of his dream to play in the National Hockey League.
Some 10 years later, the five-foot-10 forward is tasked with making sure that same dream by countryman Roman Cervenka transitions smoothly in a Calgary Flames jersey.
Watching over the soft-spoken Cervenka, Hudler has guided the Praha product through the start of his first stint in North American hockey.
But Hudler hasn’t had to baby-sit the big Czech just yet.
“He’s just asking questions,” Hudler said. “I’m not coming to him every day telling him what to do. He’s a grown man. He’s a really smart player so he’s going to figure it out.”
Cervenka, signed to a one-year, $3,775,000 contract last May with the Flames, has plenty of on-ice adjustments to deal with.
Overcoming the language barrier aside, the 26-year-old is tasked with playing on a smaller ice surface than he’s used to with an entirely different pace and style. It’s not an easy adjustment, but one that will be aided by the character Cervenka possesses, according to head coach Bob Hartley.
“Its his first time in North America playing on the small ice, new teammates and everything,” he said. “I can tell you one thing. He’s very well accepted because he’s a great human being.”
With his talent on the ice, the bigger adjustment for Cervenka will come away from the rink.
Speaking little English and facing culture shock, it was a change that Hudler himself admitted to struggling to when he first arrived in North America.
“I was a little younger than Roman but of course it’s tough,” he said. “Life at home, you’re used to a lot of stuff and you come here and everything is new. People speaking different language you don’t understand, you don’t speak, you can’t tell them how you feel. You cannot go get groceries or little things like that.”
All situations Hudler is eager to lend a hand in to make sure his new teammate is comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.
“It’s what I’m here for, to help him,” he said.
But itching to go, Cervenka’s attention isn’t on life away from the rink. Instead, the former Olympian is focused solely on hockey, said Hudler.
“Obviously you’re going to have some meetings, he’s going to ask me some questions and I’m going to be there but we’re just talking about hockey,” he said. “There’s a lot of hockey on TV right now. It’s all hockey.”
As the five-foot-11, 201-pound center nears his return after being cleared by a hematology specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix Tuesday, Hudler had but one piece of advice for Cervenka.
“This was his dream and I told him ‘don’t be over-excited, just play the game’.”
And the rest will take care of itself.