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Placek aiming for hockey and education

by Adam Kimelman / Philadelphia Flyers
Parents pretty much are the same anywhere in the world. They want their children to grow up safe, comfortable and happy -- and part of reaching that goal is getting a good education.

Jiri Placek and Leaka Plackova were insistent in that regard with their son, Petr Placek, and he certainly paid attention. Petr, a seventh-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers at last month's Entry Draft, will start at Harvard University in the fall.

"It was the first school I visited," Placek told during the Flyers' recent prospect development camp. "It's Harvard. That's about it."

Placek grew up in Slany, Czech Republic, about 45 minutes northwest of Prague. He started in the Kladno youth hockey program, and while he did well, he had his sights set elsewhere.

"From the beginning I kind of wanted to do school and hockey at the same time," Placek said, "just because you always want to get ready for the worst but hope for the best. If one way doesn't work out, you have something to fall back on. I just kind of stuck with that."

Placek's feelings were reinforced by his parents. Neither went to college, but both were smart enough to see the direction the world was taking.

"They knew (education) was really important in a new era," Placek said. "They were the ones who pushed it."

Placek started taking private English lessons at age 6, but when he hit high school age, he knew it was time to move his education -- and his hockey -- to another level.
"It's going to give him four years to get ready for the pro level, and he's not gambling it all on hockey. He's going to get a great education and he's going to become a better hockey player, a more mature hockey player." - Ian Laperriere

"We don't have any prep schools," Placek said of his native land. "The problem is that back home, almost no one does school and hockey at the same time. We don't have school sports. You do (have to pick one or the other). I didn't want to do that, so I looked around and found out about prep schools."

An online search led him to the Hotchkiss School, in Lakeville, Conn.

Placek emailed coach Damon White, who in 27 years with the school had been approached by lots of players. But this was new, even for him.

"Petr emailed me out of the blue and said, 'I've done a bunch of research online, I'm a hockey player from the Czech Republic and I really want to go to Hotchkiss,'" White told "I told him what he had to do. He took care of application materials. He got the teacher recommendations, and he had to translate them from Czech to English to send them."

"I loved the school," Placek said. "I didn't see it before I came, I just saw the Web site. It seemed cool. I had nothing to lose."

What he gained was a three-year education -- on and off the ice.

"School was tough," Placek said. "The hardest thing I've ever done was my sophomore and junior years. They were really hard, really demanding."

The most troublesome classes were in history, he said.

"I took Euro and U.S. (history), but it was nothing like anything I had ever done," he said. "(In Czech Republic) it was facts, names, numbers, dates. This was a lot of paper writing, lots of essays. I wasn't used to that at all."

However, Placek said returning home never was an option.

"I basically couldn't go back," he said. "I would see that as a failure so I had to push through. But it all paid off. … I always knew I had to get through -- never thought about going back."

The hockey also was an adjustment, as he had just 15 points in 21 games in his first season.

"It was way harder than I expected at first," Placek said. "Lot of physical play that I wasn't used to. I think by my junior year I sort of got used to that."

The numbers prove him right. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right wing had 16 goals and 16 assists in 2009-10, and appeared to be on his way to another solid season in 2010-11 after a strong showing in a fall midget league and at a showcase tournament in Boston in October that drew the attention of NHL scouts.

He injured his left knee in the fall, but was healthy when Hotchkiss' season started in December. He had 2 goals in each of the first two games, but suffered a high ankle sprain in his right foot in the first game of the Flood-Marr Hockey Tournament on Dec. 17. When he tried to return in late December, he re-injured the ankle, ending his season.

Dealing with injuries is tough for any athlete, let alone an 18-year-old hockey player in his draft season.

"As soon as I got hurt, I didn't think about it that much because I thought I'd be able to get back," Placek said. "It turned out to be longer, about five months I was out. So I sort of stopped caring. If someone drafts me, great; if not, we'll see."

Even while he was injured, Placek never was far from his team. One of two captains, White said Placek was a constant at every game and practice.

"He would come to practice and stand on the bench. He came to very game," White said. "He was in the locker room before the game. He stayed with the team through the entire season. He really was an intelligent observer of the game during the games. He'd go into the locker room before the coaches and he'd talk to the team first. The kids really listened to Petr."

The scouts, in turn, listened to White, who told any of them that visited the school that Placek was worthy of their attention.

"I had scouts come to the games during the season and ask me about Petr, how does he compare to this kid, that kid," White said. "I said this is a kid worth taking a shot at. This kid can play. He's going to play. I was very encouraging.

"And the Flyers stepped up."

The Flyers will keep their eye on Placek as he develops at Harvard.

"He's a projection right now," General Manager Paul Holmgren said. "Another big kid with good skill and is a decent skater right now. When you draft a guy and you know he's going to college, you get all of those years to watch him."

Ian Laperriere, who helped run the Flyers' prospect camp, was been impressed by Placek -- as well as his choice of colleges.

"He's a big body out there with good hands," he told "I know he's going to Harvard, which is good. It's going to give him four years to get ready for the pro level, and he's not gambling it all on hockey. He's going to get a great education and he's going to become a better hockey player, a more mature hockey player. But when you got a big guy like that with good hands and good size and good skating ability, it always sticks out."
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