Amidst the media scrums, post-practice chatter, and clatter of lunch plates, Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Frolik stand off to the side, reminiscing on their childhood growing up together in Kladno, Czech Republic, and the whirlwind careers that have lead them here to Winnipeg. Years later, the two best friends are about to slip on the same NHL jerseys for the very first time.
“I was very excited when I heard the news, but not him probably,” chuckled Pavelec, teasing his friend. But Frolik, who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks June 30, 2013, is quick to correct him. “It was a bit of a shock for me at first, but I knew he was here,” admitted the 25 year-old Stanley Cup champion. “We had talked about it before, and we had said it would be pretty cool if we could someday play together. It actually happened so we’re pretty excited,” smiled Frolik.
“I’m babysitting now!” chimed in Pavelec, laughing as he pats his friend on the back.
“He’s taking care of me, I’m staying at his place,” explained Frolik. “He knows everyone here so he introduced me to the guys and the training staff. He’s a great guy and I have so much fun with him.”
“He’s a care-free kind of guy. But he likes to be alone, he likes his privacy,” said Frolik, laughing and giving Pavelec a friendly shove. “So I think I gotta leave pretty soon from his house.”
Playing for the same NHL team was a dream neither player had ever allowed himself to even imagine. “The dream was just to play in the NHL, it’s hard to say it was a dream. We figured it was a pretty far shot,” said Pavelec.
But when the Jets goaltender found out his friend was really on his way to Winnipeg, he told him everything he could about the city to convince him he’d love it. “The first thing I said was that the fans are unbelievable here,” said Pavelec. “They know hockey, they care about hockey, and they support the team even when you’re losing. That’s why you play.”
But Pavelec wasn’t the only one with insight on Winnipeg. Captain of the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg native, Jonathan Toews, also had some recommendations. “He told me there’s an Earl’s and Moxie’s…” started Frolik, laughing. “He was just joking, we only talked for a few minutes and he wished me luck and said hockey is great here and the crowd is great so I can’t wait.”
Playing against his former team in the new Central Division is also something the right-winger is looking forward to. “Obviously you want to beat them, they traded me so I want to show them they made a mistake. But you want to beat everybody, so it won’t be any different,” shrugged Frolik.
But Pavelec isn’t so modest about his friend’s talents. “He’s a little bit shy,” he chuckles. A 2006 first round draft pick by the Florida Panthers, Frolik started his career with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL, much like Pavelec, who had signed with Cape Breton a year earlier. From there he went on to play 3 seasons with the Panthers before being traded to the Blackhawks in 2010. He began his NHL career with two consecutive 21-goal seasons.
“He (Frolik) won the cup last year. He’s been in the league for 5-6 years now so he knows what it takes to be on top. He can play wherever the coach wants him to play. He can be on the penalty kill, that’s one of the reasons Chicago won the cup last year (Frolik accumulated 10 points in 23 games during the Hawks’ Cup run), and he can still be on the power play. He’s the player we need,” said Pavelec.
The two Czechs live together, play together, and are inseparable off the ice. The only thing missing is the true best friend handshake. The duo tried a few combinations, but ended up bent over in laughter.
“I never scored (when we were kids) so we didn’t have a handshake…” explains Pavelec.
“I didn’t really score either!” laughs Frolik. “Maybe we’ll do something before the games. It’s hard to go high five the goalie when you score at the other end of the ice…”
“It would be a little awkward if he scored and skated right to me for a high five!” agrees Pavelec, deciding instead on a pre-game ritual to be choreographed before the start of the season.