“When I first came here,” Sekera says, “it was a new city, new system, new players, new habits. I had to get used to it at first, and it seemed like a lot.”
The 28-year-old Sekera also needed to adapt to the rigors of the physical Western Conference.
“It’s a big adjustment coming into this conference,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter says.
Once Sekera stepped on the ice, however, the unfamiliar seemed familiar again. Despite playing on the right side instead of his more customary left side, Sekera wasted no time finding a home playing defense alongside onetime Buffalo teammate Robyn Regehr, who at the end of the season announced his retirement.
Sekera made a big impact with his play down the stretch, logging four points, a goal and three assists with a plus-4 rating. He also accomplished a rare feat among Kings defensemen this season, leading the team in time on ice, March 24 playing against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden; something usually reserved for Drew Doughty.
“I feel more comfortable every day, every game, every practice,” Sekera says after a morning skate, three weeks into his stint as a King. “I understand the guys, and they are getting to know me. Really, it’s hockey. That part doesn’t change. It’s a simple game when you get it right.”
Part of Sekera’s mission was to help the Kings right their ship. The Kings were mired outside of the playoff picture when they made the deal for Sekera, giving up Roland McKeown and a first-round draft choice. Sekera provided depth on a blueline thinned out by the absence of Slava Voynov, to a suspension, and Alec Martinez with a head injury. He also added an offensive threat on the back end, kills penalites and plays the point on the power play.
“I’m just trying to win the next game,” Sekera says. “That’s all I am focusing on – the next game. I focus on one game, not on the long haul. Just keep it simple.”
Sekera says he always had the utmost respect for the Kings while playing in Carolina and Buffalo, always saw them as one of the league’s toughest draws, even if playing in the Eastern Conference meant his teams rarely drew them.
Sekera joined the Kings at a time when the games were routinely hard-hitting, low-scoring, grind-it-out affairs with a distinct playoff flair. Those games have something else in common: they were also crucial to the Kings’ playoff hopes.
“Toward the end of the season, the games are always harder,” Sekera says. “Since I’ve been here, the games have all had a lot of intensity and they definitely have the feeling of a playoff game.”
Those are the kind of games that bring a team together, and they have served to indoctrinate Sekera into the Kings’ family in a hurry.
The Kings played more games than any other team in the league over the past three seasons, a metric than can cut two ways; the Kings were either a playoff tested team that knows how to find that extra gear at crunch time, or they were a team running of fumes. It turns out they were a bit of both.
Sekera’s brief time in the Kings’ locker room gave him his own insight into what made the Kings the team they have become.
“There is great confidence in this room,” Sekera says. “Every individual player is condident and we have a great confidence as a team. They pull the strings and every player comes together. It’s a great environment to be in.”
Sekera is no stranger to big-time hockey environments. He played for Slovakia at both the Vancouver (2010) and Sochi (2014) Olympics. Sekera has not, however, played in an NHL playoff game since the spring of 2011 with the Sabres.
“Probably the more meaningful games (for Sekera) would be international,” Sutter says.
Competing in those international tournaments, Sekera believes, was instrumental in his development.
“Playing in the Olympics helped me a lot,” he says. “The international game is a lot different than the NHL, different style, different teammates, different structure of the tournament at the Olympics. It’s different than playing in the NHL, but at the same time, it really helps you because you are learning more about the game.”
Sekera first learned about the game growing up in Slovakia, where he went on to play for Dukla Trencin, the same team the helped launch the career of former Kings great Ziggy Palffy.
“I know the Kings had some great Slovakian players like Ziggy Palffy and Jozef Stumpel, but most of those guys were here a long time before I was in the league,” Sekera says. “I know what the Kings are all about more from being in the league. I know they have been a good hockey team the last couple of years.”
Learning the game in Europe meant placing an emphasis on skating and moving the puck, which makes sense since those are two of Sekera’s strengths.
“In Europe, we play more technical hockey, with more skating,” Sekera explains. “When I got over here, the first couple of years, I made some adjustments. The hockey is a lot faster over here. Less complicated, more simple. I put those things together and that’s the player I am right now.”
The Slovakian-born King who has had the biggest impact on Sekera is his current teammate, Marian Gaborik.
“Marian helps me a lot,” Sekera says. “He talks to me a lot, takes care of me. Having Marian here has really eased the transition for me. He is taking care of me, letting me stay at his place.”
With Gaborik “taking care” of Sekera, he has been able to place his sole focus on hockey. He was in the final year of his contract, which means he could end up being a rental. But, really, Sekera says he hasn’t had much time to think about what the future might hold.
“I don’t think about the future and what will happen after the season,” Sekera says. “I don’t know what is going to happen. The time will come and things will work themselves out. I’m here to play my best hockey for the Kings. That’s my job.”
QUOTE – On Tuesday, Dean Lombardi participated on a media conference call. When asked about Sekera’s future, he replied as follows (quote via LAKingsInsider.com): “I think we have – which is not always easy to get – but I think we have the parameters of a number. Up until late last week, often times it’s hard to get even a number to see if you can plug it in. So I think we’d have to arrange that it would take. Now, have we been countered with an offer yet? No. That’s all I can say on that one now. I would say that I don’t think his number’s outrageous. He’d like to stay here, and so by virtue of that, he ends up in some of your schematics.”