My story begins at age three in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia...
I started skating when I was about 3 1/2 and I started playing hockey when I was six. My parents told me that I had a hockey stick in my hand when I was 2 years old. I would run around the house with it. Right from the start I wanted to play hockey from a really young age. My dad liked hockey and we used to watch it on television.”
I played as a child for a lot of different teams before I began playing in a men’s league at age 17. Then I left for another city to play in a better league and then I came here to North America, first in the minors and then in the National Hockey League.
Before that I played a lot as a kid. I loved the game and I remember being excited for practice. We spent so much time practicing even at home in the street. It was hockey 24 hours a day, seven days a week for me because I loved it so much. I always played forward growing up but every now and then I played defense.
|Michal Handzus' first dream was to play for his national team. He played for Slovakia in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and recently in the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championships. |
In my hometown most of the kids played soccer and hockey. Usually in winter everyone played hockey and in the summer everyone played soccer. I played soccer and tennis. I played a lot of sports growing up. I was always good in every sport. I was good at soccer and tennis but I kind of had the talent for sports. I loved playing both those sports but hockey was my number one sport. I never thought to play any other sport over hockey. It was just natural to play multiple sports because when I was younger I had a lot more time during the off-season so I was able to play soccer. When I got older and started to play professionally I obviously didn’t have the time to play soccer.
In terms of hockey, I was always a good player and good for my age. Obviously as I got a little older I thought more about going somewhere else and playing but my first goal was to play for my national team. The thoughts of the NHL came around a little later.
I also when I was a kid played a lot with the older kids on my street and in my league. I was about four or five years younger than everyone else and the teams took me because I was pretty good. I had to be good to make the team on the street and to play in the league.
Being around the older kids probably helped my maturation and it was fun for me. I think it was a good thing for me because I had to have better skills to play with the older guys so when I came to the men’s league I was used to it by then.
For me, the World Championships were huge. The national team is what we followed because we didn’t have any NHL teams or games to watch and we didn’t know much about the NHL. We watched the national team in the World Championships and our home team too in the Slovakian League.
|Handzus battles with Andy McDonald of the Blues back in 2008. St. Louis originally drafted Hanzus in the 4th round of the 1995 entry draft. |
Mostly I watched games on TV but I went to watch the games in my hometown, which is a really small rink so it’s a little different. Most of the games I watched were on television and that was our national team’s games.
As I got a little older I started playing in the Slovakian Junior League. In terms of talent, I thought that league was a pretty good league so I had to be good. Obviously my goal then was to make the National team and you had to be one of the top players in the league to make the team. I always was a top player and scored a lot of points but you had to push yourself to get better and better. Over the years my style of play has changed. It’s different ice and different hockey here so I had to play a little different. It’s a lot different hockey here then over in Europe.
When I started playing on the National teams more NHL scouts were starting to come around and you were aware of it. I knew I had a chance to get drafted and it was a big thing when I was drafted. There was a feeling that if I worked hard I might have a chance.
When I was drafted I knew that I wasn’t ready. They wanted me to come here and play for a junior team but I wanted to stay home and I wanted to play in a men’s league. I thought that it was better for me, as a player, to stay home and play against good players. I did not want to play against players my own age. It was a decision I made and I think it was a good decision looking back. I knew that is what I wanted to do for two years.
|Handzus played for the Flyers before signing with the Kings. GM Dean Lombardi knew Michal from his days in Philadelphia. |
When I did come to North America, I thought that I was ready. I had played in the Elite League in Slovakia and I had success there. Leaving was the next logical, natural next step to play in the NHL. I was around the age of 20 and I thought that it was the right time to come and make a team.
Coming here and coming to the smaller sheet of ice was different but it was as different s I thought it would be. I am a big guy and playing here suits my game well. The bigger adjustment was the different culture. I didn’t speak much English then.
I had a lot of confidence after one season in Worcester of the American Hockey League. I had a good season there. I was the top player over there and I won the scoring title on my team. That gave me a lot of confidence that I could make the team and they told me after my season in Worcester to work on my skating and I would have a chance that next year.
So that’s what I did over that summer. I put in a lot of hard work in, a lot of hard work in on my legs, and I was ready for camp. I was pretty lucky that they liked me, which is a big part of it, but I think also that I worked hard and I’m happy with what happened.