With the nearby Czech-Moravian Highlands and spectacular historic monuments within reach, Patrik Elias
could have offered plenty of excuses to why he was late for dinner as a teen growing up in Trebic, Czech Republic.
Young Elias never did, however, as he was perfectly content watching his eldest brother, Zdenek, play hockey on the neighborhood rink against many of the top players in the country. He was especially impressed with a team from Jihlava, a town situated 22 miles northwest of Trebic that would routinely make the trip into town.
"That's when I first saw Bobby Holik
," Elias told NHL.com. "The town he's from was a big city that had an elite league for youth players all the way through to a men's league. Every time Bobby's team came in, it was a big deal, so I would watch him any chance I got. Bobby was about 15-years-old at the time and he even trained in our town since we had ice available before any other teams in the league. He was a pretty special player."
Holik recalls the days playing for his toughest coach to date -- his dad.
"He was a legendary player, so everybody thought it would be easy for (Bobby Holik
) because his dad was a great player and his coach, but those people never really got to know my dad," Holik said. "I just recently talked to my nephew who's 15 and plays hockey in the Czech Republic. He told me my dad (Jaroslav) was giving him some direction and I told him that if he could put up with grandpa (Holik's dad), he could put up with any coach in the world. That's how tough he was."
In 1999, Jaroslav Holik, who won a bronze medal for the Czech Republic at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Japan, was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
Those fond memories in the Czech Republic certainly played a big role in molding both Elias and Holik into the NHL stars they are today. Elias, in fact, is thrilled the NHL has decided to play a two-game set in Prague on Oct. 4 and 5 as part of Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008. The anticipated European double-header, which will pit the New York Rangers
against the Tampa Bay Lightning
, will kick off the 2008-09 NHL season.
The other leg of the European tour has the Ottawa Senators
and Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins
playing a two-game series in Stockholm, Sweden.
"I think what the NHL is doing is great," Elias said. "There are so many Europeans playing in this League and we have so many fans overseas, it'll be great for them to get a little feel for the game and watch the practices. I know they'll also open practices to the public in Prague and that's great for the players, teams and fans heading out there. Having something like this will only generate more of a fan base for us."
Elias knows the players and coaches will truly adore the picturesque landscape of Prague.
"I've lived in Prague the last four years and can honestly say it's one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the players will have a program in place to enjoy their stay there," said Elias. "They are going there to play hockey and it counts in the standings, but at the same time, it'll be pleasant for them to experience the different culture and a different city. I know the games sold out in 24 hours and it will be a nice opportunity for fans to see players like (Vinny) Lecavalier, (Martin) St. Louis and the young kid, (Steven) Stamkos, as well as (Scott) Gomez and others, including some Czech players."
“In the Czech Republic, the only option to better my life was by being good in sports and becoming a good athlete. We had a little bit more motivation in the '70s and '80s. We had fun because we didn't know any better and there was never any time off. There weren't many options so you either made it or you didn't."
-- Bobby Holik
Much like Elias, Holik was also a rink rat as a teenager.
"I had an opportunity to play hockey after walking home from school to the rink and skated all day with different teams," Holik said. "My childhood couldn't get any better. I also played a lot of soccer and tennis. We'd play soccer on the snow right before hockey practice. There were never any organized leagues or travel teams; you got enough guys to play and you played.
"In the Czech Republic, the only option to better my life was by being good in sports and becoming a good athlete," Holik said. "We had a little bit more motivation in the '70s and '80s. We had fun because we didn't know any better and there was never any time off. There weren't many options so you either made it or you didn't."
Elias hopes there will come a time when the Devils are invited to kick off the season in his homeland.
"It's only a seven-hour flight and that's a trip we often do during the season when traveling to the West Coast," Elias said. "I would love to experience that with my teammates before I'm done playing."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.