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DEV CAMP: Czech mates

Best friends Matej Blumel and Tomas Mazura shared the whirlwind experience of being drafted together by the Oilers and their journey to Edmonton to attend Development Camp

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Everything's always better with your best mates by your side.

That was the case on Saturday for Czech forwards Matej Blumel and Tomas Mazura - two best friends who shared their draft-day experience with their closest companions in their hometown of Pardubice, Czech Republic with some pool-side grilling.

"Me, Tomas, and a couple other friends," Blumel said. "They said like, 'Hey guys, let's watch the Draft tonight and get some barbecue and enjoy the night.'"

With no expectation of when, or even if, they'd both be drafted, they hit the pool before the first phone call came for Matej to inform him he'd been selected in the fourth round (100th overall) by the Oilers from the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks.

"[Matej's] phone rang and I was like, 'Great!'" Mazura said. "Then I was getting a little bit nervous. I want to be drafted."

Mazura's nervousness turned to jubilation alongside his best friend almost an hour later, with the message of him being selected by the Oilers in the sixth round (162nd overall) being relayed from his roommate from prep school back in New England at Kimball Union Academy.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Czech Mates 06.25.19

"I got a call from my roommate from school and he just started screaming," Mazura recalled.

"I was like, 'What is going on?' and he was like, 'You were drafted!' I'm like, 'What team?' He was like, 'Oilers!' and I'm like, 'Great!'"

Being drafted to the NHL is one thing, but to do it alongside your best friend who you've played with and grown up beside since the age of five, evokes another level of excitement.

"We've been best friends forever," Mazura said. "We played hockey together and everything. It's special. We didn't know if we were going to be drafted, and to be drafted to the same team is crazy."

A hectic day was about to turn into a hectic 24-hour stretch, arriving in Edmonton on Sunday ahead Development Camp after getting off the phone with Oilers VP of Player Development Scott Howson who extended the welcome and invites to the pair of Czechs.

"I phoned Blumel and he was in the Czech Republic. I told him he had been drafted and he already knew of course. This was about a half hour after the pick," Howson said. "He said, 'Yeah, I'm with all my friends,' and I sort of threw it out, 'Well, do you want to come to Development Camp?' and he said, 'Yes, get me on a plane right away.' Then I phoned Mazura an hour later and he was the same way.

"They both said, 'Yes, I want to come right away, right now, get me on a plane.'"

Video: DEV CAMP | Matej Blumel

Before they knew it, they were both 30,000-feet up and bound for Edmonton.

"Tomas got a call at probably 11 PM there, and it was at 7 AM we were leaving our hometown to go to Prague and then fly to Edmonton," Blumel said. "It was kind of quick, but we love it here, we love to be here, and we are enjoying every minute."

Since meeting each other at a young age, the Czech mates have shared in each other's hockey journey -­ even when the opportunity arose overseas in the United States.

"We're from the same city, so we've been playing together since we were five years old," Mazura said. "We played U10, U12, basically by the time I left home, he played one more year in the Czech Republic and then he went to the USHL."

The shifty centre, who measures in at 6-foot-2, 181 pounds, couldn't get a fair shake in his home country before being recruited by Kimball Union Academy at the age of 15 after attending a hockey camp in the U.S. and eventually committing to Providence College for the 2020-21 NCAA season.

"I wasn't getting a lot of opportunities at home because I was smaller than the other kids," he said. "I had the skill, but I didn't get a chance from a lot of coaches and haven't been on the national team or anything. I went to a hockey camp and I met Head Coach Tim Whitehead, who's my coach at KUA, and he coached in college for 25 years and recruited me which was a big thing."

 

He tallied 14 goals and 30 assists in 37 games last season for KUA, scoring the winning goal in the New England Prep School Athletic Council Elite 8 Tournament, after injury kept him out of action for the entirety of '17-18.

"It gave me time to develop, which was what I needed, and he believed in me," Mazura said.

Blumel, after winning a silver medal with the Czech Republic at the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, committed to the University of Connecticut for '19-20 and crossed the Atlantic Ocean early to play for the Waterloo Black Hawks in order to properly prepare for the NCAA.

The 6-foot, 198-pound left wing scored 30 times and assisted a further 30 in 58 games last season, finishing second in scoring for the USHL side. 

"I got called by the University of Connecticut saying they wanted to have me for the '19-20 season," Blumel said. "Then we were just talking about if I could go to the U.S. for the next two years, and the Waterloo Black Hawks called my advisor that they wanted to have me. 

"That was probably the best decision I made in my life."

In another universe, the pair could've been facing one another on the tennis court of a major tournament after competing as the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked tennis players in the Pardubice region as kids before both elected to play hockey full-time.

"At one point, there's like 14 provinces in Czech, and he was the No. 1 and I was the No. 2 in the province," Mazura said. "We played tournaments together and stuff. It's a crazy story."

Video: DEV CAMP | Tomas Mazura

That ranking for Blumel would appear to hold up to this day.

"For sure I would win. Because I'm faster and more skilled than him," Blumel said.

Despite plenty of ribbing for one another in their own separate interviews, the bond they share seems almost unbreakable.

"I think for sure we'd be a good doubles team. I think we played doubles a couple of times and won a few tournaments."

From crossing the pond to continue their own individual hockey journeys to being drafted together to the Oilers, it's just another incredible footnote in the friendship of Matej Blumel and Tomas Mazura.

"I'm living my dream right now, Blumel said. "What happened on Saturday, it's unbelievable."

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