The first thing you notice about Michal Repik
are his eyes.
They are dark and piercing and they dart around the room when he speaks, seemingly searching for the right words to describe his incredible journey from a small town in the Czech Republic to a second-round draft pick of the Panthers.
“This is my dream,” he said last weekend after being selected 40th overall by the Panthers. “This is why I came here.”
This is why he left the town of Vlasim in the Czech Republic at the age of 16 to play for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. This is why he came to a new country, to a strange city, despite not knowing a word of English.
“This is my dream,” he repeated.
If character and determination are the traits of a winner - if helping to lead your team to the Memorial Cup helps to describe those traits - the Panthers might have selected a star in Repik.
The 5-10, 180-pound right winger had shown promise playing junior hockey in Prague when he was selected by the Giants in the first round (21st overall) of the 2005 WHL Draft. Despite his inability to speak English, Repik jumped at the chance to play hockey in North America.
Speaking while wearing a Panther jersey at last weekend’s NHL Draft at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Oh., Repik recalled; “It was very hard at first. I was a little scared. I was alone. I was 16 years old and I didn’t speak English. But, how do you say, the NHL was my dream and that’s why I came to Vancouver.”
With his family back in the Czech Republic, Repik moved in with a ‘billet’ family and slowly started adjusting to his new life.
“He was quiet at first, but very personable” said Vancouver native Elaine Larmour, Repik’s ‘billet’ the past season. “The thing that impressed me about Michal was he wanted to learn. He started picking up English quickly. Sometimes I felt bad about correcting him, but that’s what he wanted. He was very focused. He was very keen to learn. We would basically go through the dictionary and practice.”
After 24 goals (56 points) in 55 games for the Giants during the 2006-07 season, Repik’s stock soared during the WHL playoffs by leading all scorers with 10 goals and 17 assists in 22 games. His scoring touch carried over into the Memorial Cup where was topped all scorers with three goals and seven assists.
“Vancouver helped me a lot,” Repik said. “Vancouver is a great organizaton and the WHL is a good league. But that’s why I came to Canada. When Vancouver offered me a chance to come here and play I knew I had to come.”
Scott Luce, the Panthers’ director of scouting, said it wasn’t hard to selected Repik when he was still on the board in the second round.
“He’s a smart, two-way player who was highly rated on our lists,” Luce said. “We couldn’t pass up on him. (Panther GM and coach) Jacques (Martin) saw him play in the Memorial Cup and was impressed with his good hockey sense.” In fact, Martin said Repik was the best player during the Memorial Cup.
Projected by some as a first-round pick, Repik was asked if he was disappointed about not being chosen Friday evening during the first round.
“I didn’t worry,” Repik said. “It would have been nice, but it means nothing unless you continue (working) hard. I mean, I know lots of guys who were drafted in the first round and never signed with their team. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to sign with Florida as soon as possible and help them win the Stanley Cup.”
If Repik returns to Vancouver next season, Larmour, who accompanied Repik and his family to the draft, looks forward in witnessing the progress of the young Czech, who will likely represent his country for the second time in the World Championships next winter.
For Repik, no matter where he plays next season, he’s driven to get to the NHL.
"You know, I have worked hard,” he said. “I started playing hockey when I was four. It’s always been my dream to play in the NHL, and, hopefully, I’ll be there as soon as possible.”