Quebec City is quite a long way from Most, Czech Republic, but hockey is certainly a game of sacrifices. Exactly one year ago, Petr Preucil was selected 27th overall by the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) in the 2000 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) annual Import Draft. He decided that in order to pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NHL, he would have to make a difficult decision that many young European players now face each season. Preucil, 17 at the time, decided to follow his hockey heart and part ways with his family and friends in Most. Being selected by the Rangers in the seventh round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft was a positive step towards achieving this dream.
For many young European players who decide to leave home to play hockey in North America, the transition from life at home to their new destination is often tough. This was definitely the case for Preucil. Growing up in the Czech Republic, Preucil's introduction to the English language was very limited to say the least. Factor in a relocation to Quebec, where the primary language is French, and you have a very difficult transition in the making.
Preucil found the language and lifestyle change to be a problem at first, but used his passion for the game to get by.
"It was very difficult for me at first," noted Preucil, who has made tremendous strides in learning the English language in 11 months since arriving in North America. "When I was selected by Quebec, I was excited to have the chance to play over here, but I knew that it probably wasn't going to be as easy of an adjustment as if I was chosen by an Ontario Hockey League team. But I had a good time in Quebec last season and I'll continue to work hard to improve, both on and off the ice."
One of the primary reasons for Preucil's quick assimilation into North American culture is due to the support of his Rempart teammates. One of his closest friends on the club also took a major step in realizing his NHL dreams recently. Shawn Collymore was selected by the Rangers in the fifth round, 139th overall, in June's NHL Entry Draft. Collymore, who played right wing on a line centered by Preucil in Quebec last season, is quick to give the young Czech a lot of credit.
"Petr has done a great job under some pretty intimidating circumstances. It's not easy to leave your friends and family a few thousand miles behind and move to a place where you can't speak or understand the language. He played really well last season as a rookie. He and I worked well together out there."
Collymore, who led Quebec with 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) in 71 games, also recognized Preucil for helping his game as well last season.
"He sees the ice really well and is a great playmaker. I always have to be aware out there with him because I know he'll be looking for me. He's got quick hands and often sets me up with some great feeds." On being drafted by the same team in the same year, Collymore laughed. "It was a great feeling to know that he was picked by New York too. Petr wasn't at the draft, but when I found out (he was chosen), I was definitely excited for him."
Preucil finished his first QMJHL season with 12 goals and 35 assists, along with 121 penalty minutes in 70 matches with the Remparts. On two occasions, his family was even able to make the trip across the Atlantic to watch him play. At 6-1, 170-pounds, he will most likely return to the Remparts for his second junior campaign after attending Rangers training camp in the fall, but keeps a positive perspective on his future.
"I am going back to the Czech Republic to see my family and friends for the next two weeks and then I'm heading back to Quebec to get ready for next season. I'm just excited to get back on the ice."
While Preucil is only one of many European skaters forced to relocate their lives each year in order to pursue their professional dreams, one thing remains the same ... hockey is a game of sacrifices. Petr Preucil can surely attest to that.