Sharks center Tomas Plihal is definitely one of those people who likes to take the road less traveled. As a teenager in Liberec, Czech Republic, Plihal went to Canada to attend a hockey camp with his agent, Allan Walsh. That gave him his first taste of North American hockey, which would eventually come in handy.
In the Czech Republic, he was having a problem with his club. That forced Plihal, whose father played professionally in the country, to consider playing in the Canadian Hockey League.
“My Czech team was playing in the second league,” Plihal said. “If it was in the first league, maybe I would’ve stayed home.”
While attending that camp back in the summer of 2001, Plihal had been selected in the CHL draft by the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League When Plihal’s agent told him the CHL would be the best route to the NHL, Plihal took his advice.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Plihal said. “One guy from my hometown had gone to play (in Canada) before me, but I didn’t talk to him about it. Only four guys from my hometown have played in the NHL.”
What Plihal found across the Atlantic was a small Canadian town of less than 20,000 people,. His Liberec had more than 100,000 people.
“It was small,” Plihal said. “Just a rink, a tiny mall and one street running through it.”
Plihal’s transition to North America was rough -- in terms of a new culture and the language.
“I didn’t know anybody,” Plihal said. “I showed up at the airport and the GM picked me up. I thought, ‘I don’t know anyone, so it will be interesting.’ I did nothing there but practice.”
There was one saving grace.
“I only knew a couple of words of English,” he said. “I knew more English by the end of the first season. We had one guy from Slovakia and he spoke Czech and helped me.”
And then there was the playing style. North American hockey is more physical. And the rink width is smaller by 15 feet.
“It only took about five games to get used to it,” Plihal said.
The hockey was good despite the changes surrounding him. In the summers the Niedermayer brothers (Anaheim’s Scott and Rob) would skate with the team and when that first season came, it concluded with a championship.
“With my junior team back home, I never make the playoffs,” Plihal said. “In Cranbrook (the town the Kootenay Ice play in), we won the WHL and then the Memorial Cup. That’s probably my best hockey memory.”
Following the championship, Plihal was selected by the Sharks in the fifth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
“It was in Florida and it was a good day,” Plihal said. “It was nice to hear my name and I was glad to be drafted by the Sharks.”
Plihal has worked hard to make the Sharks. He spent three seasons in the American Hockey League with San Jose’s top development affiliate in Cleveland. Then he played a majority of two seasons in Worcester before staying with the Sharks this season.
“I took it step by step to the NHL,” Plihal said.
Now he’s a full-time NHLer and hopes to soon win a championship at this level.
“This is a good year,” Plihal said, “and I hope it continues like that.”
NEXT GAME San Jose visits rival Detroit on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. and the game will be on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.