Training camp will come earlier than usual this year for Stars forward Ales Hemsky. In a little more than a month, he’ll hit the ice in Prague to begin practices with the World Cup team for Czech Republic. And although playing for his country is nothing new for Hemsky, it never gets old.
“It’s nice. For European guys it is always special when you can play for your home country,” Hemsky said. “That’s how we grew up. That’s why we go for the World Championship and any tournament we have a chance to go; we are proud to represent, and it’s huge in the home country.”
Hemsky is one of five Dallas Stars who are scheduled to play at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which will be held in Toronto beginning Sept. 17. Jamie Benn (Canada), Tyler Seguin (Canada), Esa Lindell (Finland) and Radek Faksa (Czech Republic) were the other Dallas players selected to play in the eight-team tournament.
Hemsky has played more than 100 games on the international stage for Czech Republic. He’s had some success, winning a bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics and bronze at the 2012 World Championship. And adding to the excitement is the passion of the Czech fans.
“It’s fun to be a part of. Everybody stops and watches. There are 200,000 people in the streets cheering,” Hemsky said. “I remember when I was young, and the Czechs won [Olympic gold] in Nagano [in 1998], everybody stopped and watched. I was in school, and we all watched it. It gets crazy.”
Hemsky and Faksa were added to the Czech World Cup roster in late May. When announcing the roster, the Czech coach, Josef Jandac, mentioned the chemistry Hemsky and Faksa developed in Dallas last season. Hemsky said that could help at the tournament this fall, but he added that the Czechs will have their work cut out for them at the World Cup, where they will be an underdog.
“We are a pretty small country. We can’t have too many guys like Canada, the U.S., and those other countries. We just have to take what we have and go with it,” Hemsky said.
Hemsky has spent time in both Dallas and Czech Republic this offseason. He’s in Dallas now and spent Friday afternoon at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Farmers Branch helping out with a Dallas Stars summer hockey camp. He was on the ice with a large group of young players for more than an hour and then spent more time with the kids after the session, handing out autographed pictures, posing for pictures with the camp participants and signing more autographs, putting his signature on sticks, pucks, hats and jerseys.
“It’s nice,” he said. “When I was small, and we had someone coming from a team, it is always nice to see somebody you recognize. Just to be able to play with them, it is fun.”
Hemsky has been keeping tabs on the Stars’ offseason moves. The team’s key acquisition was veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis, a free agent signing.
“He’s been in the league for a long time. He’s a steady defenseman. He’s a great guy and I think he will help us a lot,” Hemsky said.
Defensemen Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Kris Russell and forwards Vernon Fiddler, Colton Sceviour and Travis Moen have all moved on. The Stars likely will turn to younger players to fill out the roster. While the Stars will look different, Hemsky doesn’t see it as that big of a change.
“Some guys left, and we brought in a couple guys, but pretty much everybody has been here in this organization and been part of it last year,” he said. “We’ll miss a couple of guys, but we’ve gained some guys. Hopefully, we can do the same thing as last year and have a good start and go from there.”
The Stars used a good start last season to fuel a 109-point season that ranked best in the Western Conference and second-best in the NHL. The Stars, who had missed the playoffs the season before, won a playoff round for the first time since 2008.
“That’s why you play; you want to play in the playoffs. You don’t want to just play 82 games, and then nothing happens. It’s a waste of the season,” Hemsky said. “I think we had a good season. We won the conference. From the start, we bought in. In the playoffs, anything can happen. It’s hard after the first round. Anything can happen, but the first one is always the toughest one. We won that one and everyone was happy, but our goal is to make the Stanley Cup Final and get the Stanley Cup. That didn’t work out.”
But it was a step forward and a good learning experience the team can build off this coming season.
“I think it is good for everybody,” Hemsky said. “A few guys have been there, won a few rounds or been to the Stanley Cup Final but for those other kids, they can see how hard it is just to get to the second round and how hard it is to make the playoffs. Now they know. You have to work harder and harder to make the Stanley Cup Final and be there. Now, everybody knows.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.