Stars center Radek Faksa made his NHL debut last season against the Florida Panthers and his boyhood idol and fellow Czech native, Jaromir Jagr. Back then it was all about the excitement of his first NHL game and having it come against Jagr, whom Faksa called his "hockey god."
Well, Jagr and the Panthers are coming to town Saturday night, and Faksa is looking at the matchup differently. Faksa, who relishes playing against the opposition's top players, is hoping to go head-to-head with Jagr, the NHL's second all-time leading scorer.
"That would be nice, go a few shifts against him," Faksa said with a smile. "Maybe throw a few hits."
Video: Sharp back in lineup to face Florida
That's a sign of how far Faksa, who is in his first full NHL season, has come in the past year. One year ago, he was a guy trying to make it to the NHL as a full-time player. Now, he's an important piece for the Dallas Stars, a strong two-way player the team trusts in key situations. He's registered 13 points (five goals, eight assists) and a plus-five rating in 37 games, but what he does doesn't always show up on the scoresheet.
"He's mainly the guy who can steady the ship, whether it is in one end or the other," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "If we need a big defensive shift he is on the ice. When we need a big penalty kill, he is leading it off, and when we need a big faceoff win, he is the guy I am sending over the boards. He's a big man who can play physical and can get in on the forecheck and create his own chances. He's led a line that has been pretty consistent, probably the most consistent line for us. He's been an important piece for us."
The confidence the Stars coaches have shown in the 22-year-old Faksa has been a big boost to his confidence, and it shows in the way he has been performing this season.
"Hockey is about confidence," Faksa said. "When the coach trusts you, you have confidence, and you feel better on the ice. It's helping a lot."
While he is only 22, it's been a long road to the NHL for Faksa, who at age 11 left home to play for the Trinec hockey team in his native Czech Republic. He lived alone in a hotel room and received two meals a day to play. It was a tough decision for the family to send the young Faksa away, but they saw it as the best shot at pursuing his dream of playing in the NHL.
"It helped me a lot. I could live without any help and could do everything myself," Faksa said. "It helped me a lot for the future."
Faksa spent five years with Trinec before making the jump to North America to play junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, where he played for both Kitchener and Sudbury. The Stars drafted him in the first round (13th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft.
There were some bumps along the way for Faksa as he continued his pursuit of an NHL career. He was slowed by injuries in the OHL, and in his first full season with the Texas Stars of the AHL in 2014-15, he missed the final half of the season due to a shoulder injury. But he became a regular with Dallas the second half of last season and hasn't looked back. That decision to leave home at a young age and all the hard work paid off.
And his family back in Czech Republic has been following all along, now setting an alarm to get up at 2:30 a.m. to watch his NHL games live on television. His mother, brother, and sister came to watch him play in person in the NHL for the first time, taking in the Stars' recent five-game homestand. And they got to see him score goals against Anaheim, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
"It was the first NHL games for them to see me here," Faksa said. "We spent Christmas together. After seven years, it was nice."
And Faksa is in a nice spot right now with the Stars, playing a key role as the team looks to continue its recent run when it takes on the Panthers and Jagr Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
"It's hard to get here, and it's even harder to stay here," Faksa said. "I am glad I am here, I have lots of trust, and I am just enjoying it. I am showing it on the ice that I have a lot of confidence now."
Quotable: Faksa on licking the gravy
So, where did the phrase "licking the gravy" that Radek Faksa has used to describe some of the goals he has scored originate? Here's his answer.
"I heard that in junior," Faksa said. "If you get an easy goal I thought that is what you say. It's just in Canada; I don't know."
So, that's not a Czech saying?
"No, no," he said.
Quotable: Faksa on Jaromir Jagr
"It's crazy. I wasn't even born yet and he had two Stanley Cups already. I remember when I was a little kid they played the Olympics in Nagano. I was like four-years-old, and I was already watching the Olympics. The Czechs won the gold and that was my first memory of him."
This story was not subject to 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.