“Ivan Hlinka is from Litvinov, which is something we’re proud of,” said Jan Mysak, a 17-year-old left winger who hails from Litvinov and just finished playing at the annual U18 summer tournament which took Hlinka’s name after the untimely death of the legendary Czech player and coach in 2004.
“I’m so glad to be playing here, but I’m not happy because I wanted to win it. I’m not happy with fifth place,” he said after the Czech Republic’s 4-3 overtime victory over the USA in the placement game.
In addition to being unhappy with his team’s final placement, Mysak isn’t particularly pleased with his own output of two goals and no assists over four games. He is projected by many sources to be either a late first-round or early second-round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft and was therefore expected to be an offensive leader on this year’s Czech entry.
“My game wasn’t so good,” he admitted. “It could have been better. I think maybe I was tired. I think that after this tournament, I’ll take a little break and then we’ll see.”
Coming off his rookie season as a pro at just 16 years of age, Mysak has played a lot of hockey over the past year between HC Litvinov’s Extraliga and U19 teams, plus the Czech national U17 and U18 teams. After he finished up playing at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Sweden, where he recorded three assists in five games, there wasn’t much time off before he started training camp again for the 2019/20 season. Before the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he had already played two pre-season games for Litvinov.
“Against Spartak Moscow and Rytiri Kladno,” he said. “I played against Jaromir Jagr, which was amazing. He’s 47 years old and still going and still a pretty good player.”
Indeed it is amazing to play against a man who is already a living legend in the Czech Republic, 30 years Mysak’s senior. Mysak was four years away from being born when Jagr was a member of the Czech team that won the 1998 Winter Olympic gold medal. A team that was, of course, coached by Hlinka and included key several players with a connection to Litvinov – captain Vladimir Ruzicka, defencemen Jiri Slegr and Petr Svoboda and forwards Robert Reichel, Josef Beranek and Robert Lang.
“We’re a small city and strong community, and we take care of each other and are proud of each other,” Mysak said of the people of Litvinov. “So we have good hockey players and good coaches and we’re proud of them.”
Mysak had an option to go overseas and play junior hockey in North America but opted to go the pro route. The downside of that can sometimes be that a young player doesn’t get enough ice time to properly develop if he’s in over his head, but Mysak’s been assured that won’t happen in Litvinov.
“Last year I played 37 (professional) games, and I appreciate that the coaches in Litvinov gave me the chance,” he said. “I think I play better with pros because my teammates are great. They teach me so much and I’ve learned so much from them.”
Whether to stay in Europe or go overseas is an endless debate with advocates for both sides. There are plenty of examples of players that have chosen one or the other and had success or failure. It often comes down to what feels right for the player.
“The biggest factor in the decision is a talk I had with Jiri Slegr. He told me, ‘I want to be the coach of Litvinov.’ I thought that playing for him would be a great opportunity for me so I decided to stay.”
Since finishing his playing career as a player-assistant coach for Litvinov in the 2014/15 season, Triple Gold Club member Slegr has pretty much been the face of the Litvinov club in the front office and occasionally behind the bench.
“He has a lot of experience, so I’m so glad to have him as a coach and I hope it’s gonna be a good season,” said Mysak. “I think we have a lot of good players who have played in the NHL, like Jakub Petruzalek and Lukas Kaspar, and other players who were drafted, so I think it’ll be a good season.”
He continued: “I want to have a better season than last year because we didn’t make the playoffs, and this year I want to play in the playoffs with Litvinov and I want to play a greater role on the team.”
Of course, it’s also his draft season, which unlike many players, Mysak admits that he thinks about.
“A little bit,” he said. “This year’s going to be a little bit different because of that. I need to get stronger, of course. I think I’m a smart player. I can make good plays but I think I need to improve my skating and maybe my shot could be better too.”
Also on Mysak’s mind is the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ostrava and Trinec, which he aims to play in as a 17-year-old.
“I want to play there and I’m going to do everything I can to do that,” he said of playing in the World Juniors in his home country. “I think if I focus on my game in Litvinov and play well there, I might get the opportunity.”