“We were very happy that we fought our way into the team,” Svozil said about himself and Jiricek at the World Juniors. “It was a great experience for us which we value so much.”
The pair’s experience will be leaned upon at this year’s IIHF U18 World Championship in Frisco and Plano, Texas, United States, but Svozil is quick to point out that it won’t just be a one- or two-man show.
“Everyone on the team has a role to play and it doesn't matter if you have a ‘C’ or ‘A’ on your jersey,” said Svozil. “We are all team leaders, we are all on the same wave and we are all equal.”
Czech U18 national team coach Jakub Petr doesn’t hesitate to emphasize the importance of having Svozil on his team, however, stating: “Svozil is one of the top defencemen born in 2003 and he should be one of the key players at the upcoming U18 World Championship.”
Notice that Petr’s assessment isn’t restricted to Czech players; the implication is that he is one of the best 2003-born defencemen in the world, and scouts agree. Almost all rankings ahead of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft have Svozil slated as a middle to late first-round pick and among the top five or six blueliners. The last Czechs to be taken in the first round were Filip Zadina and Martin Kaut in 2018 and the last Czech defenceman was Jakub Zboril in 2015. Born in November 2003, Jiricek isn’t eligible to be drafted until 2022.
What is it that makes Svozil so special? The coach gave his opinion.
“He is a two-way player. The offensive side of his game definitely dominates. He can read and anticipate the game very well. He is a kind of playmaker,” said Petr, before adding: “He still need to work on his defensive skills; 1-on-1 situations from the defensive side.”
Assessing his own recent progress, Svozil said: “I think (I’ve improved) my offensive game and a little bit defensively, but in all aspects of the game, there is still lots of room for improvement.”
Svozil is a third-generation professional hockey defenceman from Prerov, in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic. His father and grandfather – both also named Stanislav – were his role models growing up.
“Nowadays I like all offensive defencemen, especially Erik Karlsson,” he added.
The youngest Stanislav Svozil played in Prerov until he was 15 and younger brother David, also a defenceman, still plays there. Stanislav III now plays for Kometa Brno, which over the past decade has been one of the top hockey clubs in the country, and in 2019/20, he broke into the pro ranks with five points in 41 games, earning top-six minutes and earning the Extraliga’s Rookie-of-the-Year award as a 16-year-old.
After the shutdown in March due to the COVID pandemic, Svozil only got into five hockey games over the next five months – three with the Czech national junior team in July and two Extraliga games in October before another six-week shutdown. With more attention on him from opposing players, this season he found it more of a challenge to get his offensive game going in what was really a strange season all around for everyone. He found the net only once in 30 Extraliga games, but that goal demonstrated his offensive flair.
On the differences between junior and professional hockey, Svozil said: “In maturity and especially in tactics. Junior hockey is more about speed than the men’s game, but it’s not so tactical.”
Svozil would have played in last year’s U18 World Championship had they not been cancelled, but unlike most of his teammates, he’ll get another crack at that this season.
“I was disappointed just like everyone else, but there was nothing we could do,” said Svozil. “It’s just made us hungrier for this year. We’ve been preparing for it for a long time, so we’re all looking forward to it.”
Assessing this year’s team, Svozil said: “We have excellent goalies, whether it’s Tomas Suchanek, Oldrich Satny or Patrik Hamrla. On defence, we have a lot who play in the Extraliga or the first league, and up front as well. But the basis for us will be defence, from which we will try to go on the offensive and create chances.”
In addition to Svozil and Jiricek, the Czech U18 team also includes highly touted defencemen Jiri Tichacek, David Moravec and Tomas Hamara, so the team has lots of skill on the back end. Among the forwards is Jakub Brabenec, a teammate of Svozil in Brno who has led the U18 team with eight points in four games this season, and a player who will be counted on to provide offence.
“He’s a playmaker, he can pass well and he can see the game in front of him well,” Svozil said of Brabenec. “I believe that he will help the team with hard work, defence and creating chances.
“I think we have an above-average team but, of course, we’ve got to show it on the ice. The mood is good on the team and everyone is having fun. I think we could surprise some people.”
The Czechs will play in Group B in Frisco against Germany, Finland, the USA and Russia. It will be a tough group but one thing about the games at Comerica Center that will be different from the World Juniors or any pro game he played this season will be in the stands, where a limited number of fans will be in attendance.
“I’m really looking forward to it, because here in the Czech Republic almost no one has been allowed into the rinks,” said Svozil, noting that he hasn’t played a game before a live audience in over a year.
Like all top-level players, Svozil dreams of playing in the NHL, and patrolling the blueline with younger brother David would be the icing on the cake.
“It would be a fairy tale if we played together on the same NHL team, but I certainly wouldn’t want to play against him,” Svozil said in an interview with hokej.cz a year ago. “God forbid I did something to piss him off. On the same team would be great; we have a wonderful and friendly relationship.”