Krejci the mentor
by Derek O'Brien|19 MAY 2022
Czech forwards David Krejci (#46) and Matej Blumel (#95).
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Last summer, David Krejci made big news in the hockey world by leaving the NHL’s Boston Bruins – his team of 15 years – for his hometown team, HC Olomouc in the Czech Extraliga. While it’s not uncommon for European players to finish their careers at home, Krejci was still 35 years old at the time and coming off a season where he was still very productive in the NHL with 44 points in 51 games. It seemed he still had plenty of elite-level hockey in him.

“It was definitely a hard decision but it was a decision I felt was the right one for myself and my family,” said Krejci. “I enjoyed the season back home, every bit of it, and I have no regrets. Now I’m here and I’m focusing on this tournament.”

In his first full season in Czechia since he was 17 years old, Krejci put up similar numbers as he did in his last season in Boston – 46 points in 51 regular-season games, and then five more in five playoff games as Olomouc was bounced in the play-in round ahead of the Extraliga’s quarter-finals.

Additionally, although he didn’t know it at the time, the decision to play the season in Europe also allowed him to play in the Winter Olympics in Beijing. While the Czechs finished a disappointing ninth, Krejci and linemate Roman Cervenka were productive in the four games with four and five points, respectively.

“He’s obviously a great leader and an unbelievable player. It’s fun to play with him,” Krejci said of Cervenka, also 36, who is the team’s captain.

Through three games at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship it’s been much the same story for the Czechs, with one line carrying the bulk of the offence.

In the first game was against Great Britain, a team the Czechs were expected to beat. After 20 minutes of play, however, the game remained scoreless. Krejci, the centre, has three points, while Cervenka leads the tournament with seven points. On the other wing is 21-year-old Matej Blumel.

“I got to play against him (in the Extraliga) and he went to the Olympics too – he didn’t play but he was part of the team,” Krejci said of Blumel, who plays for Dynamo Pardubice in the Czech Extraliga. “And some tournaments with the Czech national team we played together.

“I’ve gotten to know him pretty well and he’s a very smart kid and a really good hockey player too. He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s reckless, and he complements our line pretty well. Me and Roman are trying to find him in the right spots.”

Blumel, an Edmonton Oilers prospect, plays for Dynamo Pardubice, where he took a bit of a step back offensively this season with 24 points in 49 games but has really clicked with Krejci and Cervenka.

“I try not to think about it, but I still have it in my head,” Blumel admits. “Last year I was the 13th forward and suddenly I'm on the first line with such legends.”

At one point during Czechia’s second game against Sweden, Blumel got tangled up with Rasmus Dahlin and the Swedish defenceman took a few liberties that Krejci didn’t like. Like a protective father or older brother, Krejci stepped in and not-so-subtly let Dahlin know who he could take a shot at if he felt so inclined.

“Yeah, it’s amazing that a player like David steps up for me,” Blumel said thoughtfully. “I’m really happy he did that and I’ve gotta thank him for it.”

When asked what he’s learned most from Krejci and Cervenka, Blumel said: “Probably their patience their confidence with the puck. Also, they’re so strong on the puck. I was strong on the puck the first game but not as much since. I’ve gotta be more consistent and that’s another thing I can learn from them.

“It’s the best line I’ve ever played on, with David and Roman,” Blumel said about his linemates. “They’re probably the best players on the team right now, and I still can’t believe I’m playing with them. I’m just trying to enjoy every shift on the ice with them because I never know when the coach might change things.”

While the line is going well and coach Kari Jalonen acknowledges the obvious chemistry of the three, things might indeed change soon. The problem is the Czechs aren’t getting offence from many other sources, which was evident in the team’s 2-1 shootout loss to Austria, with the lone goal being Cervenka from Blumel.

On the same day as the loss to Austria, it was announced that NHL forwards David Kampf from the Toronto Maple Leafs and David Pastrnak from the Boston Bruins would be joining the team, possibly in time for the team’s game on Thursday against Latvia.

Of course, Pastrnak, 25, and Krejci were teammates for seven years in Boston. They also memorably joined the Czech national team in the middle of the 2018 World Championship in Denmark, providing an instant boost to the team’s offence. It therefore seems highly likely that the two will be reunited on the same line.

“If I told you, the Latvians would find out,” Jalonen smiled when asked about his plans for Thursday. “Of course, he has a good history with Krejci. His line has been our best in the tournament so far, but now we have to change it a bit. I do want ‘Pasta’ to play with him.”