If Czech native Dominik Uher was going to get drafted by an NHL team, this was the right one.
From Jaromir Jagr to Zbynek Michalek, the Penguins have had at least one Czech on the roster every season since 1990-91. Assuming Uher makes it to the NHL, he could extend that streak to a quarter-century.
But first, he needs to get acclimated to the more physical style of play in North America. He took his first step towards that last season by appearing in 53 games last season for the Spokane Chiefs of the rough and tumble Western Hockey League.
Uher, the Penguins' fifth-round pick in last month's draft, spoke Friday about getting acclimated to North American hockey, learning English and the recent employment choices of Jagr.
What are the differences between European and North American hockey?
"I think it’s very different than in Europe. North American hockey is way harder. You got to compete more. You play under pressure because there’s like 10,000 people watching you. I went to Spokane and I think it really helped me."
Are there other differences?
"I think the speed level and the competing level and they way North American hockey is more physical. In Europe it’s more like passing and easy hockey. Here, you’ve got to keep your head up so you don’t get injured."
How much of a difference is it on a smaller North American rink?
"It’s a little bit different. It was hard for me the first time I got here. But when you go back to Europe, you (have more of an) advantage because you have more space and if you’re a good skater, you can use that to your advantage."
What's it like in terms of the culture differences?
"It’s very different here. I like both. I like Europe obviously because it’s my home. America’s very good too. The language wasn’t that hard to learn. The culture in Eastern America, like in Pittsburgh, is similar to Europe. The western is a little bit different."
When did you learn English?
"I didn’t speak English at all two years ago but I had a very good roommate in Spokane who taught me everything so I’m grateful."Were you surprised when Jaromir Jagr joined the rival Flyers?
"That was pretty amazing. I thought he was going to sign right here. But he surprised me."
How important is Jagr in your country?
"He’s the best Czech hockey player ever. I think every kid wants to be like him. He’s one of the most popular people in the Czech Republic."
What are your goals for your team and yourself individually next season?
"Last year I was pretty disappointed. We lost in the conference final and I thought we could go further. This year, I want to go as far as we can. Myself, I’d like to score 35-plus goals and be as helpful to my team as possible."
(Photo: Spokane Chiefs)