The Penguins have a strong history of Czech players. Since the 1990-91 campaign, the Penguins have had at least one Czech player on the roster. During that time, all-Stars such as Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka have called Pittsburgh home.
If Dominik Uher is to ever keep that streak continuing, he'll likely have to do it playing a grittier game than the likes of Jagr or Straka.
A fifth-round pick in 2011, Uher made his professional debut last season. Playing primarily for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Uher appeared in 53 games and scored seven points (four goals, three assists) while accumulating 61 penalty minutes. Uher collected a good portion of his penalty minutes with his fists as he engaged in five fights, fifth-most on the team.
At only 20 years of age, Uher is one of the youngest players on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins roster. Earlier this week, he talked about making his professional debut, adjusting to a different culture and his future.
What was your first year as a professional like?
"The first year was hard. I’m glad it’s over. I’m really trying to focus on this summer. I’m trying to come into better shape for next season. Put up better points and play some consistent hockey."
What was the biggest difference between junior and professional hockey?
"The physicality and the speed. That’s the two biggest differences. The execution level too but mostly it’s the speed. You don’t have as much time like in junior. You get the puck and there’s a guy right on you."
Was it tough adjusting to less playing time as a professional compared to your time in juniors?
"For sure but I expected that because you’re coming as a rookie. With the [NHL] lockout, there were so many great players in Wilkes-Barre. I try to do as much as I could with my ice time. I’m happy with what I’ve been given from the coaches. I can play better hockey and I really want to prove it to my coach."
You're listed as a center but you primarily play on the left wing. Which do you prefer?
"I came to North America as a center. In the past four years I mostly played on the left wing. I’m way more comfortable on the wing."
You've talked about the adjustment in years past in terms of culture from the Czech Republic to North America. What is it like coming from the West Coast to the East Coast?
"It's different. I can truly can say I like it a little more here [on the East Coast] than in Spokane. I had a great time in Spokane but it’s too far [from the Czech Republic]. Too big of a difference. I was missing home way more [in Spokane] than I am here. Even the culture in the East is closer to European cities than you have in the West."
The Penguins have had a strong history of Czech players. Where you fan of any of them growing up?
"Jaromir Jagr is like the favorite player of all Czech players. He’s a kind of hero. He’s in the top ten of most popular Czech [people] ever. He is a big deal. But while I was growing up, I used to love watching [Sharks forward] Martin Havlat. I wouldn’t say he was my favorite player but he was my favorite player."
What's the biggest key to playing for the Penguins organization?
"We have lots of systems here. But it’s a dream for every hockey player to be in this organization. Their goal every year is to win the Calder Cup or Stanley Cup. So every year, you’re attacking the highest goal. I don’t guys on [other teams] can say something like that."
What are your goals for 2013-14?
"I want to win the Calder Cup. We came pretty close this year. It was pretty disappointing the way we lost because in Games 3 and 4 [of the Eastern Conference final], we were the better team. We just didn’t bear down on our chances. It was disappointing. But the goal for next year is for sure to win the Calder Cup. We will have a great team for next year. I want to help my team as much as I can. Even if I don’t score, I just want to be helpful. I want to bring consistency. I want to bring some physicality. Fight if it’s needed. Just be a good power forward. That’s how I want to help my team win the Calder Cup for next year."
Do you view yourself as a top six or bottom six forward in the NHL?
"I don’t know. I think for my game and for the game I can bring every night, it’s as a bottom six forward. I can play power play but what I can bring every night is the physicality so I can see myself in the bottom six."
This organization lost a few established forwards at the AHL level like Riley Holzapfel and Trevor Smith. Do you see that an opportunity to take on a bigger role?
"For sure. You’re kind of tracking what’s going on. What guys are coming back. Who’s going to be here for next year. Even if they signed a few guys, you just want to look at yourself. You want to prove you can play great hockey and you can be in the lineup every single game."
(Photo: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)