The "Golden Hockey Stick" is unique to the Czech Republic; it's awarded to the best Czech hockey player every year, so basically it's awarded to Jaromir Jagr every year. FUNNY STORY actually - Tomas Vokoun won it as a member of the Florida Panthers in 2009-10. So, suffice to say, I have no idea what the actual hell the standards are for voting on this thing.
But I guess it's serious business for Czech hockey players. Except the ridiculously underrated ones, like that one that has scored 45 points in 45 playoff games in the NHL since 2011. What's his name? David Krejci?
Krejci isn't just underrated in the NHL. Last year he finished seventh in voting for the award, and when asked about it, Krejci shrugged it off and said he didn't mind but thought the voting could've gone better. (This is based off of translation from the wonderful @sissv, who totally rules by the way).
The award was introduced back when Czechoslovakia was still one country in 1969. The first time it was won by a player who played exclusively in the NHL for an entire season was 1995, when Jaromir Jagr won it for the first time. He's won it ten times, including 2011. The award has gone to a Czech player in the NHL every year since 1995 except for three years: 2001 (I don't know why it went to Jiri Dopita), 2005 (because of the lockout - Jagr won it anyway), and 2011 (Jagr won it playing in the KHL).
I won't pretend to fully understand what this award means to Czech hockey or even understand Czech culture and what hockey means to it, but I know that professional writers vote on this award and it seems like a lot of it is simply based on name recognition at this point. What I'm saying is GIVE DAVID KREJCI ALL THE AWARDS. Seriously, this super awesome Czech Hockey Blog concluded in 2011 before Jagr was announced the winner that Krejci should have won.
He came in seventh! SEVENTH! This was the year that the Bruins opened the season in Prague, and Krejci was the lone Czech player on the Bruins roster for the two opening games against the Phoenix Coyotes. In the exhibition games against Liberec, his grandmothers watched him play for the first time, and the crowd chanted his name.
He has represented the Czech Republic at international competition - 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships, 2008 and 2012 World Championships, and 2010 Olympics - with only two bronze medals (2005, 2012) to show for it. He spent the lockout with a team in the highest Czech elite league, averaging over a point per game. But he hasn't brought home multiple golds like Jagr, who is a member of the Triple Gold Club. Jagr and Jiri Slegr are the only Czech members of that club.
Dominik Hasek, Milan Hejduk, Robert Lang, Patrik Elias, and Tomas Vokoun (seriously) are the only Czechs in the NHL to win this award aside from Jagr. And as much as we all love to fawn over Jagr because he is Jagr, have you seen him lately? He's no David Krejci. Krejci is magnificent. He's an elite player, and probably the best Czech player in the NHL. The only thing that differentiates Krejci from the above players is that he does not have a gold medal for the Czech Republic at international competition. (Neither does Elias, although he has a bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics). He's younger, of course, so he hasn't had the opportunity yet, and has spent a lot of his time wrapped up with the Bruins in playoff runs.
I think it's fitting that Krejci and Jagr are playing on the same team right now. It's a new era of a dominant Czech player that can be the face of hockey in that nation, so it's the passing of a torch, you could say. Krejci doesn't seem all that fazed to be playing with Jagr, which is funny. Jagr even seems to be more in awe of Krejci at times.
I also think it's worth noting the positive influence that playing with Chara has had on Krejci. In an interview with Jagr from 2005, after he won another Golden Stick award, this already-translated interview with Jagr has some interesting quotes:
In my opinion, the captain should be an American or a Canadian. Even though I've played in the NHL for many years, I still feel there is a language barrier. I don't have the proper accent. I can't react as quickly and correctly. These things are important if you want to retain the respect of other guys. It's like some Chinese guy came to your office to give you advice about how to write your hockey coverage. If you want to be a good captain, you must know how to fix many things both on and off the ice. I did this four years in Pittsburgh. But now I feel it would be better for our team if someone else was captain.
Back to the aforementioned interview with Krejci that was translated for me, the man interviewing Krejci actually comments that Krejci very much has an American accent. This interview took place during the lockout, so long before Jagr was a Bruin, so it doesn't have any remarks about that, but Krejci comments that he speaks Czech with Chara sometimes. Yes, Chara speaks Czech. Chara speaks every language. But, when someone else enters the room that doesn't speak the language, they switch to English.
Because that's the unwritten rule of the Bruins locker room. In this excellent Boston Globe article from April 2012, the main point is: 1. they speak a lot of languages in the locker room but 2. they always speak English in front of each other so nobody feels uncomfortable, and also 3. Chara seriously is a genius.
Chara speaks Slovak, Czech, English, Swedish, Russian, German, and was learning Italian at the time of the publication, so has probably mastered it by now. But it illustrates the characteristics of why Chara is such a good captain, and good influence, and awesome human. (Bold added by me):
"I think maybe there are more cliques just because of nationality," forward Chris Kelly said of other locker rooms...Kelly said he could go out to dinner with Chara and David Krejci, and the Czech and Slovak languages would be put away in favor of English. That helps eliminate some of the issues that can arise.
That’s partially because of the leadership role wielded by the captain, Chara, he of the six-plus languages. There are still things that get lost in translation, still moments when young French-Canadian forward Jordan Caron might turn to Bergeron or Julien, his eyebrows raised in confusion. (Chara said "The bad words and jokes are the very first things that everybody learns.")
When there are issues, Chara said, they talk about it. Or Chara might step in and ease the tension, make the translation.
[Chara would] like to learn more languages, to be able to make others at ease, no matter the situation, no matter the location..."I think it’s something that helps not just in the hockey world, but outside of hockey, as a human being," Chara said. "Because I know how much it helps, how much it can connect people."
That strayed a bit off my original topic of Krejci, but my point was that Jagr recognized the importance of working as a team in the NHL to be successful, and identified it as a reason why he shouldn't be named captain, at the time, of the New York Rangers. He later would be stripped of captaincy at the 2010 Olympics for the Czech Republic Team, in favor of Patrik Elias. This isn't to knock Jagr, but rather to emphasize how great the Bruins team is. Last night, Krejci has such an awesome quote about this idea of being a team, when asked by Matt Kalman if he is an elite player in the world:
[Crosby and Malkin], I think they’re the best players in the world at this moment...[a]nd we don’t have guys like that. We have a team and we all play as a team.
I will never tire of that. But I beg to differ with Krejci's assertion that he isn't elite. Because he is, but he's so subtly great that apparently even he doesn't know it. Statistically, the numbers are there. He has the most points, by far, in the NHL playoffs since 2011. Since this article was meant to focus on Czechs in particular, he is already working his way up the list of all-time scoring for Czechs in the NHL.
In playoff scoring among Czechs, he is already sixth all-time. Jagr, obviously, is first, with 193 points in 193 games; Elias is second (125 points); Milan Hejduk (76 points); Petr Sykora (74 points); and Martin Straka (70 points). Krejci sits at 66 points in in 72 career playoff games. His 27 goals are also sixth, and 39 assists put him just one away from a tie for sixth place with Petr Sykora.
Krejci set the record for most goals in one playoff year by a Czech player in 2011 when he had 12 goals. That's right, not even Jagr exceeded 11 goals in one playoff run, even at the height of his greatness when his mullet was its most glorious.
Krejci's goals per game rate (.375) is second only to Jagr (.404) among Czechs, and given Jagr's pace in recent games, Krejci might just fly right past him. His point per game pace is also second only to Jagr, who currently sits at an even one point per playoff game. Krejci is comfortably in second place at .917.
Krejci is still young, so the smaller sample size may somewhat attribute to that, but I think most of us can say with certainty that Krejci's clutchiness is the real deal. To wrap this up, I'm gonna use a quote from that Globe article about language barriers:
After eight years in Canada and in the United States, Krejci is among the best on the team at the iPhone game Words with Friends. He’s got down "za’’ and "qi,’’ and rarely comes across a word or an expression he doesn’t understand.
By the way, I know Krejci grew up with a Jagr poster on his wall, but I feel like it's possible that Jagr will be putting a Krejci poster on his wall any day now.
(By the way, Krejci is currently fifth through the second of three rounds of voting for the 2013 Golden Stick!)