For many European hockey players, moving to North America can be a jarring transition.
In the CHL, the ice surface is typically smaller, the physical play is elevated and the speed of the game is increased.
That is all exciting news, however, to new Kootenay Ice player Martin Bodak, an 18-year-old Slovak defenceman who the Ice selected with their second round CHL Import Draft pick.
Bodak joined the team for training camp this week and has had a great time playing in practice and intrasquad scrimmages.
“It’s much faster [here] and everything is much closer, so it’s a bit easier to do defense and also to join into the rush,” Bodak said. “It’s much better for me [because] I like to join the rush [and] it’s easier to shoot from every [area of the rink].”
Bodak played last season in Finland with Tappara U20 where he had 20 points in 38 games. He also played for the Slovakia national team at the World Junior Championships. Nothing, however, compares to Canada.
“I’m so excited to be here and I’m so happy … this is everything for me,” he said. “When I was young, I wanted to play in Canada … it is a dream of every [hockey player] in Europe.”
While Bodak considered other options, coming to the WHL was ultimately the best fit for the current stage of his career.
“[At] first, I was thinking of staying in Finland and playing in the highest league there, but I couldn’t get on the team,” he said. “[I thought] it was better to come here and play in the smaller rink [where] it’s much faster.”
In particular, Bodak is looking forward to working with a coaching staff with NHL experience and teammates — Cale Fleury and Brett Davis — who have been drafted into the top hockey league in the world.
“I’m so excited to have a coach like that [and] I would like to just learn everything from him,” he said. “Those guys who were drafted into the NHL, I think they are pretty good guys and I saw them on the ice and they are really skilled.”
Bodak was eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and was ranked number 71 amongst European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, but was ultimately left off the board.
He hopes to make an impact not only on the defensive end, but by burying the puck himself.
“I would like to score the goals here, of course,” he said. “I think I have a good shot, so I would like to shoot a lot here.
I think I have [a] varied shot [selection] as well [and] I skate well too. Those are my strengths, I think.
According to Patrick, Bodak’s transition to North America in the first few days has been absolutely seamless.
“I don’t think there’s been an adjustment for the ice [because] he played in Finland on a hybrid ice,” the coach said. “He’s looked really good to me. He’s looked like a strong, solid two-way defenceman who’s going to be important on our team this year.”
Bodak and Swiss forward Gilian Kohler will be Kootenay’s two allowed import players for the 2017-18 WHL season.