When Tomas Mazura and Mataj Blumel were childhood teammates in Pardubice, lighting up the U10 and U12 leagues in Ales Hemsky’s hometown, they always dreamed out loud about following his footsteps and playing together in the NHL.Kids love to dream big like that, but, as we well know, that kind of fairytale story never comes true.By the time they hit 18, they had long since given up on the big-league teammate thing. To be honest, they weren’t even certain they would be picked at all. So, rather than stress about it, they weren’t even following the NHL draft last weekend, choosing instead to have a poolside barbecue back in the Czech Republic.Then the phone rang.“Matej, you’ve been drafted. Fourth round. The Edmonton Oilers.”About an hour later, after the sixth round, another call.“It was my roommate at school,” said Mazura. “He was just screaming. ‘You were drafted! The Oilers!’“We’ve been best friends for a long time. We’ve been playing together since we were five years old. We would go to the rink together. We didn’t even know if we were going to be drafted, and to be drafted to the same team … it’s crazy.”
Matej Blumel (51) takes part in the Edmonton Oilers 2019 development camp, in Edmonton Tuesday June 25, 2019. Photo by David Bloom
David_Bloom David Bloom /
Next thing they knew, they were hopping a plane to Edmonton for development camp. No way were they going to miss it.The Oilers had no idea the two forwards even knew each other, but are glad it worked out the way it did.“I was delighted,” said vice-president of player development Scott Howson, adding they couldn’t get to Edmonton fast enough. “Both of them said, ‘Yes, I want to come down right away, get me on a plane.’ ”And here they are, both of them property of the same team Hemsky starred for.“It’s like a dream come true,” said Blumel. “We’ve been best buddies since we were growing up in our hometown. During the draft we were waiting to see if someone was going to draft us. We weren’t sure. Then to get picked to the same team, it’s incredible.”Pardubice is a small place, so, yes, they know Hemsky.“My dad is good friends with him and we play tennis in the summer and stuff,” said Mazura. “We’re not like great friends but we know each other. I’ve been following him since he played here.”Mazura put up 54 points in 37 games with Kimball Union Academy (New Hampshire) in the USHS last year while Blumel had 60 points in 58 games for Waterloo (Iowa) in the USHL, begging the obvious question, how do a couple of teenagers from the Czech Republic end up playing prep school and junior hockey in the U.S.?“I wasn’t really getting a lot of opportunities at home because I was smaller than other kids,” said Mazura, who is now six-foot-two, 181 pounds. “I had the skill, but I didn’t get a chance from a lot of coaches. I’d never been on the national team or anything.“There was a kid on our team who was 15 and he had a beard. The coach brought me into his office and said, ‘How can you be successful when you don’t look like this kid. You have to work harder.’ I hadn’t even hit puberty yet.”He knew he needed a different environment.“I went to a hockey camp and I met Tim Whitehead (head coach at KUA) and he recruited me. So I just went over. I didn’t use an agency or an agent. I just applied to prep school. It gave me time to develop, which is what I needed, and he believed in me.”Blumel did have Czech national team exposure, so the colleges came looking for him. He came over at 16.“I got recruited at the Hlinka tournament, but I was too young for college,” he said, adding he thought he would have to wait a couple of years. “Then I got called from Waterloo 14 days before camp started. It was really fast. I didn’t have much time to think about it. I just packed up all my stuff, said goodbye to my family and I was in the U.S.“I think that’s better than knowing it all summer and having to think about it. I’m super happy I made this decision. It was cool to meet a lot of new people and a new culture.”Blumel is off to the University of Connecticut next season while Mazura is still contemplating his options. Just like when he was 15 years old and boarding a plane for the U.S., he wants what’s best for his development as a player.“It was my first year as a big contributor on the (Kimball Union) team. I played a lot of power play and when we needed a goal I was on the ice. But I wasn’t on the ice when we needed to defend. I never played PK. I might go back there to get opportunities that I wouldn’t if I went to the USHL.“If you are ever lucky enough to be in the NHL or a pro league, you can’t always come in and be a first-line guy. You have to know how to play in different situations to be able to get opportunities. That’s how I see it.”firstname.lastname@example.org
Oil Spills podcast: Oilers’ needs obvious as NHL free agency approachesAn NHL goalie and a forward with some scoring prowess are high on Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland’s shopping list as this summer’s NHL free agency comes closer.Hockey beat writers Jim Matheson and Rob Tychkowski talk to host Craig Ellingson about free agency and about the Oilers’ bounty from the recent NHL Draft, which saw the team take defenceman Philip Broberg in the first round.