Musil’s roots run deep

by George Darkow || AHL On The Beat Archive

The term "pedigree" may be no more applicable to a professional hockey player than current Oklahoma City Barons defenseman David Musil.

Such a statement shouldn’t imply Musil hasn’t paid his dues, however. Spend five minutes with the Oklahoma City defenseman and it becomes apparent he not only possesses the determination and intellect to succeed, but also understands the value of the resources he’s had as a third-generation hockey player.

Like many offspring of former NHL players, Musil seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps at a very young age. But Musil’s ascension through the ranks of the sport is more than just a father-son matter. His success stems from a foundation created by the deep roots and extensive limbs of his family’s proverbial tree.

His family’s legacy began in 1983, when the Minnesota North Stars drafted David’s father, Frank Musil, out of his home country of Czechoslovakia. But unlike North American hockey players who consider a spot on an NHL roster to be the apex of their careers, Frank wasn’t waiting by the phone on draft day.

"I grew up in the communist regime and didn’t know much about the NHL," Frank Musil said. "I found out that I was drafted from a friend of mine I had met at the World Championship in Minnesota. He sent me a newspaper clipping with my name highlighted, and that’s when I realized I was property of Minnesota.

"I didn’t really know what it meant," he added. "Growing up and playing hockey (in Czechoslovakia), being a part of the national team and participating in the World Championship and Olympics were the pinnacles of any hockey player’s career."

Once Frank had served his nation’s mandatory three-year military duty, he succumbed to the curiosities of playing in the NHL, defecting from Czechoslovakia in 1985. With the help of former North Stars general manager Lou Nanne and agent Ritch Winter, Musil acquired an American work visa, which allowed him to clear border patrols without much questioning.

He soon realized defection from the communist country was perhaps the easiest part of his transition. As a young 21-year-old in Minneapolis, Musil found the early experiences in his new country overwhelming.

"I was green. I had no idea what was going on," he said. "I spoke very little English, but that came along quite quickly, because I realized that in order to have any success, I had to speak the language well."

Luckily, the North Stars provided Musil with a billet family to help him get acclimated to life in the U.S. In addition to teaching Frank the various customs of his new country, the experience also helped him master the English language in a most unusual way.

"(The family) had three young children that I was attending an elementary school with when I didn’t have any practices," Frank said. "That was probably the best way for me to communicate — through children — because they spoke an easier language for me to understand."

Once Musil began to feel comfortable in the U.S., the more he began to long for home, though. Seeking some connection to his native Czechoslovakia, he connected with an old friend from his homeland, tennis pro Andrea Holikova, who was the daughter of Musil’s one-time coach, former Olympic medalist and world championship team member Jaroslav Holik.

"I was homesick," Frank said. "I went to see her when she was competing at the U.S. Open, and at the time, Czechoslovakia was still a communist regime. She was seen with me, and things just played out where she was forced to defect as well, and our friendship became more than just a friendship."

The couple married soon after, and by the time David was born in 1993, the family’s legacy had merged into a Musil-Holik conglomerate of sorts, commissioned by the likes of Frank, Andrea, Andrea’s father Jaroslav and Andrea’s brother, former NHL all-star Bobby Holik.

When David Musil decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and uncle, he found the resources at his disposal to be quite valuable.

"There was a lot of pressure (to succeed), but also a lot of support," David said. "But on the other side, it’s also really nice. (My family) went through the process, so they know what it takes to get where you want to be — where I’m trying to reach. So you always know you can turn to them, and anything you need, you can always go up to them for advice."

Once David was on the cusp of becoming a professional, his father had already established his post-playing career, working as an international scout in the Edmonton Oilers organization. But rather than simply ride the fame his family had accumulated over the years, David heeded Frank’s advice. His disciplined approach paid great dividends as the Oilers selected David with the 31st pick of the 2011 NHL draft — seven spots higher than the position his father was drafted at.

"Whenever I needed help, he was there," David said. "And I always took advice from him because he knows what players need to work on. He sees it from up top, so he sees a different view.

"Sometimes we get in arguments about some things, but I know most of the time he’s right, and I just try to improve on the things I need to work on."

In his first professional season, David has become a mainstay in the Barons’ lineup, where he continues to refine the family craft. Much like the early parts of David’s career, his family continues to play a major role in his development at the AHL level. And throughout his journey, David knows he has a strong support system in place.

"I know anytime I’m in trouble or need help or I’m kind of down, I know I can turn to my whole family," David said. "My mom, grandpa, my uncle – I know I always have someone supportive I can fall back on."

Much of the reason for the unconditional support David relies on comes from being part of a family with greater priorities than hockey. When Frank Musil speaks of his family, he rarely talks about their on-field or on-court accomplishments.

Instead of classifying his son as a powerful and effective defenseman, Frank describes David with simpler, more endearing adjectives like "caring," "kind" and "thoughtful."

Make no mistake, Frank radiates pride when he speaks of David’s on-ice accomplishments, but the father of three is quick to point out that the things he cherishes most about his children don’t involve skates and a stick.

"It might sound corny, but just to have healthy, happy kids that are good people makes me proudest," Frank said. "The things I’m proudest of are that they can survive in any situation and be helpful, active and influential in the communities they live."

Still, there’s no denying the pride Frank has for the newest member of his family’s hockey legacy, and he speaks of his son with a certain hint of humility that has served the Musil family well.

"I’d say he’s better than me," Frank said with a laugh. "But all dads say that."