by Nick Nollenberger | AHL On The Beat
During training camp in early October, San Jose Barracuda head coach John McCarthy told the media that he’d wait to name a captain until a further date.
With multiple new faces on the roster, he didn’t want to hurry a decision.
At the time, he wouldn’t have known that Radim Simek would even be an option, as the veteran defenseman was still up with the Sharks. But after suffering an ankle injury in an NHL preseason game on Sept. 27 against the Anaheim Ducks, Simek found himself in an unfortunate spot.
He would go on to miss the remainder of training camp and the start of the regular season. And once he was healthy, the Sharks had a logjam on their back end, so they placed the 31-year-old on waivers on Oct. 29 and he was ultimately assigned to the Barracuda.
After nearly five full seasons in the NHL, Simek was back where his North American career began – with the Barracuda.
Some players might have just folded up the tent, collected their paycheck, and marked the days until the offseason.
But not Simek, who was just happy to be playing hockey again, at any level.
“It’s been great to be back on the ice. NHL or AHL, it doesn’t matter,” Simek said. “I enjoy every shift, especially after last season when I was out with injury.
“I’m getting older. You never know how long you’re going to play hockey. My goal before the season was to stay healthy, but bad things happen. I’m healthy now so I can enjoy hockey again.”
In 2017-18, his first season in North America, Simek spent the entire year in the AHL with the Barracuda, skating in 67 games and notching 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) and a plus-6 rating. Aside from a two-game conditioning stint in 2019-20, he had been up with the Sharks full-time after his first year.
An extremely promising start to his NHL tenure was cut short in his rookie season when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. It was just the beginning of a run of frustrating setbacks that included multiple surgeries and long rehabs.
Although the injuries were mentally and physically taxing, the native of Mlada Boleslav, Czechia, never wavered in his determination to be the best player he could be and help the Sharks in whatever role they needed.
Now he’s helping the organization in a different way, by showing its prized prospects what it takes to be a pro. And that’s something didn’t go unnoticed by McCarthy or Barracuda general manager Joe Will. On Feb. 1, McCarthy and Will finally had their captain, naming Simek the fifth in the franchise’s nine-year history.
“He’s been great since we got him,” said McCarthy, who served as captain of the Barracuda himself from 2016 to 2020. “He’s obviously spent the last few years in the NHL, but he’s come here and continued to work. Guys in that position aren’t always as receptive and dialed in as he has been. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to reward him with the captaincy.”
For Simek, who came to the Sharks organization seven years ago, wearing the “C” seemed like an impossibility just a few short seasons ago. His English was almost non-existent when he first came over from Europe. And although he’s more of a lead-by-example player anyway, being able to communicate with his teammates is mandatory requirement for the role.
“I’m glad to be captain of this team; it’s an honor for me,” said Simek. “It doesn’t happen to European guy often, to be captain in America.
“I want to be a leader on the ice, not just in the locker room. Block shots, work hard every day. Sometimes it’s hard because the body is tired, but it’s exciting to be captain and be a leader for this team. Guys work hard here, but I want to show them every day what it takes.”
“Radim has provided the room with a lot of leadership since he joined the Barracuda at the start of the season,” said Will in a release sent out by the team. “His professional approach on a daily basis is contagious. As this season has progressed, it became clear that he was the right choice to be our captain.”
With two months left in the season, and still with hopes of landing a playoff spot in the Pacific Division, the Barracuda have the right leader in place to turn their season around.
Simek can’t wait for the challenge.
“We’ve got 27 games left in the season and I hope I can be a good leader for this team for the rest of year. I’m excited for the rest of the season and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”