by Kevin Boryczki and Adam Kaufman || AHL On The Beat Archive
Imagine being 17 to 18 years old, never having been away from home, picking up your life to move over 5,000 miles to a country where you’ve never been, know nobody and don’t speak the native language.
Welcome to the lives of Providence Bruins rookies Petr Kalus, Martins Karsums and David Krejci. Their life stories are very similar to that of many European players who dream of someday playing in the National Hockey League.
To get noticed, many young, promising European hockey players decide to go to Canada at any early age to play at the junior level. From there, if lucky, they get recognized by scouts, drafted and signed.
Petr Kalus arrived in Canada after spending three seasons playing in the Czech junior league. Unlike Martins Karsums, Kalus came over to Canada already having been drafted 39th overall in 2005 by the Boston Bruins.
He spent a season with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, leading his team with 36 goals and 58 points. That same season, he got his first taste of the NHL by participating in Boston’s rookie camp. And he did that all while trying to adapt to a culture he had never experienced before.
David Krejci had a similar experience to Kalus, having arrived in Canada already drafted by the Bruins, 63rd overall in 2004.
He also had the opportunity to get comfortable by playing two seasons of junior hockey for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The center finished each season as his team’s point-leader, amassing 144 points over the two years.
Karsums had the most experience in the western hemisphere, spending three seasons in juniors prior to this year with the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats. While there, he was drafted by Boston 64th overall in 2004 (one pick after Krejci), and he set personal bests last year in every offensive category with 65 points and 34 goals.
Karsums was later named the MVP of the 2006 QMJHL playoffs after tallying 16 goals and 27 points in just 22 games.
This season, Karsums, Krejci and Kalus are each in their professional rookie years, a higher level of hockey than any of the three had ever experienced prior.
“I came here and it’s completely different from juniors,” said Kalus. “Guys are older and stronger, more experienced, but I’m just trying to work hard in practice and concentrate on hockey 100 percent of the time.”
More than anything, all three players acknowledge that the transition to the pro game is easier having the others around.
“It’s fun to be here with other European guys,” said Krejci. “Martins and I live together and all three of us spend most of our time away from the ice together.”
When asked what they learn from one another on or off the ice, Karsums was quick to pipe up.
“Language,” laughed Karsums. “I teach them Latvian and they teach me Czech. And I teach them some English but we can all still learn a lot.”
Between studying culture and grabbing a bite to eat to whatever else they can come up with to do together, there is only one challenge that all three would like to take on as a trio more than any other: playing for Boston.
“All of the people call us the Special K’s here I guess,” said Karsums. “We want to bring that up to Boston, the three of us. It’s a lot of fun.”
And fun is certainly something they’ve had this season while helping to lead Providence to continued success in the Atlantic Division. As the team sits just five points behind the Manchester Monarchs for first place, Krejci continues to pace the team with 62 points, also leading the squad with 25 goals and 37 assists.
Those totals, along with his selfless and creative style of play, have earned the young center two call-ups to Boston, making his NHL debut Feb. 20 in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, the first of five contests with the big club.
Kalus and Karsums have both had their number of games played this season shortened by injury, though they’ve still combined for 63 points in 90 games.
“Because all three guys have played in North American junior systems before coming here, it’s been easier for them to adapt to the American Hockey League level of play, perhaps better than players who come over directly from Europe,” observes head coach Scott Gordon.
“That, combined with their character and work ethic, I think they’ve really put their best feet forward to get better and make it to the NHL.”