by Caroline Greene || AHL On The Beat Archive
When people see Boris Valabik he is often confused for a professional basketball player, and at 6-foot-7, it’s not surprising.
However, the native of Slovakia has never dunked a basketball, nor does he have any interest in trying. Instead, Valabik is focused on sinking slap shots from the blue line as one of the newest members of the Providence Bruins.
Acquired by Boston with Rich Peverley in a deal that sent established Bruins Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler to the Atlanta Thrashers last week, the physical defenseman joins the B’s organization after spending nearly five seasons in the Thrashers’ system, including parts of four seasons in the NHL.
For the most part, though, he’s been a successful and reliable defender in the AHL for the Chicago Wolves.
“I knew my time in Atlanta was done,” said Valabik after joining his new team. “Things happened that I didn’t have control over -– I got hurt -– but now it’s gonna be a fresh start for me.”
Valabik’s new beginning in the Bruins organization doesn’t come without some familiar faces. For starters, the fifth-year pro won the Calder Cup with the Wolves in 2008 alongside Providence forward Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman.
And, perhaps more notably, the most familiar face to Valabik is his boyhood idol and fellow Slovak, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
"He’s been always the kind of guy I’ve looked up to and the kind of guy that I modeled my game after,” said Valabik of Chara, who is also a defenseman. “He’s been through pretty similar things that I have been. We’ve been both told to play basketball instead of hockey growing up back home in Slovakia. It’s kind of a good story for me to look up to — his time when he was younger wasn’t easy as well.”
While the towering defensemen draw obvious comparisons from their size and physical play, Valabik prides himself on being a defensive defenseman, rather than someone who fills out the score sheet.
“I take pride at being a stay-at-home D-man and a shut-down guy. I’m physical and will step up for my teammates whenever it’s needed,” stated Valabik. “I’m not going to put big numbers up on the board, that’s not what my game is about.”
The 10th overall pick by Atlanta in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Valabik has only tallied seven points, all assists, in 80 career NHL games, but he’s added a whopping 210 penalty minutes. With the Wolves, he skated in 174 regular-season AHL games and compiled four goals, 25 assists and 609 PIM.
On a team always eager to add size, Providence Bruins head coach Rob Murray likes the addition of Valabik for his build and physical style of play.
“Boris is a real big guy who plays with an edge,” Murray said of his new defenseman. “He’s not afraid to fight and stick up for his teammates.”
However, Valabik cautioned fans not to expect him to drop the gloves after just the slightest shove.
“I’m not looking for it,” he said of fighting. “But, I definitely feel the need to step up, especially when it is a smaller player who is not known to be physical. It’s not the only thing I do, but I definitely like to step up.”
Now, prepared for a late-season run with a bunch of new faces, Valabik comes to Providence out to prove that he isn’t a Chara imitation or a Hanson Brothers hopeful. Instead, he’s a valuable stay-at-home defenseman whose physical play and desire to succeed are going to be a solid asset to the Bruins blue-line.
“I think I have a lot of people to prove wrong,” said Valabik. “That’s what gets me going and what makes me work harder.”