Reichel to suit up with Czech team in WJC for second straight year
This being his second time around, Kristian Reichel will likely be asked to play a bigger role with the Czech Republic national junior hockey team.
As a first-time member of the Czech squad one year ago, Reichel went pointless in the world junior championship while being used primarily as a defensive forward.
But when the 2018 WJC opens on Boxing Day in Buffalo, the Red Deer Rebels centre will be expected to chip in offensively following his successful first half season in the Western Hockey League.
The 19-year-old, selected by the Rebels in last June’s CHL import draft, hopes that his presence and that of nine teammates who are property of NHL teams will make the Czechs a better medal hope than the 2017 crew which lost 5-3 to Canada in a quarter-final.
“We will probably have a better team than last year,” he said from Edmonton, where he boarded a flight for Toronto on Wednesday.
“We have eight guys who played in the world juniors last year. That will be a big plus for us. We have lots of experienced guys and one (forward Martin Necas, Carolina) who played in the NHL this year.
“Some young guys are pretty good too. The team had two games with Russia and Finland this year and played pretty good. We have a chance for a good result.”
The Czechs’ lineup in the 2017 WJC featured former Rebel forwards Michael Spacek and Adam Musil and qualified for the playoff round after recording one win and one loss in regulation time and suffering two overtime setbacks.
“The first goal is going to the quarter-finals and then things can happen,” said Reichel.
The son of former NHL foward Robert Reichel said just competing against the world’s best junior-aged skaters last year made him a better player.
“Actually it was such learning for me. The whole experience can help you a lot,” he said. “I never played at big tournament like that. I played under-18 world championship, but like if you compare that to world juniors it’s next level and guys are more skilled and better than when they are 17.
“Lots of good guys have contracts or were drafted into the NHL, so the level is pretty good. You must play hard because anybody can beat anybody. There are 10 teams and the teams you don’t expect they will be good can be good, so you must play hard with everybody.
“Last year we lost (to) Denmark and Switzerland. Everbody is getting better and faster and faster.”
Personally, Reichel’s first WHL season — following two years in a pro league in his home country — has been somewhat of a success to this point. In 32 games, he’s netted 14 goals and added 11 assists.
“I can always be better,” he said. “Twenty five points are good but every time you can be better.”
While Reichel has found offensive success this season, the Rebels have floundered as a team.
“This season is not going well for sure. Nobody expected we would be like 10th or 11th in the conference,” he said. “But we played pretty good the last two games (against) Moose Jaw and Swift Current and if we (continue to) play like that we can beat anybody. It is a tight league.”
And, as Reichel has learned, the league is ultra-competitive with a tough travel schedule.
“The guys are very skilled. The league is fast and compared to the Czech League is more physical play and stuff like that,” he said.
As for the extended bus trips . . .
“The travel is pretty tough. That’s the one thing I hate, is the travel,” he said. “When you go on a 12-hour road trip . . . oh my God!”
Reichel, who met the Czech team hopefuls in Toronto on Wednesday and then departed for a training camp in Niagara Falls, is hopeful of being selected in the 2018 NHL entry draft and earning a pro contract.
His goal for next season is to play for pay, preferably on this side of the Atlantic.
“It’s pretty long away so I don’t think about it now,” he said. “But for sure I want to play pro hockey in the USA or Canada, it doesn’t matter where.”
The Rebels, without Reichel in their lineup, will close out the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule on Friday and Saturday at Medicine Hat and at home versus the Tri-City Americans.