EVERETT — Radko Gudas does not fit the stereotype of your typical European hockey player.
Take last Saturday night in Vancouver, B.C. One moment Giants captain Lance Bouma, one of the most physical power forwards in the Western Conference, was heading up the ice along the boards against Gudas. The next moment all that was visible of Bouma above the boards were his skates, courtesy of a big hit from Gudas.
Not the type of message one usually expects to receive from a European.
The 2009-10 WHL season is just two games old for the Everett Silvertips, yet Gudas already is showing he’s ready to be a physical force in the league, making the defenseman from the Czech Republic a welcome addition to the Tips’ roster.
At 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, the 19-year-old Gudas isn’t the most physically-imposing player on the ice from a size standpoint. But he puts every single one of those 192 pounds into each hit he delivers.
“He’s going to wake a lot of people up this year,” Everett coach Craig Hartsburg said. “He’s going to wake the other team up some nights, and he’s going to wake our team up some nights with some hits.”
It’s not the standard profile for Europeans. European hockey is played on the larger Olympic-sized ice sheets where the emphasis tends to be toward speed and skill rather than physical play. As a result, many European players require an adjustment period when introduced into the rough-and-tumble WHL.
But not so for Gudas. If ever there was a player who was situated on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean, he was the one. Gudas’ style is tailor made for the North American game, as opposed to Europe where his physicality was often lost while trying to chase down opponents on the bigger ice surfaces.
“It’s different here than in the Czech Republic,” said Gudas, who speaks five languages, including impeccable English. “In the Czech Republic, I was playing with adults and it’s not so tough to play, it’s more technical and maybe a little bit faster. Here it’s more physical.
“That’s why I’m here, because I like this play.”
Gudas came to the WHL a little later than normal. Most Europeans who choose to play junior hockey in North America come over at 17 or 18, seeking to either expose themselves to NHL scouts for the draft, or upon request of the NHL teams that drafted them.
Gudas was passed over in the NHL draft twice, and he already was playing in a men’s professional league in the Czech Republic. His father, Leo, was one of the Czech Republic’s top defensemen during the 1990s and played his entire career in Europe.
However, Gudas has dreams of playing in the NHL, and he opened some eyes while playing for the Czech Republic at the World Junior Hockey Championships in December. One of those who were impressed was Silvertips general manager Doug Soetaert. Everett was in the market for defensemen after losing three minute-eating D-men off last season’s team, and the Tips ended up selecting Gudas 20th overall in this year’s CHL import draft.
“(Associate head coach) Jay Varady and I watched a lot of video on him, and we liked his competitiveness and aggressiveness and the way he bangs,” Soetaert said. “So we identified him as somebody we were interested in. We knew we had some puck-moving defensemen over here, so we were looking for guys who could play with a little bit of an edge and bring a physical aspect.”
Gudas displayed that physical aspect the moment he set foot in Everett. He was easily Everett’s biggest hitter during training camp, and that was when he was holding back to make sure he didn’t injure any of his teammates.
But Gudas is more than just a hitter. He’s able to move the puck and he also has an effective shot from the point. That shot was the decisive factor last Saturday when he scored both the tying and game-winning goals during Everett’s come-from-behind 4-2 victory over the Giants.
“I think he’s gotten better every period,” Hartsburg said. “I think he’s getting comfortable in how the game’s played, so he’s getting better. He’s a very competitive guy, you can see he’s very intense and plays with a lot of emotion, which leads to some hits. But he’s got some good skills, too.
“Both he and (Rasmus Rissanen, Everett’s other defenseman taken in this year’s import draft) have adjusted really well,” Hartsburg added. “With defensemen you’re really not sure because it’s a lot different game for European defensemen on the small ice. But both of them are hard guys who like to battle. The game suits them here probably more so than the European game.”
So, Gudas has adjusted well to the WHL. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the league is able to adjust to Gudas.
The Tips have reassigned right wing Brett Miller to the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Everett acquired the 18-year-old Miller just last week from Red Deer in exchange for a conditional bantam draft pick. Miller played in both games last weekend without scoring. The move reduces Everett’s roster to 24 — 14 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders.
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog