Czech mate a work in progress

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Vladimir Roth has a pretty heavy shot -- a signature skill for the power play.

But fellow London Knights defenceman John Carlson has a cannon.

Roth, now in his second OHL season, has the rookie learning curve well out of the way. But in experience, he's still light years behind Knights lifers Scott Aarssen, the team's captain, and veteran Matt Clarke.

He can put up points and make a good first pass. But Kevin Montgomery is more than capable and a few years his senior.

Roth's a fairly mobile sort on the blue-line. But Steve Tarasuk -- he's a virtual slinky, rubber-banding up into the rush and snapping back before the puck comes the other way.

"There are," Roth, the 18-year-old Czech, said emphatically, "six very good defencemen here."

It has made it difficult to move up the depth chart, to earn the more important minutes, to build on his favourable first impression.

"I had eight goals last year (and a couple of them huge game-changers)," the six-foot-two, 190-pounder said. "Now, I have one this year. I don't know why (it's different now)."

Matt Ashman used to promise Roth a Frosty from Wendy's every time he scored. But Ashman is with the London Nationals now and wouldn't have had to pay up much thus far, anyway.

"Vladdie's playing as many minutes as he did last year," said Knights assistant coach Pat Curcio. "Last year, he got sparked at the end and scored a bunch of his goals late in the season. We know the offence is still there with him. He's getting his shots away but he's hit some posts.

"We're not too worried about it. We want him to play well defensively."

The bigger surprise was that Roth wasn't drafted by an NHL team last summer. Here was a rapidly developing kid who left the Czech Republic to play in the OHL, showed some promise, a scoring touch and enough durability to suit up 59 games for a transition squad.

"That came as a shock to us," Curcio said. "He was certainly better than a few of the names that were called later on, but I believe it's going to work out much better for him this year."

Roth is certainly more comfortable this season. There's always an adjustment period for a foreign player.

Current Montreal Canadien Sergei Kostitsyn, the Belarussian beauty, went through it in London and flourished on the ice. This year, Russian Sergei Korostin was traded to Peterborough before he made the OHL adjustment.

"My English wasn't very good," Roth said. "I went to an English institute and took courses. I didn't know anyone here, but now I know a lot more of the guys.

"I watched TV and tried to follow what was being said."

NHL great Jari Kurri, Wayne Gretzky's famous Finn sidekick, learned the language by watching Happy Days. Roth is improving his by listening to hockey talking heads such as Bob McKenzie (TSN), Steve Ludzik (The Score) and Nick Kypreos (Sportsnet).

KNIGHTS NOTES

At last summer's team charity golf event, Boston Bruins defender and Knights grad Dennis Wideman bought a $3,000 suite for Friday's game against Peterborough to host 12 children from the Sunshine Foundation. He's also outfitting the kids with Bruins jerseys and gifts . . . Nazem Kadri's broken jaw has already cost him a roster spot in tomorrow's ADT Canada-Russia Hockey Challenge in Guelph. He's out two to four weeks and if it's closer to four, as some suggest, a spot at the Canadian world junior camp could be in jeopardy. Kadri was the third-ranked OHL forward on the NHL's latest central scouting list behind Oshawa's John Tavares and Brampton's Matt Duchene . . . Recently acquired goalie Trevor Cann will be the only Knight to take part in the challenge. He has two shutouts in five games and an admirable work ethic. While his teammates prepared to pose for a team picture with two trucks at centre ice of the JLC, Cann worked on playing the puck with goalie coach Dave Rook . . . Former Knights goalie Jason Guy is expected to land with a team in the Ontario Provincial junior A league.


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