December 23, 2005
Czech this out!Hemsky's star could rise at Olympics
By Terry Jones
Ales Hemsky knows what it's like when they win an Olympic gold medal in hockey in the Czech Republic.
"I was in school,'' he remembers. "I was 14. We watched the final game on TV in our school.
"It was such a great feeling. There was a party in the country which lasted for days. In Prague there were 100,000 people partying in the streets.
"It's a great feeling to now get the opportunity to play and try to win my own gold medal for the Czech Republic.''
Hemsky bit his lip all day Wednesday while Oilers teammates Ryan Smyth and Chris Pronger were being celebrated as Canadian Olympians.
"The coach was here three weeks ago and he told me I'd be on the team. But I didn't want to say anything to anybody until I got the actual news.''
Hemsky received the word when he returned home from Vancouver with the team.
'My message light was flashing'
"My message light was flashing. My dad left me a message. He said 'You're in!' ''
Hemsky already knows what it's like when the Czech Republic wins the IIHF World Hockey Championships. He did that as a player last year.
"It's not as huge as the Olympics, but it's huge. It meant a lot for the people.''
Word around the league lately had been that Jaromir Jagr insisted Hemsky not only be on the Czech team but on his line.
"I don't know that rumour,'' he said. "I don't want to say nothing like I want to be on that line.''
For the past few weeks, watching Ales Hemsky bloom and blossom has made Edmonton Oiler fans feel like they've been watching A Star Is Born.
They've seen the preview of this show in the Czech Republic. That was last year in the Czech Elite League playoffs where Hemsky was named the MVP.
With a goal and an assist against Vancouver in Thursday's fourth straight Edmonton win, Hemsky is now the Oilers top scorer with 33 points in 35 games and sitting 34th in the NHL scoring race.
"I'm just having so much fun playing right now. I feel so good. I feel so strong.''
With eight goals, he's suddenly starting to shoot. That's started goaltenders and defenders guessing and giving him more passing lanes and options.
From the cheapest seat in the house you can see his confidence grow and grow almost from period to period as he makes magic with moves he now dares to try and discovers he can take a hit and keep on ticking.
Turning into something special
There are very few out there who remain unconvinced that Hemsky is turning into something special.
"At the start of the season, we weren't sure about Ales,'' said coach Craig MacTavish. "We were very hopeful. We were sure enough to trade Mike York.
"He's really coming into his own. He's always had the ability. Now he's finding the confidence. He has the mentality that he's going to make something happen every time he touches the puck. Everybody on the team has picked up on it to the point he's now everybody's first option. Get him the puck!
"What I like is that he's not just evolving offensively. He's doing it defensively as well. And he's surprising guys with how strong he is on his skates.''
So is he for real? Are we watching what we think we're watching?
"Oh, I would think so,'' said MacTavish.
"Last year - late last year - was just the starting point.''
And do we dare guess how high his upside is going to be?
"I don't want to talk about that too much,'' said the coach. "But I think it'll just keep going. He's gone from playing 11 minutes a game to 14 or 15 and is now up to 19 or 20. And he's thriving on the extra time. He's dominating when he gets the puck.''
And suddenly he doesn't need 16,839 fans shouting "Shoot!'' for him to shoot.
"Shooting for him has been a challenge mentally,'' said MacTavish, who himself has stopped doing that.
"Every time I've been yelling at him to shoot, he feathers the puck to somebody to shoot into a virtual empty net.''
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