Tuesday, August 6, 2013

See-Sawing Into the National Hockey League: Radoslav Suchy

Stories From the NHL Locker Room

Slovakia-born Radoslav Suchy’s journey to the National Hockey League might be typical, although not a well known. For the most part, it’s rare for a young player to make the grade on the first try. Things were no different for Suchy.

"Always my dream, when I was a kid, was to play in the NHL."

However, his venture to the Show started in Canada -- Sherbrooke in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- to be exact, and he didn't know a stitch of English -- or French.  

"I knew three words: 'thank you,' 'sorry,' and one that’s bad, starting with 'f.' I went to school for English, but as soon as I came to the dressing room, everybody was talking French. For two months, I didn’t talk to anybody."

Hindsight told Suchy it may have been a good thing he didn't know English. In the beginning, he found it very difficult, so much so, he seriously thought about going home.  

"I didn’t know how to tell them. So I stayed there."

The transition for any young player into the next level of competition is difficult, but especially for someone who doesn't know the culture or language.

When he met his billets he was painfully shy. 

"That was very weird. They were really nice. They offered me everything. I could eat anything in the fridge. But I was really shy. I remember the first time, I just ate a little bit. I didn’t want to eat too much. At night, at nine o’clock, I was still a little hungry but I was shy to go up and ask them for more food. I had to wait until they go to sleep. I was sneaking in the fridge when they were sleeping. It was a good laugh.

"(The billets) had some special food. The first time I had it, I didn’t really enjoy it. I was being polite and said I liked it. Then we got invited to (my billet) family friends. They asked what did we like, they would make for dinner. They said, 'He really likes the... He really enjoy it.' After a while, I got used to it. Now I really like it. It’s pretty good."

He had to get used to the smaller ice surface, and the hockey style was much more physical than he was used to. 

"The coaches always took me on the side, although I didn’t speak English, took me to the boards and showed what they wanted me to do. 

"The atmosphere was good because in Slovakia, we have just the parents in the stands at the junior games. In Canada, there’s real people even paying for that to see your game. The people recognize you on the street. In Slovakia, nobody knew that I was playing hockey. In Quebec, I’d be walking in the mall and people stopped me, asked for autographs -- kids came to me. I was really impressed how big the hockey is in Canada."

Suchy was traded to Chicoutimi in his last junior year in junior as an overaged junior. While Sherbrooke didn’t go far in the playoffs, Chicoutimi was a contender for the Memorial Cup. 

"They trade me for three young players. Before Christmas, they sent me home for a week. That was nice of the team. I asked them, 'Am I getting traded? Because if I am, I’m not coming back.' I wasn’t drafted, so there was no need for me to come back to junior. They said, 'No, no, no! Over my dead body.' So I went home. I came back. The first thing, the coach asks me to come into his office. They told me I had been traded. It was really hard. I didn’t want to go."

But Chicoutimi had a very good team and Suchy was able to star in the Memorial Cup -- where all the scouts saw him. 

He received an invitation to try out with the Phoenix Coyotes. 

“I was in camp, and I didn’t have a contract. We had already played five exhibition games. They sent some guys down, and I still hadn’t played one game. After I got called, I was going to play the next day. I played the one game, and right after, they called me and tell me they are offering me a contract. At that point, I would take any contract. Then they sent me down to Las Vegas."

After a couple of months in Nevada, Suchy broke his finger. The Coyotes sent him to its minor league team in Springfield to get healthy. As he healed, his ice time increased due to three injured defencemen.  

“The second year (at Coyotes camp), the coach says, 'We have too many defencemen. You’re going to play forward in the camp.' I think, 'Oh, my God. What am I going to do?' So I just play forward. I had also played one NHL exhibition game as a forward. Then they sent me down. I didn’t really have a big shot of playing in the NHL."

In his third year, Suchy came into training camp and made the team. Although with eight defencemen in the preseason lineup, he was a healthy scratch for five games.

Facing Chicago, +Jeremy Roenick was suspended for high-sticking Tony Amonte, which meant moving a forward up into the lineup. With too many players on the roster, Suchy was the odd man out and was sent back down.

“I thought, okay, that was my chance. I didn’t play any games. I’m down in the minors and the general manager from the Coyotes came down and said, 'We want you to stay down here and play a lot. Up there, you’re not going to play a lot of games. You’re not going to have a lot of ice time. We have too many defencemen.' Luckily two weeks later, one of the defencemen got hurt. Then I got called and played a few games. They decided I’m going to play the rest of the season. I’m glad I never gave up and kept working. I kept hoping that I’m going to make it."

And he did.

Never give up on your dreams.

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