Libor Hájek took disappointment and turned it into motivation.
The Saskatoon Blades defenceman is with the Czech Republic World Junior camp in Niagara Falls, Ont., hoping to make the team that will compete in Buffalo on Boxing Day.
It’s his last chance to represent his country on that stage. Hájek was on the shortlist for the 2017 World Juniors but was among the final cuts for the Czech team.
“I was kinda pissed,” Hájek said when asked about being left off the final roster last year. “(Now) I’m probably happy they cut me, I played harder and better here in Saskatoon and that helps.”
A second round pick of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016, Hájek is having a career year in Saskatoon. His eight goals and 24 points through 32 games rank third on the Blades, nearly matching his 65-game total of 26 points in the 2016-17 season.
But he thinks his progression is more a reflection of the players around him on the Blades.
“I think we’re working and playing better with more energy,” Hájek said, adding the addition of 16-year-old sensation Kirby Dach is a massive boost to the roster. “He helps us a lot, future of the Blades for sure and it’s nice to watch.”
— AHL (@TheAHL) March 30, 2017
Much like in Saskatoon, where Hájek plays in all situations and wears an ‘A’ on his jersey as an alternate captain, he expects to play a big role with the Czech team.
“I’ve talked with the coaches and I’ll be a leader there since it’s my last year at the World Juniors.”
The Czechs will face Team Canada in a pre-tournament game on Dec. 20 in London, Ontario. They open the tournament Dec. 26 against Russia.
Team Canada plays Finland on Boxing Day, you can listen to every game on 650 CKOM and 980 CJME.