Roman Polak’s career has never been one for the spotlight. He’s never put up major offensive numbers, and was never projected to contribute much to an NHL team.
But for a guy who’s not exactly a superstar, Polak’s teenage years at the world juniors offer some insight into learning more about the first-year Leafs defenceman, who’s grinded his way to an NHL caeer.
Born in the Czech Republic, Polak played a pair of years at the World Juniors in 2005 and 2006. The prior tourney occured while Polak was a member of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay ice, the latter while Polak was playing professionally in the Czech League for Vitkovice HC.
It’s kind of tough to judge Polak by his offensive production, as it’s never been his forte. But both years saw Polak contribute a pair of assissts, and as he was one of few players from the team’s roster to make the National Hockey League, it’s likely he was one of the strongest players on the Czech lineup.
2005: While the 2005 tournament in North Dakota is remembered best for the domination of Team Canada, it is oft-forgotten the story of an underdog Czech team who earned their way to winning a bronze medal in a 3-2 victory over the Americans. There’s no way Polak doesn’t treasure that medal as one of his biggest accomplishments of his hockey career, as he should. In a tournament historically dominated by four or five teams, it’s always extremely impressive when a lesser-respected team is able to pull off such an accomplishment.
2006: Polak’s team wasn’t quite as successful, falling out in the quarterfinals to the Americans. You may have heard of their star forward, Phil Kessel, who scored the game’s first goal in a 2-1 USA win.
2005: David Krejci, Roman Cervenka, Ladislav Smid, Michal Frolik.
The great thing about being a good junior hockey player in Europe is you’ll probably be able to crack the national team. While none of the aforementioned players have turned into superstars, they were able to perform solidly enough bring home a medal.
2006: Krejci, Frolik, Vladmir Sobotka, Jakub Kindl, Jiri Tlusty.
Former Leafs first-round pick Jiri Tlusty scored 23 times in 48 games in the shortened 2013 season for the Carolina Hurricanes. In the 96 games since, he’s scored just 26.