The current Washington Capitals roster includes several players who hail from the region that was once known as Czechoslovakia (until 1993). The players include Radko Gudas, Michal Kempny, and Jakub Vrana, who are Czech, and Richard Panik who is Slovakian. All of them, except Jakub Vrana, were born while the region was still known as Czechoslovakia. In many cases, the players themselves had connections with one another prior to joining the Capitals. NoVa Caps examines these connections.
IIHF World Junior Championships Under 18 Games 2007-08
Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were both members of the team from the Czech Republic in the 2008 IIHF World Junior 18 and Under games. They played defense then as now. Gudas had both a goal and an assist while Kempny had two assists. They both represented the Czech Republic in other international competitions, as well.
IIHF World Junior Championships Under 20 Games 2009-10
Kempny and Gudas were reunited when both were members of the Czech Republic team in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships. Both earned two assists in the tournament. They both also represented the Czech Republic in other international competitions that season as well. Gudas was selected for the 2008-09 World Junior games, but Kempny was not selected that year.
Norfolk Admirals 2011-12 Season
Both Radko Gudas and Richard Panik were drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, with Gudas being drafted in the third round (pick #66) in 2008 and Panik in the second round (pick #52) in 2009. They became teammates on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, who had set a record for longest winning streak in AHL history, 28 games, and went onto win the Calder Cup in 2012.
During their time with Norfolk, Gudas and Panik shared a house in Virginia Beach with two other teammates; i.e. Ondrej Palat who is Czech, and Jaroslav Janus who was Slovakian. The four players enjoyed their time together near the ocean and did water activities together, such as surfing, during their time off from hockey. With the long playoff run, the players were able to bond together.
Syracuse Chiefs 2012-13 Season
Despite the Admirals’ success, the Tampa Bay Lightning decided to no longer use the Admirals as their AHL team and, instead agreed to a partnership with the Syracuse Crunch, a partnership that is still in effect to this day. Thus, the Bolts sent their prospects to Syracuse for the 2012-13 season, which included Gudas, Panik and Ondrei Palat. Jaroslav Janus did not return to North America that season and signed a contract with the KHL. That was also the season where the NHL lockout was going on, causing the season not to start until January 2013, so most of the former Norfolk Admirals on their previous year’s championship team became members of the Syracuse Crunch. Both Gudas and Panik were called up to Tampa Bay that season, each playing in more than 20 games.
Tampa Bay Lightning 2013-2014 Season
Both Gudas and Panik were called up to the Lightning during the latter part of the 2012-13 season and played there in 2013-14. Gudas remained with Tampa Bay for the entire 2013-14 season. Panik ended up playing in 13 games for the Crunch. He failed to make the Lightning’s roster for 2014-15 and ended up being waived and claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Gudas remained with Tampa Bay until he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers before the 2015-16 season.
IIHF Under 18 World Championship Playoffs
The IIHF Under 18 World Championship playoffs was held in April 2014. In that tournament, the United States beat the Czechs for the Gold Medal. That team from the Czech Republic, who won the Silver, included winger Jakub Vrana and goaltender, Vitek Vanecek. Vrana had the most goals of any of the participants in that tournament. Coaches named Vrana as the best forward on the Czech team and Vanecek as the best goalie on the Czech team even though neither won the award for best overall player.
2014 NHL Entry Draft
In the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Capitals drafted the Czech winger, Jakub Vrana, in the first round with the thirteenth overall pick. Just one round later, they drafted goaltender, Vitek Vanecek, with pick #39. They had traded two picks with the Buffalo Sabres to trade up in the draft. So, now the two Czechs who were teammates in the IIHF Under 19 World Championship playoffs would be in the same organization.
IIHF World Junior Championships Under 20 Games 2014-15
In the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships Vrana and Vanecek were reunited as teammates on the team representing the Czech Republic. In that series, the Czech team was eliminated in the Quarter Finals. Vrana had 2 goals and 1 assist in that tournament.
Once the 2014-15 season in the Swedish League was over, Jakub Vrana came over to North America and played in three games with the Hershey Bears as part of a Player Tryout Contract. He remained with them throughout the playoffs where he played in 10 games, getting 2 goals and 4 assists. He played with the Bears for the 2015-16 season and had 16 goals and 18 assists in 36 games as the Bears made it to the Calder Cup Finals. Vrana played in 21 games for the Bears in the playoffs as he got 8 goals and 6 assists. Meanwhile, Vanacek had come over to North America and had spent the 2015-16 season with the South Carolina Stingrays. He did play with the Bears for one game and rejoined them during their Calder Cup playoff run.
Vrana and Vanecek were reunited with the Bears for much of the 2016-17 season. Vanacek played the entire season with the Bears, While Vrana was called up for 21 games with the Washington Capitals at various points throughout the season. Since Vrana learned the English language quicker, he often acted as a translator for Vanacek. When both players were with Hershey, they were comedy gold together.
Chicago Blackhawks From 2016 Though 2018
Midway through the 2015-16 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Richard Panik to the Chicago Blackhawks. He remained with the Blackhawks for just over two years when he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in January 2018. During his tenure with the Blackhawks, he became a close friend of Michal Kempny. There are numerous pictures on Instagram to document their friendship.
Kempny had played his professional hockey career mainly in the Czech League but played with the Omsk Avangard in the KHL in 2015-16. He signed a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks before the 2016-17 season and played with them unti he was traded to the Caps at the 2018 trade deadline.
Philadelphia Flyers From 2015 Through 2019
During his tenure with the Flyers, Gudas became friends with fellow Czech, forward Jakub Voracek. He also became friends with former Capitals goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, who had also joined the Flyers that year in free agency. Neuvirth even started dating Gudas’ younger sister, Karolina, who he eventually married. Gudas and Neuvirth remained teammates from the 2015-16 season through the 2018-19 season. Gudas was traded to the Caps at the end of the 2018-19 season. Neuvirth became a free agent and signed a Player Tryout (PTO) agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs but was beset with injuries, a common theme during the NHL career of Michal Neuvirth.
2017 IIHF World Championships
Gudas and Kempny became teammates again when representing the Czech Republic in the 2017 IIHF World Championships that took place after the regular NHL season was over. While Gudas was then still with the Flyers, Kempny was playing with the Chicago Blackhawks. This particular Czech team also featured two other future Capitals: Jakub Jerabek and Dmitrij Jaskin. That year, the Czechs lost in the quarterfinals.
2017-18 and 2018-19 Washington Capitals
Jakub Vrana had debuted with the Caps during the 2016-17 season but became a full time member during the 2017-18 season when the Caps won the Stanley Cup. At the trading deadline of 2017-18, the Caps acquired both Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerebek. Kempny became a defense partner with John Carlson almost immediately and seemed to have found a home. The Caps signed him to a contract extension. Fellow Czech, Jerebek, never could establish himself in a permanent role with the Caps and left the team in free agency.
That summer, the Stanley Cup was brought to Kempny’s home town of Luzice and then to Vrana’s home in Prague.
Just before the 2018-19 season, the Capitals claimed Dimitrij Jaskin off waivers. Jaskin never did find himself a permanent role with the Caps and played very sparingly towards the end of the season. He ended up signing a contract with Moscow Dynamo in the KHL for the 2019-20 season. Jaskin, whose heritage is also Russian, bonded with the Caps’ Russians, such as Dmitry Orlov, during his tenure with the Caps.
2019 IIHF World Championships
With the Capitals eliminated in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, Jakub Vrana and Dmitrij Jaskin joined the Czech team for the IIHF World Championships. Radko Gudas also could join the Czechs for the 2019 Czech team since the Philadelphia Flyers had missed the playoffs. Of all the ironies, Jaskin had a larger role than Vrana for the Czech team by the end of the competition, even though Vrana had established himself in the Top 6 for the Caps that season while Jaskin could not establish a role for himself on the Caps.
2019-20 Washington Capitals
Prior to the 2019-20, the Washington Capitals traded long time defenseman Matt Niskanan to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas. They also signed Richard Panik in free agency. This had the net effect of reuniting Panik and Gudas, the old teammates who had been with the Tampa Bay Lightning and their affiliates, and also reunited Gudas with Kempny, his old teammate on various Czech Nationals teams.
Another Czech could be joining the Caps, soon. Goalie, Vitek Vanacek, drafted back in 2014, has not yet been called up to Washington. But it would not be surprising if he becomes the Caps’ backup goalie for the 2020-21 season. For him, it would be a reunion of Vrana.
By Diane Doyle