The last two years have been “crazy” for Washington Capitals’ defenseman Michal Kempny. It started with a torn thigh muscle that required the better part of a year of rehabilitation before he would return to the ice. Then he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon preparing for the 2020-21 season which required another six months of rehabilitation.
Kempny would then suffer another setback when he tweaked a muscle in a freak accident during a conditioning stint in Hershey when he collided with an ice maintenance worker. He also experienced the birth of his first child, son Adam, and responded to a tornado that left serious damages in its wake in his hometown in the Czech Republic. “It was crazy,” said Kempny in a recent interview with Czech media.
However, things may be finally coming together for the Capitals’ blueliner, as his current rehabilitation effort seems to be going very well. (Knocks on wood). He even returned to the ice this week for workouts with an Extraliga team in the Czech Republic.
“I’m glad everything is going according to plan. It’s been too much in the last two years. You are constantly struggling with pain or discomfort in certain parts of your body. You can do it for a while, but then it turns into frustration or depression with which you don’t enjoy hockey. You don’t like sports, you’re not happy on the ice. I am now at a stage where I feel good and move without pain,” he told iDNES.cz earlier this week.
When Kempny reports to Capitals training camp in a few weeks, he will be without former teammate and good friend Jakub Vrana. He was surprised by the trade, but understands it’s all part of the business. “I was just talking to him when he signed the new contract in Detroit,” said Kempny. “I was very surprised by the trade. So was Vrana. And his teammates were shocked. But it’s business.”
Kempny almost lost a second “Czech mate” on the team in the recent Seattle expansion draft. But luckily, goaltender Vitek Vanecek would be a member of the Kraken for just one week before he was returned to the Capitals.
“It is always better if you can chat in Czech in the room, order dinner together outside the rink or help each other in various ways. In addition, Vitek is a huge worker. I like his desire to improve. At the same time, he is a very modest boy. I knew he was a good goalkeeper, he just had to wait five or six seasons for a chance. I believe that when he builds on last season, he has a promising future ahead.”
Like many Capitals fans, Kempny waited with anticipation for the re-signing of his Captain, Alex Ovechkin, this summer. However, like most, he knew it was just a matter of time before the “Great 8” would ink a new deal with Washington.
“I think it was very clear that he would sign with us. Ovi is an icon on the club and he has not played anywhere else in the NHL. His second home is Washington and no one can imagine the team without him. The management also wanted to extend the contract with him so that he could complete his career with the club and retire his jersey with a great show. We’re glad it turned out that way,” said Kempny.
Kempny and Ovechkin spend time together as they share space in the Capitals’ locker room, The setup often requires a bit of cleanup on Kempny’s part.
“Ovi always sits next to me in the locker room because I have a six and he wears an eight. And I have to say he’s an incredible brother, but he has things scattered everywhere. It seems to me that I’m just cleaning up after Ovechkin so that nothing will bother me.” (Laughs)
Kempny seems to like the fact that other players on the Capitals draw most of the attention, at least from the media, but it’s nice to occasionally share the spotlight. “I live in complete peace! (smiles) A few times after a game, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by journalists, but it’s true that mostly stars with big contracts experience this,” said Kempny.
The season ahead is an important one for the 30-year-old Kempny, and he knows it. But he’s ready to show the team he deserves a spot in the starting lineup.
“I have an important season ahead of me, but I’m coming back after a one-year break. I want to show all the people who trust me that I deserve a place in the organization, and I want to ask for another contract. I’ll be thirty-one, but I’d like to sign another NHL contract. This is my dream and motivation. But I can’t do it without health.”
Kempny and the Capitals open their 2021-22 campaign on Wednesday October 13 when they host the New York Rangers at Capital One Arena.
By Jon Sorensen