Dominik Kubalik

Kubalik eyes dream debut as Blackhawks play Flyers in Prague

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PRAGUE — Czech winger Dominik Kubalik has waited six years for a chance to play in the NHL. He never expected his debut would take place at home.

The 24-year-old Kubalik is set to play his first game for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague on Friday in the teams’ season-opener, as part of the NHL’s 2019 Global Series.

Having been drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, Kubalik has had to wait until now for a chance to actually play in the North American league and spent last season playing in Switzerland. The Kings shipped him to Chicago for a fifth-round pick in January, setting up a surreal homecoming this week.

”It’s going to be a great experience, especially for my family,” Kubalik said. ”A dream come true. It’s something very special.”

For Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton, though, there were no sentimental reasons for including Kubalik in the opening-night roster.

”The thing I’ve been impressed with is his work ethic,” Colliton said. ”He’s not a passenger out there. We think he can produce offensively but he can also play on a defensive line and give the line some punch, so that’s a good sign for him and he shown he can be valuable in different ways.”

It’s the third straight year – and eighth overall – that the NHL returns to Europe as part of its efforts to grow the local fan base in hockey-mad countries like the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland and others.

The interest remains huge. Even the training sessions for the teams on Thursday were sold out – as is Friday’s game at Prague’s O2 Arena. Kubalik won’t be the only Czech player on the ice, with Philadelphia winger Jakub Voracek also excited about playing in front of a home crowd.

Voracek played two season-opening games in Stockholm with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010 against the San Jose Sharks, but said this trip was more special.

”When I started to play (in the NHL) I never expected I’m going to get a chance to play here,” Voracek said. ”It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Chicago also has Czech center David Kampf.

For the Flyers, it’s their first trip to Europe for a game. Chicago came in 2009 to open the season with a couple of games against the Florida Panthers in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, before going on to lift the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.

Defenseman Brent Seabrook was on the team back then, and is hoping for a similar experience.

”Ten years ago when we were over here it was a wild atmosphere and I think we’re looking for the same kind of atmosphere on Friday,” Seabrook said.

Chicago also lifted the Cup in 2013 and 2015 but missed the playoffs last season. For Colliton, the trip also represents a good team-building exercise as the Blackhawks try to get the season off to a good start.

”I think that’s one of the reasons why you go for this trip is for the guys to have some time together,” Colliton said. ”We’re going to learn way more in the first game than probably we learned the whole three weeks of preseason. I’m excited about that and we’ll react accordingly. So that’s exciting.”

The Flyers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1975 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in seven seasons.

Alain Vigneault was hired as coach to fix that. He might be known for quick fixes but he knows there’s work to be done after the Flyers lost to Swiss team HC Lausanne 4-3 in an exhibition game on Monday.

”Obviously, right now we’re in the process of making the evaluation that we need for this team to be successful,” Vigneault said.

Far from Czech home, Kubalik adjusts to life with Blackhawks

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CHICAGO — Dominik Kubalik is leaning on David Kampf while he transitions to life in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks. He peppers his Czech countryman with all sorts of questions.

”I think he’s a little bit mad at me right now,” a grinning Kubalik said, ”because I’m still asking ‘What’s that?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ and ‘Where’s the training room?’ Stuff like that.”

The Blackhawks have their own questions about Kubalik, one of the biggest variables in their pursuit of the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2017.

It sure looks as if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane might play together on Chicago’s top line, and close friends and former juniors teammates Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat are a good bet for the second line. Kubalik is in the mix to play alongside one of those potent duos.

It would be quite an opportunity to walk into as a 24-year-old rookie, but Kubalik isn’t looking ahead.

”Everything is pretty new,” he said. ”I’m just trying to get used to it as quick as possible. But I feel great.”

Kubalik skated with Strome for at least part of Saturday’s session on the second day of training camp. Strome played against Kubalik at the world championships and saw him in the Ontario Hockey League a few years ago.

”He’s got a real hard shot, fast skater, some good hands,” Strome said. ”So I think he’s going to add a different element to our team. He’s got a great one-timer. He knows where to go and knows how to find open ice. Big body, too, so it’s a lot of good attributes to have in a player.”

Coach Jeremy Colliton said Kubalik has been ”as advertised” so far.

”It’s going to be somewhat of an adjustment for him,” Colliton said. ”He has played over here in North America before, so that’s good. But it’s still going to take some practices and games.”

Kubalik was drafted by Los Angeles in the seventh round in 2013. But the 6-foot-2 winger never played for the Kings, who shipped him to Chicago for a fifth-round pick in January.

He had spent most of his career in the Czech Republic before playing for HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland for part of the 2017-18 season and again last year.

Kubalik had 25 goals and 32 assists in 50 games for the Swiss club last season, and then had a goal and five assists in five playoff games. He also had six goals and six assists in 10 games at the worlds.

The move to Ambri-Piotta was a key moment for Kubalik in his journey to the NHL.

”I was still thinking that I just need to make another step in my career,” he said. ”So I decided to, if there was a chance to go to Switzerland, felt pretty good about it. So I tried it and it actually worked pretty well.”

Kubalik plans to stick to his strengths in his transition to the NHL.

”I think I’m playing pretty simple,” he said. ”I don’t want to handle the puck for a while. I want to just put it as quick as possible to the net. If there is a chance to shoot, I’m just going to take it.”

While Kubalik is learning his way around Chicago, there was at least one familiar face in the locker room when he joined the Blackhawks. He played with Kampf on a U-20 team in the Czech Republic a couple years ago.

He also could make his NHL debut in his home country when Chicago begins the season in Prague on Oct. 4 against Philadelphia.

”I don’t really want to think about it. It’s still pretty far away,” he said. ”But obviously I know it would be probably amazing.”