Today in Sweden, the Czech hockey team will enter the era under head coach Radim Rulík. The goal of the Czechs will be defended by either the debutant Jakub Málek or the owner of the only start for the national team Dominik Pavlát. The coach took a rather unusual pair to the traditional opener of the Karjala Cup season.
Rulík left proven goalkeepers at home, such as Roman Willa, Dominik Furch or the extra-league king in the success rate of saves Dominik Frodlo. He called up his namesake Pavlát from Pilsen and Málka from the Finnish club Ilves Tampere from the domestic competition.
Pavlát, who will celebrate his 24th birthday on Saturday, caught for the national team this spring in the Euro Hockey Challenge match against Germany, Málek, who is three years younger, is going to the national team meeting for the very first time.
“Málek is a promising goalkeeper with a great body, he caught on in Finland and we see no reason not to give him a chance. We want to give it to Pavlát as well,” Rulík said. “We don’t take it as a risk at all, we want to think about the future as well,” added national team goalkeeper coach Ondřej Pavelec.
Málek, a native of Kroměříž, was selected by New Jersey in the fourth round of the NHL draft two years ago. At that time he was catching in the first league in Vsetín, he finished the 2021/22 season with excellent numbers under two conceded goals per game and a save success rate of over 93 percent.
And he continues to defend the yellow-green colors in Finland, last year he moved from Vsetín to Ilves Tampere, which has recently been heavily betting on Czech players, especially goalkeepers.
Lukáš Dostál took off here, Málek alternated in goal with Marko Langhamer last year and now has younger goalkeeper colleagues Patrik Hamrla and Ondřej Bizoně in the team.
In autumn two years ago, he became famous for scoring a goal in Vsetín’s match against Havířov. In the first league, he became the first ever goalkeeper to score a clean sheet.
Jakub Málek’s goal in the first league. | Video: Youtube.com
“I really wanted it and now I’m enjoying the attention. It’s pleasant,” smiled Málek in an interview with Aktuálně.cz.
Among other things, he also talked about how he supports the Forest Green Rovers team from the fourth English league in football. This club presents itself as the most ecological in the world. The stadium offers only vegetarian food, they cut the grass there with electric mowers.
“Their jerseys are made from bamboo fibers and also from coffee bean waste. Their philosophy is close to me, they have become close to my heart,” described the goalkeeper, who is not related to former national team player Roman Málek in any way.
In the program Příklep on the Sport.cz website on Wednesday, he admitted that he has a lot of rituals. “The day before the match, I always have donuts from a Finnish supermarket. And always the same dinner. In the morning, then the same breakfast and snack, children’s snack,” he said.
In Vsetín, he also adhered to the plum ritual. “I need a shot an hour and three quarters before the match. But always only one. With Máša (teammate from the club and the national team Dominik Mašín, note ed.) we always put aside somewhere. It’s a tradition, it warms the body,” he explained.
Málk’s national team colleague Pavlát was born in Tábor, but entered big-time hockey through the youth team in Chomutov. The extra league, which Málek completely avoided, he caught for the first time at the age of 18 and since then he has made 90 starts in it.
Since 2020, he has been working in Pilsen, where last season he shared the work with Miroslav Svoboda, and in the current year he shared the work equally with the Slovakian Samuel Hlavaj. Unlike Málk, he did not go through the NHL draft, but he was invited to Colorado’s training camp in the summer.
“It’s a completely different world there. But I think I got closer to the NHL. We had some interviews and I have news that the coaches liked me,” mentioned Pavlát after returning from overseas.
Now, together with Málek, they will kick off the national team season, at the end of which there is a huge attraction in the form of the home world championship. Each of them will get at least one match at the Karjala Cup.
Today at 19:00 the Czechs will play a tournament against the Swedes at their rink in Växjö. Then they will move to Tampere, Finland, to Málk’s home stadium, where they will face the Finns on Saturday and the Swiss on Sunday.