Richard Nejezchleb leaves for Europe today. ((TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN))
The Brandon Wheat Kings will have to make due without their leading goal-scorer until after Christmas.
Richard Nejezchleb heads home today to try out for the Czech Republic’s national junior team. One of 15 forwards competing for likely 13 spots, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-winger could miss up to nine Wheat King games if he makes the team and competes in the world junior championship in Sweden.
"It’s the experience of a lifetime," said Nejezchleb, who has 19 goals and eight assists in 32 Western Hockey League games this season. "I just want to grab the opportunity and show I’m a good player. I’m not looking on how many players are there; I’m just going to go there and show what I can do and show my best there."
The Czech camp begins on Friday, and the team will head to Sweden on Dec. 19 to prepare for the start of the tournament on Boxing Day.
Nejezchleb, 19, is looking forward to the chance to see his family before Christmas and to reunite with his some of his old friends and former teammates at the camp.
"The jet lag for sure will be a problem, but I think I can get used to it pretty quickly," he said. "I will get to see my family, so it’s nice. I was supposed to stay here for Christmas, so now I see them for two days, so it’s going to be nice."
Following Christmas, the Wheat Kings will also be without forwards Jesse Gabrielle and Braylon Shmyr, who will compete for Team West and Team Pacific, respectively, at the World Under-17 Challenge in Nova Scotia. Should Nejezchleb make the Czech squad, Brandon will temporarily be one forward short of the standard 12 that normally dress for a game, but it’s a trade-off head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon will gladly take.
"It comes with the territory, and I’ve always felt it’s a good sign that you’ve got players that are of interest for those programs," McCrimmon said. "We’re happy for Richard that he’s got the opportunity to play for his country. They don’t traditionally take a lot of CHL players, so I think it’s a reflection of the fact that he’s had a good first half to the season."
The world junior championship runs until Jan. 5, while the under-17 Challenge takes place from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4.
DUMBA DEALT: The Portland Winterhawks, owners of the best record in the WHL, rolled the dice on Tuesday, acquiring the rights to defenceman Mathew Dumba from the Red Deer Rebels. The hard-hitting 19-year-old has spent the season in the National Hockey League with Minnesota, although the Wild will loan him to the Canadian national junior team, and its unknown what they will do with him after that. Dumba totalled 36 goals and 99 points in the previous two WHL seasons, but has only suited up for 13 games with the Wild.
In exchange for a chance to land an impact player on their blue-line, the Winterhawks gave up forward Presten Kopeck, an 18-year-old who has four goals and 10 points in 24 games this season. Greg Meachem of the Red Deer Advocate reports that a number of conditional draft picks are also involved, with the Winterhawks to receive an undisclosed selection in the 2014 WHL bantam draft if Dumba stays in the NHL. Meachem writes that if Dumba joins Portland, with Rebels will get a draft pick in each of the next three years from the Winterhawks.
AROUND THE WHL: Regina C Chandler Stephenson is the WHL player of the week. Stephenson had four goals and two assists in three games, including two goals in a 5-4 loss to the Wheat Kings.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 11, 2013