The Buffalo Sabres went through a transition with their minor league coaching staff, as former captain Michael Peca and defenseman Mike Weber took NHL jobs in New York and St. Louis. Peca had a significant impact on the young forwards in Rochester, including 2022 first-rounder Jiri Kulich, and the club looked for someone with vast NHL experience to give their young prospects a helping hand.
Enter Vaclav Prospal, a veteran of 1108 games with seven NHL clubs. The 48-year-old coached three seasons in Czechia as head coach of HC Motor Ceske Budejovice, but was out of action for two years and was looking to get back into coaching. Mutual connections to Rochester coach Seth Appert led Prospal to the Amerks.
“My third year there was a disaster, (with) COVID and (a bad) win/loss (record). It was awful. I finished the season on a barstool on the bench because halfway through the year I had to go for a knee surgery and I needed time to get into a better mental mindset and better physical shape.” Prospal said. “I didn’t think it was gonna take me two years to kind of get back, but it was needed.”
Good Morning ☕️ from Jiri Kulich, who pounded home his 24th goal of the season last night. pic.twitter.com/slD2Ij8qO6
— Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) April 15, 2023
After being hired and familiarizing himself with the Amerks and watching their games in the Calder Cup Playoffs, Prospal reached out to Kulich.
Connecting With Kulich
“When I found out that he trains in my hometown over the summer, I went over and introduced myself. I walked into the locker room and I made a mistake, there were a lot of players that I used to play with and they all started saying hello, so I invited him to come home for lunch because my family was gone, so we just sat down we talked hockey.” Prospal said. “(Jiri) doesn’t look like a 19-year-old. Even though I have not been coaching for the last two years, I follow hockey closely (at every) level and he’s an up-and-coming player from the Czech Republic. There is a lot of media coverage and he had a great season. He was one of the top dogs at the canceled (World Junior) tournament.”
The 19-year-old, who is still eligible to play for Czechia in the upcoming World Junior in Sweden this December, is in the mix to make the Sabres out of training camp after scoring 24 goals as a rookie in the AHL and seven goals in 12 playoff games. That is a distinct possibility since he has been playing against more experienced competition since he was 16.
“The first thing that stands out is his skating ability and his shot. I remember coaching (against him) in the Czech Republic, he skated against us and he was already playing men’s hockey when he was a fairly young age. So there’s got to be something special about him and being drafted in the first round, you need to be special.” Prospal said.