Monday, April 18, 2016
Radek Faka keeps climbing the ladder to success with Dallas
By Larry Wigge
Radek Faksa is a lot older than 21.
A offensive center by trade. But his indoctrination in the Dallas Stars lineup behind two of the most productive centers Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza in the NHL has been a slow progress. He's learning his trade ... on the fly.
Like he was supposed to.
After scoring just one goal in his first 36 games, the 6-3, 210-pound center scored twice in the past four games.
Faksa scored by driving the net off the rush and putting home the rebound on Antoine Roussel shot to give the Stars 2-1 lead in the game they would go onto win 5-2 over Nashville on March 29.
"It was just sheer determination. He's had some great looks," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "If you keep getting the opportunities, sooner or later they are going to go in. I think he is getting to the right places."
After getting five goals and seven assists in 45 regular season games, Faksa scored in his first playoff game -- a 4-0 conquest of
the Minnesota Wild.
Faksa ended up being credited, conservatively, with three hits and one blocked shot, though it seemed like he made a much greater impact in his own zone with his relentless pursuit and mature positioning. He also won 59 percent of his draws, helping Dallas establish a clear edge in possession.
In all, it was a terrific playoff debut, and one that sets Faksa up as a player to watch as Dallas advances through the tournament.
There is no timetable on his offensive output. This is the way GM Jim Nill and the Detroit Red Wings worked a player into the lineup. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk worked their way up the ladder.
Slowly ... not before he was ready. A player has to learn the defensive side of the game first.
"He's come in and played the way everyone envisioned him to play," Nill explained. "He's a big, heavy body. He plays the right way. He's strong on draws. He's strong down low. I know Lindy can trust him playing against anybody."
The kid taught himself English. He raised himself through his pre-teen and teenage years. He spent six seasons living in a hotel-cum-boarding-school setting and playing for youth teams with Trinec, Czech Republic.
"I moved from my hometown of Opava at 11 years old," he explained. "My hometown didn't have that good of a hockey program and my mom, she couldn't drive me everyday there, so I had to live there in the hotel by myself.
"I think it has helped me with my life because I learned to do things on my own -- I learned how to do laundry and shop for groceries, make food. It was pretty good for my future, I guess."
Faksa was born in Vitkov. He was the Stars first-round pick, 13th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft after scoring 29 goals and 37 assists for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League.
He was considered a two-way player compared to Bobby Holik, but said his favorite players growing up were Jaromir Jagr and Datsyuk.
"I really like Pavel Datsyuk, but I think I play like Eric Staal," Faksa said in a clear, concise way.
Datsyuk and Staal were both good comparison. Steady. Offensive and defensive responsibilties. Both strong and workmanlike.
Then, Faksa let it all out, saying, "My whole life ... my dream ... has been to play in the NHL. It's incredible."
Dallas feels they lucked out when eight of the 10 players selected in the 2012 draft were defensemen.
"Filip Forsberg (selected 11th overall) was an intriguing pick, but when Faksa fell to us it was a no-brainer," then Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said. "He's a big, strong kid. He's a character kid."
Character. His parents, Alena, his mother, Jiri, his father, were divorced and he was living with his mother and two siblings, struggling to make it in Opava in a poor area of the Czech Republic until he moved to Kitchener.
Ruff needed to see Faksa play once in a preseason game.
"He just needs that little extra step, that little extra quickness," Ruff said. "You could see that his hands and some of that is just a quicker step that will come. But he defends well."
Leading to Game 2 of the playoffs and Faksa's emerging responsibilities, like taking the final faceoff in Game 2.
"It means he's got a lot of trust in the coach is what it means. I like what I've done, he's got a lot of confidence in his game and I trust him in every situation, which is a good thing," said Ruff. "He's got a big body and right now that's his role for me, is go out there and take those.
"If he's having a good night, we wanted to know who the best faceoff guy at that point was against certain guys and he was the guy we wanted to go to."
On Faksa winning that final draw clean.
"You got to take a lot of pride in those little 1-on-1 battles. That's a big faceoff for us," Ruff continued. "When a young guy goes out there, it can become something he'd get criticized for, but in my case he's earned every minute of ice time I've put him out there for. There's going to be a time when he loses one, but it isn't because he's won his majority."
There was a time, perhaps, around January 1. It was Radek Faksa's second recall from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
He knew it was the right time ...
"I wasn't expecting it at all," he said, before suiting up against the Panthers around New Year's Dave.
This, indeed, was the time when Faksa was in Dallas for the long rung. He has earned it. Up the ladder.
"The day before, he had been in Illinois, where the Texas Stars were playing against the Rockford IceHogs," he explained. "Faksa had even finished his pregame skate for that afternoon's tilt before he learned he'd been called up."
Sometimes you bring along a prospect at their pace, it means more to a young player ... something they will remember always.
Jim Nill's way of promoting players the right way works. Just like it has for so many years in Detroit.