7 February, 18:52

Olympic hockey 1-on-1: Michael Frolik, Czech jewel in the arctic

Olympic hockey 1-on-1: Michael Frolik, Czech jewel in the arctic

By David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VR)— “Super.” That was recently-appointed Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice’s response when we asked him his opinion of winger Michael Frolik after Thursday’s WPG-WSH game, and inquired if he had a wish list of things for Frolik to improve on, or had been expecting more from him. The nearly 26 year-old Frolik is not an elite scorer, and has never been an NHL All-Star. But he has a well-rounded game, and is steadily carving out the reputation of a high quality NHLer. Coach Maurice certainly appears convinced of that.

Frolik was a certain choice for the Czech Olympic hockey team, and hockey fans around the word will get a good look at him playing in Sochi over the next two weeks. We think he is a player who deserves much more attention than he is getting, and we have several reasons to say so.

Flashy to the eye, solid in the stats

It was Frolik’s quickness and offensive instincts that caught our attention the first time we watched him, several years ago. He put up more than twenty goals in his first two years in the league, with FLA, and is on pace to break that barrier again this year with WPG.

Frolik chalk it up

Chalk it up: scoring on Calgary       Photo credit: © Marianne Helm, AFP

More important, Frolik demonstrated his flexibility with CHI in last year’s Stanley Cup-winning campaign. He adapted smoothly to 3rd and 4th line responsibilities beneath CHI’s high-profile Top 6, and became a key PK performer. He definitely came up clutch in the playoffs, doubling his scoring rate during the postseason, and being on ice fully 50% of the time the team was shorthanded.

Finally, stats reveal something you wouldn’t expect from a brief look at Frolik and his flashy skating and passing: he is a puck possession star. His Corsi-for percentage (percentage of shot attempts taken by WPG, not the opponent, when he is on the ice) in 5-on-5 play is 52%, 3.5% better than WPG’s team average. Moreover, his 5-on-5 Corsi has exceeded the WPG team average in eight of the last nine games, and by a huge margin of twenty percent or more in four of those. No wonder Paul Maurice is pleased.

Frolik’s teammates ought to be pleased too. Inspecting the Corsi-for numbers of the ten Winnipeg Jets who play the most with Frolik, eight of them decline when playing without him, by an average of four percent, which is a lot.

This trend is not new. Territorial tracking of the puck when Frolik is on the ice over the last five seasons shows the puck moving forward when he plays: the puck finishes in the offensive zone frequently after Frolik’s shifts (about 47% of the time the puck was in the offensive zone when Frolik’s shifts began, and it was in that zone more than 51% of the time when his shifts ended).

“The only reason he's now a Jet is because with the cap dropping, he became a luxury item”

– “Fork” of HockeeNight (per Arctic Ice Hockey)

The Chicago Blackhawks did not want to part with Frolik, and he would have been happy to help CHI shoot for a second straight Cup this year. But if he had to go anywhere, Winnipeg was the perfect choice, because his youth hockey buddy Ondrej Pavelec plays there (Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press detailed the Frolik-Pavelec friendship in an article Thursday). We found Frolik for a relaxed discussion after practice in Washington on Thursday, and learned a lot about his development as a player.

Frolik CHI

They miss him: Frolik acknowledging cheers on first return to CHI, Nov. 2013

Photo credit: © Jonathan Daniel, AFP

Down time with Michael Frolik, Sochi-bound

Kerans: You are well known as a player from a young age, but I don’t know about you from when you started out. So you were born in Kladno, and just started out there at the local club?

Frolik: Yeah, I started there, and have been there until I was 18. I played all my childhood there, and played with Pavel (current Winnipeg teammate and goalie Ondrej Pavelec) in the same team.

Kerans: About what age were you when you went to the Kladno club?

Frolik: I think I was around six. But I skated before, for sure, outside.

Kerans: Outside the apartment {the courtyards between sizeable apartment buildings often have small outdoor rinks for pick-up hockey}.

Frolik: Yeah.


Kladno, city center

Kerans: What about when you began, was it all difficult, would they take almost anyone when you were starting, in 1994 or 1995, was it difficult to join the team, or was it very easy for you?

Frolik: I think the city where I grew up was pretty much a hockey town, so I think it wasn’t very hard. We found good friends there, and our parents were great friends too {meaning especially the Pavelecs and the Froliks}, and we got a good group going there, and Ondrej and I kind of stuck together all the way until I was 18.

Kerans: Do you have a brother or sister?

Frolik: I have one brother. He plays hockey too.

Kerans: Older or younger?

Frolik: Older, he’s 31 years old.

Kerans: He’s playing professionally too?

Frolik: Yeah, he plays in the Czech Extraliga {the top league in the Czech Republic}.

Kerans: And did you have hockey players in your family before, maybe an uncle or your father?

Frolik: Yeah my father played until he was like 30 years old, so we are kind of a hockey family.

Kerans: A simple thing, but how close were you to the rink? Was it very convenient, or difficult every day? How did you do it?

Frolik: I lived like 10 minutes away from Kladno in a small village {Kamenne Zehrovice}. My mother didn’t work so she always drove me back and forth to school and hockey, so she was the driver.

Kerans: But what about your brother? He’s older than you, so did she have to go twice for the both of you, or were you both (practicing) at the same time?

Frolik: My brother was older so he usually took buses, but {smiling} I was the spoiled one, so she drove me around.

Kerans: What about summertime? Did you play a lot of football {soccer}?

Frolik: Yes, until I was 13 years old I played both. In summer I played soccer.

Kerans: Did they want you to specialize, did the coaches really want you in soccer? Or maybe you weren’t so good?

Frolik: Uh, I wasn’t that bad. But I think we were a hockey family, so, you know, stick to hockey, and it seems it was the better choice.

Kerans: It worked!

Frolik: (chuckling) Yeah!

Kerans: There’s a moment when you leave the Czech Republic, to play (Junior) in Quebec, and it’s a big decision. How did you make the decision, how could it happen?

Frolik: definitely, I was really thinking about it, whether I should go before the draft or after. But I waited. I played in the Czech league for Kladno, and got drafted. And after that I said to myself if I want to make it easier to get to the next level then it’s better to go to Junior and learn the language, and learn a new style of hockey.

Kerans: But they were speaking French in Quebec?

Frolik: Yeah they did, but I got an English family, an English billet, so that was much easier for me.

Kerans: In the locker room in Quebec, would they speak to you in French or in English?

Frolik QUE

With the Rimouski Oceanic in 2008

Photo credit: © RicLaf

Frolik: I was there with a Slovak guy, so it was much easier. We had teachers together, we spoke the same language (to each other), so it was nice. But in the room they spoke both languages. The coach was half French, half English, so he spoke both.

Kerans: And your mother and your father, they were okay with you leaving home at 18? It’s a long way to go (to Quebec).

Frolik: I think so (they were okay with me leaving).

Kerans: But your brother didn’t do that, he stayed (in Czech Republic), yeah?

Frolik: No, he went too, to Junior. He was in the Quebec league too, he played in Drummondville and Moncton…

Kerans: So he was the first, he went over, and that made it easier for you.

Frolik: Exactly. So he gave me some advice. And through my career he has helped me a lot, because he was always ahead of me. So it was nice to have him, for sure.

Kerans: You did a nice interview with Pirati Chomutov {the Czech team Frolik played for during the 2012 half-season NHL lockout}, I hope I’ve pronounced it correctly. I think they asked you 10 questions, but it was in Czech—I can speak Russian, but not Czech. One question that I understood from the translation from when they did it in English with one of your teammates, Brett Palin, was “What was your most electrifying fan moment?” Do you remember what you said?

Frolik: You mean over there?

Kerans: No I think in hockey in general, was what they asked you. But I couldn’t understand the answer, it was in Czech. Do you remember what you told them? Your most exciting moment in hockey? I think it might be winning the Stanley Cup!

Frolik: Yeah! {laughing} For sure. It was last year, to win the Stanley Cup.

Kerans: But they asked you before you won the Cup.

Frolik: Yeah, they did, yeah. So the biggest moment was probably the World Championships, where we twice won bronze, that was an experience.

Frolik WC

Battling for the homeland in the 2012 World Championship, here vs. Slovakia

Photo credit: © Alexey Filippov, RIA Novosti

Kerans: I think they also asked you “what’s the hardest thing about hockey?” And your teammate said, “it’s losing.” I don’t know what you would say, and maybe it depends on your mood? Sometimes physically, it hurts. Sometimes maybe it’s losing. Or maybe something else—being away from Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic?

Frolik: No, like you said, I think the worst thing is when you are losing games. The mood after games when you are losing, that’s the worst. I hate that feeling, you know, and so I always do everything I can do to win the game.

Kerans: You know, you won the Stanley Cup, and there’s a famous commercial in the United States and Canada {“Because it’s the Cup”}, where they interviewed the players after they won the Cup and they ask them to say what it’s like—and they can’t say a word. And that’s why the commercial is so powerful—they can’t express it. I won’t ask you, but I’ll ask you what you did with the Stanley Cup. You had 24 hours with it. Did you take it home?

Frolik Beyond words

Beyond words. Because it’s the Cup.         Photo credit: © Jared Wickerham, AFP

Frolik: Yeah, I had it back home, yeah. Like you said, for 24 hours, and that was something special, to spend it in my home…

Kerans: Your brother was there too?

Frolik: Yeah, for sure. All my family, all my friends. We brought it through Kladno, to show the people, sign some autographs, took some pictures at home, in my bed, in my pool. So it was great.

Kerans: You had a spectacular moment, it was one of the biggest hits I’ve ever seen anyone take. I’m sure you remember, it was Jordin Tootoo, it was in Nashville. But you looked fine right after that. Tell me about it.

Frolik: No, it hurt, it hurt for sure. Obviously I got up, but I think I got lucky there, even to get up.

Kerans: He didn’t hit you in the head, right, he hit you right in the middle (of your chest)?

Frolik: Yeah, but my head got kind of twisted after it. I couldn’t move my neck like for two months after that. That was a hard hit.

Frolik Tootoo

One of the most explosive hits in NHL history       Photo credit: ©Frederick Breedon, AFP

Kerans: Now your (neck is) okay?

Frolik: Yeah, I’m fine.

Kerans: You know, I played a lot of hockey, and one of the things I thought I really liked was when someone hit me really hard and I fly, but I’m not hurt at all. It was a good feeling. I never asked anyone about that, but have you had that experience? I mean it’s okay, you’re fine, you keep playing.

Frolik: Yeah, for sure, sometimes I think you have to take the hit, you know, to make some play, wait a second longer. And you have to be able to take the hit. If I make a good play, and I take a hit, it’s good.

Kerans: Last two questions here. They didn’t take you in (the Czech Olympic team in) 2010 but you had good seasons with Florida, you were a powerful player already. How did it happen—were they speaking to you in 2009, 2010, did they talk to you? Or was it behind closed doors, you never knew what the Czech hockey federation was thinking? Did they talk to you in 2009 about maybe playing in Vancouver?

Frolik: No, not really. I think that was a different coach there (Vladimír Růžička), and you know I think I was still young. I mean, I had a pretty good year…

Kerans: You would have been the youngest forward by two years…

Frolik: Yeah, exactly. And I think he maybe took the experienced guys. But I knew I still had time, and eventually it happened right now, and I’m very excited.

Kerans: You played with (coach Peter) DeBoer {currently head coach in New Jersey, formerly in Florida}, who is a famous coach for defense. Did he teach you a lot of defense? You have some very good statistical numbers on defense. Other teams don’t get chances when you are on the ice, the puck goes forward. People appreciate it. Maybe it’s just natural, because you are a good player. But maybe it’s a coach like DeBoer--did he work a lot with you on defense when you were young? Or he just trusted you?

Frolik: I think defense I learned pretty much in Chicago. But Peter DeBoer was a good coach too. He gave me a chance in Florida, he played me a lot, and I have to be thankful to him. He was a great coach, and I have to thank him for the opportunity he gave me. It was great.

Frolik flash

Showing some of the flash that got him to the NHL, as a rookie with FLA

Photo credit: ©Phillip MacCallum, AFP

Kerans: Last question, I guess. You are preparing now to play Washington {Frolik and I spoke at about noon on the day of Winnipeg-Washington game}. Soon you have to fly a long way to prepare to play with the national team. Do you get a few days together to get organized? Have they given you a lot of instructions, a lot of information, or is it still a mystery to you? Will you practice in Czech Republic for a few days first?

Frolik: No we are going straight to Russia, straight there…

Kerans: And just try your best to become a team?

Frolik: Yeah we got like one or two practices before the first game, so it’s going to be quick. We had some (preparatory) camp in the summer, so we went over the system a little bit there. But it’s going to be quick, two practices and we go.

Kerans: You have played with Elias and Jagr before, right? They are famous names. You guys get along, good communication on the ice, no problem?

Frolik: Oh I think so. You know Jagr, he’s…

Kerans: Does he talk to you a lot? Or do they trust you (your on-ice decisions) too?

Frolik: Yeah, I think, hopefully they trust me. Jagr, you know, he’s a different guy, he’s somebody who is special, he’s on his own…

Kerans: He smiles a lot!

Frolik: {laughing} Yeah, it’s true, he can make some jokes, for sure. And Elias is a good guy.

Kerans: Alright, I want to wish you luck.

Frolik: Yeah, thank you, I appreciate it.

hockey, NHL, Sochi Olympics, VOR's NHL, Michael Frolik, Winnipeg Jets, Frolik interview
    and share via