By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – Martin Lojek and Martin Tuma are in a new country, in a new league with a new team and a new coach. That’s a daunting venture, especially for two Czech Republic natives who are still getting used to the culture and language of the United States.
The first-year Florida Everblades’ defensemen, however, won’t be making the transition by themselves. They have each other. The 20-year-olds are close friends. They’ve played together on Czech Republic national teams since they were 16.
Lojek on Tuma: “He’s a good friend. I’m glad he’s here.”
Tuma on Lojek: “It’s nice to have somebody you know. It makes things easier.”
Highly regarded prospects in the NHL Florida Panthers’ system, Lojek and Tuma are expected to make a significant impact for the Blades in 2005-06. The Blades will began their eighth ECHL training camp Monday at Germain Arena.
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Lojek and the 6-4, 216-pound Tuma signed three-year contracts with the Panthers in 2005. Lojek is rated as the Panthers’ 16th-best prospect, according to hockeysfuture.com.
“They’re both big bodies who can move well,” Blades coach Gerry Fleming said. “They have a lot of things to learn, but they definitely have the raw material to work with. It will be a good experience to be at this level. It’s a great level to learn at. I’m sure they’ll be big impact players for our hockey team.”
Lojek, from Z.N. Sazavou, Czech Republic, and Tuma, from Most, Czech Republic, met when they played on the under-16 Czech national team in 2001. The duo played on their nation’s under-17, under-18, under-19 and under-20 squads.
Lojek and Tuma represented their country in the 2004 World Junior Championships in Grand Forks, N.D. The Czech Republic grabbed the bronze medal.
The twosome played on different junior teams in the Ontario Hockey League for the past three years, but stayed in contact via telephone.
Lojek and Tuma have been inseparable since arriving in Southwest Florida last week. They sat next to each other in the locker room after a recent practice, telling jokes in Czech. They’ve helped each other transition to a new country and language.
“The language was the hardest thing,” said Tuma, a fifth-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. “It took me three or four months and everything was fine. I got use to the slang and stuff like that.”
“That’s the biggest difference between Czech and North America,” said Lojek, a fourth-round selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. “I didn’t know what the guys were saying.”
The rookies have a similar playing style. They’re stay-at-home defensemen who are superb skaters. They also like to use their size to their advantage. Tuma, for example, had the third-most penalty minutes (107) for the Sault-St. Marie Greyhounds last season.
Blades goaltender Phil Osaer said that Lojek and Tuma don’t fit the European stereotype because “they’re not afraid to use their muscle.” Blades forward Danny Sisca played against both players in the Ontario Hockey League.
“They’re almost the same player,” Sisca said. “I remember Lojek in Brampton (in the OHL). He has unbelievable vision with the puck and an awesome shot. He’s a player to watch.”
Tuma and Lojek were asked about each other’s strengths. Tuma cited Lojek’s slap shot. Lojek started to talk about Tuma’s passing skills when his friend interrupted him.
“Tell him that I can skate and I can shoot. Hey, why am I not in the NHL?” Tuma said jokingly.
Don’t laugh. Hockeysfuture.com projects Lojek and Tuma to make the NHL. “Lojek’s discipline and size should land him in the NHL,” a scout said on hockeysfuture.com.
But that could be years away. Lojek and Tuma are two of four 20-year-olds on the Blades’ 21-man camp roster. The others are forwards Drew Larman and Stefan Meyer. Florida forward Jeremy Swanson is 21.
“We have a lot of young guys this year,” Fleming said. “There’s definitely going to be a learning curve. There’s no doubt about it. But they’re all eager and excited. I think it will be a lot of fun.”