|David Krejci enters tonight's game against the Senators with points in five straight games. (FILE/Justine Hunt/Globe Staff)|
OTTAWA - David Krejci will hit the ice tonight at Scotiabank Place, just across the Ottawa River from Gatineau, where he first landed via the Czech Republic and played two years of junior hockey.
The area has become an adopted Canadian hometown for the native of Sternberk, Czech Republic, who'll have his billet family present when he brings his five-game scoring streak into tonight's showdown against the Senators.
Krejci, however, almost ended up not coming to Gatineau at all.
While Czech Republic youngsters like teammate Vladimir Sobotka chose to play at home, Krejci itched to play Canadian major junior hockey, influenced by a childhood buddy. Petr Vrana, a fellow native of Sternberk (population 15,000), was picked 42d overall by New Jersey in 2003. Prior to that season, Vrana entered the CHL import draft and was selected by the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads, where he spent his 2002-03 rookie season alongside ex-Bruin Milan Jurcina.
"It's great," Krejci recalled Vrana telling him about junior hockey. "It's a great experience. Even if you never make the NHL, it's a great experience. It's a new life."
Krejci, a year younger than Vrana, considered entering the import draft in 2003-04. But Krejci remained in the Czech Republic one more season because he wanted to compete in the World Under-18 Championships.
"It's a really big deal," Krejci said of the tournament. "I was 17. I didn't know if I'd ever make the NHL or be drafted."
After playing for Kladno, Krejci filled out a Czech roster that included Sobotka and St. Louis Blues prospects Marek Schwarz and Roman Polak and won bronze at the U-18s.
That spring, Krejci huddled with agent Larry Kelly to sketch out his North American plans. First, the Bruins picked Krejci in the second round (No. 63 overall) in the 2004 draft. Then Krejci prepared for the CHL import draft, where European players are selected by teams from the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL. Krejci and Kelly believed he would be selected eighth by the OHL's Barrie Colts.
But the Gatineau Olympiques surprised Krejci by taking him sixth. Krejci, who spoke only Czech at the time, wanted to go to an English-speaking city. So after learning Gatineau was predominantly French-speaking, Krejci decided not to go.
Fortunately for the Olympiques, Krejci had some friends who helped him change his mind.
Several days after the draft, Krejci spoke with Vrana, who reiterated how much fun he'd had playing for Halifax and living in Canada. Krejci learned that fellow Czech native Petr Pohl, who was the same age, just completed his rookie season in Gatineau. Pohl informed Krejci that approximately half of Gatineau's population spoke French, it was close to Ottawa, and that he'd enjoy playing for coach Benoit Groulx. Also, the Bruins were pleased that Krejci would be playing in Gatineau, so he decided to give the Olympiques a chance.
"I don't know what I would have done," said Krejci when asked about his options if he said no to Gatineau. "But I'm glad I went. I had a good time."
His first year in the QMJHL, Krejci scored 22 goals and 41 assists in 62 games. In 2005-06, Krejci put up a 27-54 -81 line in 55 games, then scored 32 points in 17 playoff matches before his team was bounced by Moncton, the former club of current Boston prospects Martins Karsums and Brad Marchand.
During his two seasons in Gatineau, Krejci picked up some French and has since become fluent in English, learning a great deal during the 2005-06 season. That's when Pohl was traded and Krejci was the only Czech-speaking player on the Olympiques. He became a rink rat who'd be first on the ice and last off.
"It helped me with hockey," said Krejci. "I wasn't hanging out that much. I was getting ready for the games and practice. I didn't have anybody to talk to. But the second year, the coach made me assistant captain, and that made it so much easier on me."
A-OK for Alberts
Less than half a day after appearing in his first NHL action in more than three months, Andrew Alberts powered through a 45-minute practice at Carleton University's Ice House feeling nothing but the usual aches of a big-time game.
"Little sore," said Alberts, who played 17:22 in Boston's 3-2 shootout loss to New Jersey Wednesday. "Game muscles. Little different getting hit. But as a whole, I feel pretty good."
It's been a success story for Alberts, shelved with problems ranging from a concussion to a neck injury. But after a 47-game absence, Alberts projects to be back in the lineup for good, whether that means only two more regular-season games or a playoff run.
"I thought he kept his game simple and played a physical game," said coach Claude Julien, who skated Alberts with Shane Hnidy on the third pairing. "When he doesn't grab any attention, that's because he didn't make any big mistakes."
Alberts said the biggest adjustment was the pace of the game, especially early.
"Just the speed," Alberts said. "The first couple shifts, guys are flying. It's that playoff atmosphere. It was an important game for us, and they came out hard. After the first couple shifts, I felt a lot better. Everything's so fast right away. But after that, I settled in and I think I was all right."
Alberts, focused on keeping his shifts short, thought after the game he only logged 10 or 11 minutes because he felt fresh. He credited strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides, who pushed him through the early dry-land and on-ice workouts, and assistant coach Doug Houda, who oversaw Alberts's most recent solo sessions.
Watching and waiting
During the stretch run, Julien said he has not watched out-of-town games, preferring to skim results and game summaries instead of subjecting himself to the torture of tuning in to the opposition. But with three crucial games taking place last night - Ottawa at Toronto, Tampa Bay at Washington, Buffalo at Montreal - Julien figured he'd give the Senators game - an 8-2 Ottawa win - a look. "I think I might, for the right reasons," said Julien. "When you're pre-scouting, it's one thing. Just to watch and hope is another. Tonight's one of those things where we've still got to pre-scout Ottawa for our game." There was no possible scenario for the Bruins to qualify for the postseason based on last night's results . . . Julien said defenseman Andrew Ference (sprained knee), who practiced yesterday, was feeling better. Ference has yet to be cleared to play . . . Patrice Bergeron is still scheduled to visit a neurologist Monday.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.