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From state exams at the Faculty of Sports Studies directly to NHL

He left Brno, Kometa and Masaryk University. Twenty-five-year-old hockey goalie Karel Vejmelka got an NHL contract, finished his diploma thesis and passed his state examination in August. He thus successfully completed a year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hockey goalie Karel Vejmelka

As a fresh MU graduate, Karel Vejmelka gave an interview to M Magazine before leaving for America and joining the Arizona Coyotes training camp.

The restrictions related to Covid-19 had a major impact on sports. How did you cope with it, personally?
Last season was kind of strange because of all that. At first we couldn’t even practice, then they allowed training sessions and finally we were able to play as well, although a little later than usual. Anyway, the season was not ideal and we wanted to advance further than just the quarterfinals.

You wrote and defended your thesis, passed your state examination and signed a contract with an NHL club. I guess the year wasn’t that bad for you…?
From that perspective, I’d say this year was definitely good for me personally. I’m glad that it worked out with my studies, which I was able to finish this year, because I really wanted to. After signing with Arizona, I wasn’t sure I’d manage because I was so busy. But in the end it all worked out and I’m really looking forward to going to the States for a new challenge that I’ve always wanted to tackle.

What does an NHL contract mean to you?
It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to make it to the NHL and this puts me a little bit closer to that goal. Of course, I realise that it doesn’t end there and now I have to work even harder to achieve my dream.

Was it hard to choose between Kometa and the NHL?
Yes, I have to admit it wasn’t an easy decision. I was absolutely happy in Brno, I had several great seasons there and twice I celebrated winning the league cup with the team. Brno has definitely grown on me and I will always feel at home there. In America I will definitely miss Kometa fans, who are the best advertisement for Brno and are rightly called the best fans in the world. But of course I’m looking forward to being in Arizona, it’s a change in every way and I love challenges.

You said in a previous interview that you would be an ambassador for Brno and Kometa. How?
I’ll definitely be telling everyone there about Kometa, how great its fans are and what kind of atmosphere they can create during the game. Although it’s hard to describe in words. You have to experience it for yourself to fully understand.

Will you also promote Masaryk University and the Faculty of Sports Studies?
Yes, definitely. I’ll do my utmost, because Masaryk University has also grown close to my heart and I enjoyed my studies there immensely, even though it was not always easy. I met a lot of great people at school, not only students but also teachers.

How difficult was it to finish your studies while also being a professional ice hockey player?
It was challenging. But I have always believed that if you really want something, you can do it no matter what. You just have work hard. I tried to dedicate myself to my studies in my spare time as much as possible. In some semesters I had to join in classes for full-time students even though I was a distance learner myself, but sometimes it was easier for me that way. My studies taught me that everything is about communication and trying to be helpful.

What skills does an ice hockey goalie need to succeed in the NHL?
First of all, he has to know what he wants. I always wanted to play in the NHL. I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it takes and I kind of always knew that the opportunity would come. But now I have to work really hard so that one day, I can say to myself that I did everything I could. If it doesn’t work out, at least I’ll have a clear conscience in that regard.

Who supported you the most in going to the NHL?
I discussed this first and foremost with my family. They finally told me I should give it a shot. I knew I would regret it later if I didn’t go and that made the decision. I probably wouldn’t get the chance again later.

What are you taking with you?
I’m going alone, but I’ll take a few personal items for luck. But I’d rather keep those to myself.

Where are you moving to? Are you looking forward to being there?
I’ll start at the main team camp in Glendale. After that, I’ll see where they send me. If they keep me on the main team or if I continue on the farm. I think I’m more likely to play in the minor league in Tucson. But of course, I’m looking forward to it.

Who or what inspired you to become a goalie?
My dad always used to play as a forward. I used to play that way too, but when I was about 6 years old, I started admiring goalies because of a friend my dad introduced to me to, and we hit it off. I talked my dad into it for about a year afterwards and told him I wanted to try it, but it was difficult. He didn’t want me to be a goalie, but in the end I cried so much he allowed it and it paid off.

How does the goalie’s training differ from the other players?
We do specific things and exercises. The movement in the cage is completely different from the other players’ movement. We have to be comprehensively prepared in terms of speed, agility, endurance, but also flexibility, and you have to be very strong mentally as well. It’s a specific role and we have to be better prepared than others.

Who is your role model?
When I was a kid, I had several role models like Henrik Lundqvist and Dominik Hašek. Now I don’t have a single role model, but I try to watch other guys and take what I think could push me to improve my game and get better.

What do you like to do besides ice hockey?
I like to play guitar and from other sports I also like tennis. I have a new motorcycle that I’m really into and I enjoy driving it around. And of course, I like good food, especially Asian cuisine lately.