No matter where he goes in the world, and Jakub Ficenec has lived in quite a few places, a ring keeps Surrey close to his heart.
Ficenec was fixture on the star-studded South Surrey Eagles teams of the 1996-97 and 1997-98 B.C. Hockey League seasons. This week he's back near his old neighbourhood playing on the German blueline at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In his first season in Canada, the Eagles mowed down BCHL opposition with a 47-7-6 record. They then rolled all the way to the Royal Bank Cup, the national Junior A hockey championship, before losing 4-3 to the hosts, the Summerside Western Capitals, in the final.
"We had an offensive team, guys like Scottie Gomez (now playing for the Montreal Canadiens), Shane Kuss, Joey Vandermeer," recalled Ficenec following Germany's 5-3 loss Saturday night to Belarus. "We played on that big European ice so we put up some big numbers at home."
The next season they repeated it all with Ficenec scoring 35 goals and 91 points in 55 regular season games. The difference this time was they beat the Weyburn Red Wings from Saskatchewan 4-1 in the final.
"We finished the business that year," said Ficenec. "It was kind of like go big or leave after all those two years. All that work paid off finally, and I got a nice ring. I look at that ring and I can tell all those guys (by looking at it). It's going to stay for life.
"For me as a European you're used to playing 55 games and all of a sudden you've got to play almost 100 games to win the whole thing. Obviously, you're happy, you're beat up. Great memories, I can only say good things about those two years."
Ficenec grew up in the Czech Republic, but in his late teens he wasn't happy with the contract he had. Rick Lanz, the Eagles head coach at the time who was born in Czechoslovakia but grew up in Burlington, Ont., knew Ficenec's agent and he offered the talented youngster a spot. Ficenec's father had lived in California where the teen spent some summers, so he was amenable to North America.
At first it was difficult dealing with the language, but it helped he had good billets and forced to speak English with them every day.
"They offered to me to stay with Czech family, which I refused to, and I think it was one of the better decisions of my life. After half a year I got the language going, it was much easier," said Ficenec, who played roller hockey in Anaheim and Las Vegas during the summer.
After his junior career he tried out for the Manitoba Moose, then in the International Hockey League. They wanted him to sign a two-way contract but he opted to ink a free-agent deal with the Johnstown Chiefs (of Slap Shot fame) of the ECHL. His play earned him a promotion to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League where he played for two seasons. That got him to two Washington Capitals training camps, but it became obvious that despite his skill, his five-foot-11 stature, worked against him.
"For me after that it was an easy decision," said Ficenec. "Back then for the NHL, obviously, I was too small. Now it's a different situation, even the smaller guys can play in The Show with the new rules. You can run the powerplay or stuff like that, but back then defencemen were defencemen, they were huge and had different things to do rather than the offensive thing."
So he signed with Augsburg of the German elite league, just four hours from his home in Hradec Králové. He is now in his seventh season with the Ingolstadt Panthers in Bavaria, just north of Munich.
With the Czech team full of NHL all-stars and the Olympics back near his old stomping grounds, Ficenec realized there was an opportunity for him, and German hockey officials were only too eager to help him make it happen.
"All of a sudden it was eight years, and after eight years you can apply for German citizenship which I did," said Ficenec, who got his papers in August.
"It makes it just a little sweeter coming back here, and see all the places I visit, and some of the places I never saw."
Ficenec plays on Germany's second blueline pair. The first consists of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and Dennis Seidenberg of the Florida Panthers. He is a minus-2 in the tournament, not bad considering the Germans are scoring challenged, not scoring a goal in their first two tournament games.
It turns out his roommate in the Olympic Village is Langley native T.J. Mulock who played two seasons, 2003 to 2005, with the Eagles and obtained dual citizenship in the fall of 2008. Mulock has been playing in Germany since 2006.
"We get to chat about old times," Ficenec said.
Ahhh, more good memories.
Photos by Don Denton/Black Press