Walleye forward Andrej Nestrasil has split time between Toledo and Grand Rapids in his first pro season.
When Walleye forward Andrej Nestrasil moved from his native Czech Republic to North America at age 17 the biggest obstacles included more than just overcoming the language barrier.
Nestrasil came to Quebec in 2008, and he quickly found out that transportation methods were very different in North America.
ON THE HOOK
with Andrej Nestrasil
Jersey Number: 11
Ht./Wt: 6-2, 210
Born: Feb. 22, 1991
Favorite way to spend time away from the rink: I bought an Xbox this year. I also like to read books. I like books on the Second World War and Communism.
Hockey players you admired growing up: My favorite growing up was Eric Lindros and later it was Joe Thornton.
Favorite sport other than hockey: Squash. It's big all over the world. I love it.
Favorite type of music: It depends on the mood. In the car whatever is playing is fine. My favorite singer is Tracy Chapman.
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite beverage: I've learned to drink water a lot the last few years. But my most favorite is a can of Coke.
Favorite fast food: I hate fast food. But once in a while I'll stop at Subway.
Have you ever eaten walleye?: I was thinking I have to try it. I might have eaten it already. I'm not really sure.
Favorite Movie: Forrest Gump. Harry Potter. The DaVinci Code.
Favorite TV Show: Friends. That's the best one. I also like How I Met Your Mother.
Favorite place you've been to?: I don't really like beaches. That's not my thing. I like my hometown of Prague. Other than that, Paris is a beautiful city. I really want to go to London and also to New Zealand.
Top sports moment: Signing an NHL contract [last April with the Red Wings].
What's your hockey superstition?: It changes all the time. When I have a good game I will try to do the same things. But I'm not that superstitious.
Nickname: Nesty or Andy
Something nobody knows about you: I'm a big Harry Potter fan. I know all the spells. One day I want to go to Harry Potter Land.
"In North America it is tough to live without a car," Nestrasil said. "Where I come from there are buses, a trans metro, and everything moves every five minutes. Here the cities are really spread out. If you want to do something you have to drive. I did not have a car the last three years so I was pretty bored."
Nestrasil, who is now 20, is in his first season of pro hockey after playing three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Nestrasil finished his junior career with 178 points, including 57 goals, in 174 games.
The winger was drafted by Detroit in the third round of the 2009 NHL draft. The Red Wings signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract in May, and the young forward now owns his own vehicle.
Despite being some 4,400 miles from his hometown of Prague, Nestrasil said he never had a second thought about moving halfway across the world to pursue his dreams.
"No. Once I decided I did not look back," Nestrasil said. "I don't regret stuff. Even if I had not been drafted I would have not regretted it. I look at all the things off the ice. I learned so many things."
The rookie has seven points with one goal and six assists in 13 games for the Walleye this season.
Hockey-wise Nestrasil said the rinks are much smaller in North America.
"In Europe it is more about skills. Here it is more physical," Nestrasil said.
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said Nestrasil is a skillful, typical European player.
"He is a good skater, has good vision, and has good hands," Vitucci said. "He's still going through the learning curve in North America. It's tighter confines."
Vitucci said Nestrasil, who is 6-2 and 210 pounds, has a tremendous attitude and work ethic.
"He cares about his career and about the success of the team," Vitucci said. "It's been nice having him."
Last season, Nestrasil had 19 goals and 51 assists in 58 games for Prince Edward Island.
"I kind of knew since I was 15 years old that I'd like to leave [Europe] because I could see by the stats and Czech guys that were drafted … I knew that I could play over here," said Nestrasil, who speaks accented but fluent English. "I talked to my father and agent and decided to try to come over here and get into the NHL."
Nestrasil moved in with a sponsor family but the lines of communication were complicated.
"I lived with a good family in Quebec. They had three kids," Nestrasil said. "It was tough at the beginning because of the language. I spoke English but not as good as I do right now. They were French [speaking]. So we both learned English at the same time."
Nestrasil said his teammates on the Victoriaville Tigers also made the transition smooth.
"It was a great group of guys," Nestrasil said. "They took care of me. I learned a lot not just about hockey but living on my own without my parents."
Perhaps surprisingly, Nestrasil said even at age 17, he never had a difficult bout with homesickness during the hockey season.
"I always go back home after the season," Nestrasil said. "I stay four or five months. It's totally enough for me. It is great to have someone take care of me. It's nice for my mom to cook for me. But I'm 20 years old now. So I'm pretty happy over here."
Nestrasil said even during the holiday season, he has not longed for home.
"I don't miss them so much even during Christmas," he said. "I have my girlfriend here with me, and we had a pretty good time. I really enjoy it here. In the summertime it's fine to go back and have fun. But I really like it over here. I really wish I can stay."
Nestrasil said he met his girlfriend, Sarah, when he first came to Canada in 2008.
"She's from Quebec. But she lives with me here [in Toledo]," Nestrasil said. "She takes care of me. She makes it easier for me. She's perfect."
Much like many players on the Walleye roster this season, Nestrasil has bounced between the American Hockey League and the ECHL.
Nestrasil skated in 11 games with Grand Rapids after he was reassigned from Toledo on Oct. 19.He registered three points, including two goals. He rejoined the Walleye on Nov. 28.
"I started the season here in Toledo, and then I got called up a week later and then a month later I was sent back down," Nestrasil said. "It's not easy. But it's part of life. It's something everyone has to be ready for. You have to be ready to pack yourself overnight."
But Nestrasil said he likes the increased ice time he has been getting with the Walleye.
"I like playing here," Nestrasil said. "The rink is beautiful. I was pretty surprised. The crowd at the last game [7,538 on Tuesday] was amazing. I didn't think it would be full like that."
Nestrasil said overall his four years in North America have been a great experience.
"I'm still young and have a lot to learn," he said. "I like playing hockey here."
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.