The charismatic and engaging personality of young Walleye forward Richard Nedomlel stands in stark contrast to his intensity and physicality on the ice.
Nedomlel, 20, a rookie defenseman from the Czech Republic, plays with energy and an edge. He has a mean streak during competition but is equally humorous and outgoing.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Nedomlel (pronounced Need-UH-mall) is a force. He speaks English very well albeit with a distinct accent.
“I try to give my team energy,” he said. “If that means hitting a guy or getting into a fight, I will do whatever I can. I'm known to be tough and physical. I will protect my teammates. I'm a big guy.
“Hockey is not a sport for girls, so I really enjoy that. Obviously the fans like that. It's nice to give something to the fans. I like to give something back.”
Nedomlel leads Toledo in penalty minutes and has scored eight goals with 10 assists in 53 games. His 120 penalty minutes rank fifth overall in the ECHL.
Walleye coach Dan Watson has been impressed with Nedomlel and said he continues to improve.
“He plays with an edge every shift,” Watson said. “He keeps it simple and smart. He is a very effective hockey player. He's now playing a lot on the power play and penalty kill. So that shows the trust we have in him and how much he has grown over the year. He plays hard every night.”
Nedomlel said he has always been big for his age, and meaner and more aggressive.
“I was bigger than the other guys back home and I liked to play like [NHL enforcer] Chris Pronger,” he said. “It was more difficult to play my style back at home on the bigger ice. I always wanted to make the NHL and the only way was to move to [North America].”
So at age 17, Nedomlel left Central Europe and came to Western Canada to hone his skills. He signed with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League. He played three seasons of major junior hockey in Saskatchewan.
“The only thing I knew how to say [in English] was my name and 'How are you?'” Nedomlel said. “And then the boys taught me all the bad words.”
He said he learned English from his host family and a teammate, who also happened to be from the Czech Republic.
“The language was not that big of a deal,” he said. “The style of game was more difficult. I had to play even more physical than I was used to.”
As an only child, Nedomlel said his parents George and Nadia were reluctant to let him go overseas alone.
“My mom was upset,” he said. “But they were happy I wanted to do something for myself. Plus I was getting all those penalties back home. They knew it would be good for me. The first month they worried about me. But they overcame it. Now it's routine. Sometimes they come visit me. I stay in touch on Skype.”
In juniors, Nedomlel racked up 295 penalty minutes in 210 games along with 17 goals and 67 assists. The moved paid off in 2011 when the Detroit Red Wings drafted Nedomlel in the sixth round.
“I knew a few teams were interested in me. But I didn't know Detroit was one of them,” he said. “I didn't even watch the draft. I was with my buddies back home and all of the sudden I got a call from my agent and he told me I got drafted. It was the best moment of my life.”
He said the celebration included adult beverages back in the Czech Republic where the legal drinking age is 18.
“My family celebrated a lot. I was a little bit drunk,” he said. “I got a lot of calls from relatives and friends. The thing every hockey player thinks about is wanting to make the NHL. And the best part is to part of a great team like Detroit.”
The Wings signed Nedomlel to a three-year contract in April, 2013. He was assigned to Toledo prior to the season opener. He has spent the majority of his first year in the pros in the ECHL but has played in three games in the American Hockey League with Grand Rapids.
“It's faster and more physical than juniors,” he said. “You're playing against men. You have to be a team guy. It's been a good learning experience. I try to be a good all-around player.”
Nedomlel said the Walleye's season-long struggles have been difficult. But he said the team's recent 3-1-1 streak has brightened the mood in the locker room.
“It's gotten better and better,” he said. “This year we won't make the playoffs. But I hope next year coach Watson is back. He has been very good for us. He shows us a lot of videos. We've learned a lot from him.”
Nedomlel said he does not know what the future holds for him. But he said former Red Wings defensemen Jiri Fischer and Chris Chelios, who are still with the organization in advisory roles and are often at Walleye games, have been encouraging.
“I'm not sure what the plan is with me,” he said. “But I'm happy to be playing in Toledo. I will always try to give 100 percent to the game I love. That is just my life. I try to do as much as I can and leave it all on ice.”
with Richard Nedomlel