International Ice Hockey Federation

Swiss star a veteran at 18

Swiss star a veteran at 18

Fiala unique in more ways than one

Published 28.12.2014 13:50 GMT-5 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Swiss star a veteran at 18
Kevin Fiala was the best player last night and has Russia in his sights today. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Swiss forward Kevin Fiala established himself early on as the best player on the ice last night against the Czechs.

He scored a goal in the first minute, then followed with an electric end-to-end rush for a second goal, and by the midway point of the period it was impossible not to watch his every shift.

Yes, some of those shifts were lengthy, but they were never without excitement. At 5’10”, Fiala isn’t the biggest player around, but the Nashville Predators drafted him 11th overall this past June because of his speed, skill, and puckhandling. The scouts watched him last night and, of course, liked what they saw.

“I hope so,” Fiala said, with a chuckle. “I want to play in the NHL as soon as possible, but I have to take it step by step. Right now, I have to focus on this World Junior Championship and see what happens.”

Fiala comes by his talent naturally. His dad, Jan, played in the lower Swiss leagues for years and coached young Kevin during his early years. Kevin also developed his signature style of taping his sticks from his dad, an odd presentation if ever there was one.

Recall that Bobby Orr taped his stick with one strand, using it as a reference point for where to make contact when he shot the puck. Fiala tapes the front and back of his stick with one long piece along the bottom of the blade, from heel to toe. Indeed, the IIHF bans the use of tape adhesives which peel and are applied to front and back, but Fiala’s methods are perfectly legal, if not bizarre.

As linemate Noah Rod says: “For me, Kevin has the greatest hands in this tournament, so it's normal how he tapes his stick. It doesn't matter the tape on your blade if you have great hands like him.”

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Fiala speaks five languages - Czech, English, French, German, Swedish - but it’s the way he speaks hockey with his play that has people impressed. In the span of just a few months earlier this year he played in the U20, U18, and World Championship, only the third player ever to complete this IIHF tournament hat trick in one season.

“It was a surprise for me to be invited to the World Championship,” he admitted, “especially because it came almost right after the under-18 championship, but I enjoyed my time and tried as best I could to help the team win.”

Of course, the difference between the three levels is huge, especially going from U18 to the senior World Championship.

“Under 18 maybe has a few junior players, but then you get to the World Championship and you’re standing next to Ovechkin and other NHL players. That’s cool,” he enthused.

As a result of last year’s successes, Fiala is a different player in Toronto than he was at the 2014 U20 in Malmo, Sweden.

“Last year I was a ‘96 born player against mostly players from 1994, and I was one of the younger players,” he explained. “This year, I’m a bit older, and I have more of a leadership role, so I have to try to get the team going by scoring goals and creating offense.”

Scoring twice against the Czechs was important to the team but also significant personally given that both his parents are Czech.

"I was really nervous before the game," Fiala confessed, "because we knew this was perhaps the most important game of the tournament for us. But it was a little bit special to score against the Czechs, for sure.”

After his great year internationally last year, Fiala was drafted by the Predators 11th overall and signed to a three-year entry-level contract in July. He played much of last season in the top tier of the Swedish Hockey League with HV71 in Jonkoping, and is there again this season where he is the youngest player.

“It’s my second year playing in Sweden, so it’s like home for me now. I get a lot of ice time, which is what I need,” he said. He also played in three of his team’s six first-round games of the Champions Hockey League, gaining further world-class experience.

The future looks bright for Fiala. His biggest liability is his defensive play, but that is something that can be taught. Scoring goals is not. He’s still only 18, has the NHL in sight, and is determined to bring success to the Swiss team here at the World Juniors. That quest continues later this afternoon.

“We’re focused 100 per cent now on Russia, so let’s see what happens today,” Fiala said of the 5pm matchup against one of the tournament’s medal favourites.


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