Hamilton Bulldogs’ forward Jan Jenik is heading home to the Czech Republic to compete for its U-20 team at the World Junior Hockey Championship for the second year in a row.
The Czech Republic will be looking to build on its seventh-place finish from last year. Having home-ice advantage will certainly motivate the team to perform to the best of their abilities for their country, but it may not be enough. The Czech’s leading scorer from last year’s tournament, Martin Kaut, aged out and they will need a new offensive presence if they want to compete.
Part of a tough division with Canada, Russia, and the United States, the Czechs will be relying on just four returning players — Jenik, forward Matej Pekar from the Barrie Colts, forward Jakub Lauko from the Providence Bruins and goaltender Lukas Dostal from Ilves of the Liiga in Finland — as they seek to medal for the first time since 2005 when they earned a bronze in North Dakota. Jenik is aiming to fill some of the scoring void left by Kaut; he has had a great start for Hamilton, averaging a little more than two points per game through 27 games played, and the Czechs will be looking to benefit from his offensive talent.
“It’s really nice knowing I have family in the stands and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Jenik, when asked about representing his country on home ice. “I’ve known for a few years that it would be here and I’ve been trying to work really hard to get there.”
Jenik played a smaller role on the Czech team in last year’s tournament as he was one of the younger players on the roster. He put up two assists in three games and earned himself player of the game honours in their game against Canada. Jenik is expected to take a leadership role on a young Czech team in this year’s tournament and be an offensive spark. The Czech Republic finished last year’s preliminary round with two wins and two losses before losing in the quarter-final matchup to the eventual silver medallists, the United States. Jenik is looking forward to the challenge and is ready to step up for the young team.
“I’m just going to try and be a leader and help the younger players to play better,” he said.
Jenik joined the Hamilton Bulldogs after last year’s World Junior tournament in a trade from the Flint Firebirds. Jenik didn’t play a game in Flint and instead began his 2018-19 season playing back home in the Czech Republic before being sent to the Ontario Hockey League in January. He fit in well in Hamilton, putting up 13 goals and 30 points in just 27 games played in his first season with the club. Jenik has been a powerhouse for the Bulldogs this season. Alongside Arthur Kaliyev on the first line, not only has Jenik put up a 26-game point streak, tallying 56 points along the way to start his season, but he also uses his size to his advantage and plays a physical game in a small Bulldogs’ lineup. Riding on the motivation on his recent point streak, Jenik plans to take his skills to the next level on the world stage.
“This streak definitely makes me feel better and helps me to believe in myself,” he said on transitioning over to the World Juniors. “Hopefully it will help me there.”
The last team to win a gold medal on home soil was Finland in 2016, and the Czech Republic is looking to change that. Having Jenik on their roster improves their chances of it happening this year.