Flames prospect Sam Honzek hopes to propel Slovakia to world-junior medal

Director of player development Ray Edwards compared Sam Honzek’s drive to that of Flames rookie Martin Pospisil

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Sam Honzek, a should-be stud for Team Slovakia, will be the Calgary Flames’ lone representative at this latest edition of the world junior hockey championship.

And while every organization would prefer to have a pile of prospects at the annual get-together of the top teen pucksters on the planet, it does simplify things for Flames director of player development Ray Edwards as he chooses sides. Edwards, for the record, was born and raised in Ontario.

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“A Slovakia-Canada final … That would be perfect,” he beamed.

Honzek, the Flames’ first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, would certainly sign up for that, because that would mean he’d be assured of leaving with a medal around his neck.

As the 19-year-old power-forward-in-progress shifted his focus to the tournament, hustling to knock off any remaining rust after an eight-week absence due to a lower-body injury, he made it clear that was his goal — something shiny.

The Slovaks are chasing their first top-three finish at this event since 2015. Honzek & Co. will open that quest with a Boxing Day clash against Czechia. (If you’re awake for the 4 a.m. MT puck-drop, you can catch the action from Gothenburg, Sweden on TSN3.)

“I believe in our group, and I think we can do it,” Honzek said. “This is a huge year for me. This is going to be my last junior year with the national team, and I want to make the most of it. You know, we have a really, really good group of guys. I think maybe some people see us as not that good of a team, but I think we are a good team and we can maybe do really big things.

“I’ll do everything I can to help the team win and be successful out there.”

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If the Slovaks do manage to muscle their way into medal contention, Honzek will be a big part of it.

During pre-tournament action, the Flames’ first-rounder was skating as a top-line winger.

He should be busy on both sides of special teams.

He’ll also have an ‘A’ stitched on his sweater.

“Sam texted me a few days ago and said, ‘Hey, would you mind sending me some clips? I’m going to play the bumper on the power-play,’ ” Edwards said as the holidays approached. “So we sent a bunch of clips on that, using NHL video. Hopefully, that helps him.”

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Edwards, who is based in the northeast U.S. but travels far and wide to keep tabs on Calgary’s up-and-comers, knows Honzek is determined to be a difference-maker in his third and final opportunity to represent his country at the world juniors.

The No. 16 overall selection in a stacked draft class, this towering talent from Trencin, Slovakia, was injured during an exhibition outing with the Flames in the fall, delaying his return for another campaign with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. He finally made his season debut in early December and cranked out seven points — a mix of three goals and four assists — in a five-game span before heading overseas for training camp with his national junior program.

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“I sat with Sam when I was in town in November, when he was still rehabbing, and his focus was obviously to get back to Vancouver and get some games in, but he also had a real focus on being part of this team again,” Edwards said. “I think he’s really excited about being able to put together a good tournament and try to push his team to a medal.

“You know who else was like that?” he continued, about to reference another young Slovak who is now making a name for himself as a rookie sparkplug with the Flames. “I remember Posp (Martin Pospisil), he was the exact same way. He was really adamant about being part of that team and wanting to help his country win.”

Martin Pospisil
Martin Pospisil #76 of the Calgary Flames warms up before his NHL debut against the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on November 4, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Indeed, it’s something that has been on Honzek’s mind for almost a full year — since back on Dec. 28, when a skate laceration to his calf muscle required a hospital visit and halted his second world-junior experience after just a pair of preliminary-round games.

This time, he’s hoping for a much happier ending.

“Just get back playing, have fun, enjoy the moment,” said Flames general manager Craig Conroy, relaying his message to Honzek. “We just want him to go have a good tournament and be a leader on that team, just like he’s a leader in Vancouver. That’s what people expect now.

“And then you want him to have some success … A medal would look great on him.”

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