Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
Frantisek Viacek, or “Frank” as he is now known, arrived in Lakewood Ranch two years ago with no knowledge of the English language.
He also had no knowledge of United States’ sports, in general.
Viacek, 14, came to America from the Czech Republic (Yes, the sports section this week features two athletes of Czech origins. What are the odds?), but is not here to stay. He will go back to the Czech Republic when his family is ready, possibly after this school year.
In other words, Viacek is a bit of a long-term tourist.
“I am here to gain experience, learn English and play hockey,” Viacek said.
Viacek, a freshman at Lakewood Ranch High School, is currently playing hockey for the Manatee Admirals, a Lightning High School Hockey League team made up of players from around Manatee County.
When I was introduced to Viacek and his coach, Chase Bafia, I immediately felt a connection to his situation.
During my junior year of college, I spent six months living and studying abroad in Milan, Italy. It was a blast, but there is something strange about making a foreign country your temporary home. I had a rudimentary knowledge of the language before I went. I ingrained myself into the culture as much as I could, going to different restaurants, museums, parks and clubs each week. I observed much more than I spoke.
The people there were welcoming, but I never felt quite at home. I could never permanently live in Milan, despite my unhealthy love of all things pasta.
A two-year stay is different than a six-month excursion, but I was curious if Viacek was feeling those same things. To my surprise, Viacek said he is not at all. If he had his way, he would stay in America forever. The hockey is of a better quality here, he said, and he prefers popular American music to that of his home country.
Viacek, who has played the game for 10 years, is a darned good hockey player. When asked about his favorite aspect of hockey, he said hitting, which is apropos. The kid is lean, but mean.
I took in the Admirals’ game against Wiregrass Ranch at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex on Jan. 6, and Viacek was smashing every Bulls player who skated into his vicinity. Bafia called Viacek an all-around, solid defenseman who uses his speed and presence on the ice to disrupt opposing forwards.
Viacek developed his game playing for HC Letnany, the same team that trained current Washington Capitals' top prospect Jakub Vrana, so he’s been molded by good hands.
He now speaks English fluently. It just came to him quickly, he said and it helped that his teammates have been receptive to his situation from the beginning, and are as eager to learn Czech as Viacek was to learn English, according to Bafia.
“Especially the curse words,” Bafia said.
Boys will be boys, no matter where they are from.
A teammate and schoolmate of Viacek at Lakewood Ranch, Jackson Bennett vividly remembers the first time he laid eyes on the Czech checker. It was at a tryout for the Gulf Coast Flames, a travel team in the area.
“He was wearing this crazy, bright red helmet,” Bennett said. “He definitely stood out. He was one of the best players on the ice, too.”
His fashion trends have become something of a in-joke on the team. Besides the red helmet, Viacek has fallen in love with shorts.
“The kid never wears pants,” Bafia said. “I think I’ve seen him wear a pair once. He’s always in shorts, no matter what.”
Thankfully, this Czech ice hockey player is living, however briefly, in Florida.