Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Written by Dave Sottile
Tomas Kundratek could not have been more relaxed Sunday night.
Close to 45 minutes after his Hershey Bears beat visiting Norfolk at Giant Center, the 21-year-old Czech Republic native chatted with fellow countrymen Radko Gudas and Ondrej Palat, who play for the Admirals.
In the hallway outside the Bears’ athletic training room, Slovakians Richard Panik and Jaroslav Janus were part of the conversation, too.
And while the language spoken might have been foreign to some observers, the smile on Kundratek’s face was amazingly clear. So, too, was the reason behind it.
Re-invigorated by a Nov. 8 trade from the New York Rangers organization, the defenseman has at least one point in all six of Hershey’s games this month. The Bears have won five times in that span.
“I really needed a change, because it was a tough time in Hartford,” Kundratek said of his time with the Connecticut Whale. “There were so many older defensemen with great experience, guys like Wade Redden and Brendan Bell. It was hard to play there. I felt like, as a young defenseman, I needed to play more games.
“When I heard I got traded (to the Washington Capitals), I felt really excited. It’s awesome here.”
French impressed with grit
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound defender was a healthy scratch for four of the first five games after he was obtained in a deal that sent forward Francois Bouchard to Connecticut. But since then, he has become a fixture on Hershey’s blue line.
Kundratek (pronounced kuhn-DRAH-tek) has four goals and two assists in 11 games with the Bears. He has a goal in each of Hershey’s past three outings, and all six of his points with the Bears have come during his six-game point streak.
“I don’t think we expected that,” said Hershey coach Mark French, when asked about Kundratek’s recent spree. “The scouting report we got was that he was a player who had some skill, but we’ve been really impressed with his grit.
“He competes, and he’s got a pretty good shot. He’s been sneaky offensively. Right now, I think we’re getting more than we thought.”
Playing for the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers, Kundratek scored 35 points during 65 games in his final season of junior hockey in 2009-10.
He managed just two goals and 10 assists in 70 AHL games last season in Hartford, and had two assists in seven appearances for the Whale before being traded.
Top-six defender for Hershey
So why the sudden burst of offense?
“I don’t know what’s going on right now, but a lot of it has to do with the great teammates I’m playing with,” Kundratek said. “They’re doing a great job finding me on the blue line.
“I’ve been trying to work on my shot at practice with (teammate) Brett Flemming. The puck seems to be going in for me right now, so I’m really happy.”
Bouchard had a hard time cracking Hershey’s deep forward corps, and since the trade, he has just two goals and two assists in 14 games for Connecticut.
Kundratek, meanwhile, has blossomed into a top-six defender for Hershey. Fellow Bears defenseman Julien Brouillette said that development is a byproduct of Kundratek’s increased minutes.
“When he got here, he didn’t get to play that much right away,” Brouillette said. “That can be tough on a guy who comes over from a new team but doesn’t get much ice time. Sure, he gets a chance to learn the system, but it’s no fun when you don’t play.
“But you could see as soon as he got that ice time, he was going to do his thing. And now he’s jumped right into it and carried the puck up ice really well. And his shots seem to be right on target, too.”