Slowly but surely, Roman Dymacek is finding his way with the Kootenay Ice.
Overcoming a serious language barrier is just one of the challenges faced by the 18-year-old native of Hodonin, Czech Republic, but it isn’t keeping him from adapting to life in North America and the Western Hockey League.
Dymacek came to the Ice via the 2015 CHL Import Draft — selected in the first round, 35th overall.
Since arriving in Cranbrook in August, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound winger has been adapting to life in North America, listing meals and climate as just two of the other serious differences he’s encountered since flying across the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the first challenges the smiley Czech has been faced with is learning to communicate with his coaches and teammates, having never spoken English prior to arriving in Canada.
Take it from Slovakian defenceman Mario Grman, who went through the exact same scenario last season when he joined the Red Deer Rebels.
“My first challenge was language,” Grman said Thursday. “My first year, when I came here, I didn’t speak English — same as Roman. I know how he is feeling right now. But I try to help him with what I know.”
Dymacek is enrolled in English classes at College of the Rockies, but he still has a ways to go before he can fully speak and understand the new language in conversation.
Thursday afternoon prior to practice at Western Financial Place, the glory of Google Translate allowed Dymacek to field questions and respond in his native tongue. His responses from here on are paraphrased as translated.
Off the ice, Dymacek is enjoying his English lessons at the college, using time outside of class to walk and speak English with “good Chinese and Japanese girls.”
On the ice, he finds the hockey in Canada to be much better than back home in his native Czech Republic. Here, he describes the game as more technical because of the smaller ice surface. Back home, hockey features more passing because of a wider ice surface.
“Hockey here is much different than in Europe,” Grman said, backing up Dymacek’s account. “Everything here is faster, stronger.”
Adjusting to the North American game hasn’t come easily for Dymacek, but he’s working in the right direction, according to Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce.
“He’s progressed, that’s for sure,” Pierce said. “It’s a big change for him. A lot of his game is geared towards offense. Teaching him the other parts of the game has been our focus and he’s showing growth in it. But it’s tough with the language barrier, culture barrier and other things.
“Considering all of it, he’s shown some real positive signs.”
Hints of Dymacek’s offensive prowess have been speckled throughout the 2015-16 WHL season, highlighted by the electric goal he scored Saturday night against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
But the offensive numbers haven’t been easy to come by for the Czech import as he’s only managed two goals and three points in 19 games.
“I try to help him with the use of video and everyone kind of understands the universal language of drawing pictures in hockey,” Pierce said. “He gets that. His teammates and linemates have been good walking him through stuff.
“To him, if he doesn’t score a goal, he feels like he didn’t have a good game. But he does a lot of other things well.
“We’re trying to get him to understand there’s a lot more we’re asking for him to do than just produce offense.”
Dymacek doesn’t like losing and when asked about what he wants to achieve this season, he wants nothing more than to extend the Kootenay Ice record of 17 consecutive playoff appearances.
Though they come from different countries, their first languages are similar enough and as a result Grman has acted as translator for Dymacek throughout the season, helping him discuss on-ice systems with the coaching staff in an effort to help further that playoff mark.
“He is much better than his first day here,” Grman said of Dymacek. “It’s hard speaking for him, but I think he understands more than before.
“He had some points the last few nights. It’s starting. He needs time and he’s going to be good.”
Dymacek hopes to continue producing offensively and coach Pierce hopes to see his crafty Czech forward continue to develop his all-around game.
The next test for Dymacek and the Kootenay Ice (4-13-2-0) comes Friday night as they travel to Calgary to face the Hitmen (9-10-0-1) at Scotiabank Saddledome. From there, they head south to visit the Medicine Hat Tigers Saturday night.
“We’ve talked about the importance of these divisional match ups,” Pierce said.
“It was disappointing last weekend. I thought we should have had four points and we only end up with the two. These ones are real big.
“[The Hitmen] are a tough team to play at home. We’ve got to find a way to stop being satisfied with some of these little moral victories of being in games. We’re putting ourselves in positions, on a nightly basis, to win hockey games and yet not winning them every time. That’s where we’ve got to find the next level.”