Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sabres find plenty of character, and a character, in Matej Pekar. Pt. 2

Published by, 8-23-2018

This is the second of a two-part profile on 2018 Sabres fourth round draft pick (94th-overall,) Matej Pekar.

Part 1 can be found by clicking here.

After listening to Muskegon Lumberjack coaches talk about forward Matej Pekar's unrelenting work ethic and style of play, one might get the impression that he's all work, no play and is a really dull young man. To the contrary, Pekar seems like he's enjoying life in America as a teenage hockey player both on and off the ice and it shines through during interviews.

At his post draft presser an extremely giddy and smiling Pekar told the gathered media "I probably sound a little bit stupid, but I'm so happy to be here I don't know what to say." After he got hammered with a hard check by first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin at development camp, Pekar told the local press with a smile of almost disbelief, and maybe a touch of pride, that he never saw Dahlin hit someone so hard.

And during the three on three tournament Pekar played his dogged style against 2017 Sabres first rounder Casey Mittelstadt who didn't take kindly to it. With a gadfly grin he told the media, "that’s my shot to kind of piss him off, get in his head and try to win the game for the team. It’s way more fun when you see Casey getting pissed at you."

There's an honesty about Pekar in how he plays the game and, seemingly, how he goes about life. On the ice he knows who he is and get's at it. Off the ice he has a very engaging personality and a smile that says he knows what to take seriously and what not to. It's something that shone through at Sabres Development Camp and turned him into a fan favorite. Sure, on the ice he oozes character, loves to play the game hard, and getting under an opponent's skin brings a broad smile to his face. That engaging smile may have been a product of a job well done and/or is the product of passing through difficult thresholds at a young age where he tasted failure and worked hard to overcome them.

Then again, maybe his father Joseph Pekar has something to do with his son's sunny disposition.

Make no mistake, Pekar got his work ethic from his father. "That's how he raised me. He always pushed me to work hard," he said. But when I asked him if he got his sense of humor from his father he was quick to reply, "100%."

At the draft presser Pekar told the story of the Sabres meeting Joseph while he was wearing his "funny Detroit Red Wings pants." Those "funny pants" were actually pajama bottoms that he'd bought while visiting his son. "He was here for a visit a year ago," Pekar told me, "and we saw them in some shop and he said, 'I have to buy them. For five bucks. I'm gonna buy them.'

"He used to wear them everywhere including business meetings," said Pekar chuckling the entire time he told the story and added that after Buffalo drafted him, Joseph's bosses said that they'd get him some Sabres towels.

"He's like that all the time," said Pekar. "People that know him well expect things like that from him."

Joseph should take pride in knowing that the son he raised worked hard at his game and ended up being selected in the NHL Draft while never losing that magnetic personality. It also had to be a very proud moment to have a connection to former Sabre and Czech legend, Dominik Hasek, who's hometown is only about 85 miles from them. Pekar lit up when I asked if he'd ever watched old videos of Hasek at the 1998 Nagano Olympics where the future Hall of Famer lead the Czech Republic to gold.

"Not only do I watch it, I've seen it a lot of times," said Pekar and even noted the trade of Hasek from the Chicago Blackhawks to Buffalo. He's also very familiar with another Czech legend, Jaromir Jagr and has followed him closely as well even pointing out, with a laugh, that Jagr, "liked to stick his butt out just to protect the puck."

With Pekar it's not so much that what he says, but it's how he says it. There's joy and humor for him in those comedic moments and it comes through (even over the phone) whether he's talking about his dad's "funny pants" or how Jagr "stuck his butt out."

When I talked to him on a Sunday, it was his day to be away from hockey and I asked him what he was going to do. Pekar said he was going to play a pickup game of basketball with his friends "to just get rest," before stopping for a second and chuckling a bit at the term he just used. After that he said maybe he and his friends would go to the movies. Before I could ask what movie he might see or what kind of movies he liked, he said, "we don't go there for the movie, we just go there for the popcorn" and laughed.

The sheer joy of indulging in that slice of Americana really came through when he said "the last time we went there I ate a bucket [of popcorn] and fell asleep half-way through the movie" causing an eruption of laughter on both ends of the phone line.

Pekar's zest for life and positivity will be tested again this season as there's a lot of work ahead of him. The 18 yr old left winger will be venturing into new territory for Muskegon as the Lumberjacks will be looking at him as a scorer and to him for leadership. He knows that the coaching staff will put him in a position to score, but that "he has to score the goals" and he also said he's honored to be considered a leader, likes to be a leader and feels that he can lead both on and off the ice.

Pekar certainly has the on-ice character and work-ethic to succeed and the more he and the team succeed, the more his personality will blossom. The Sabres certainly could use players with on-ice attributes like that while the Buffalo media and fan base could use an influx of positivity and humor. It's a good combination and hopefully we'll see Pekar talking about him pissing off star NHL players and/or scoring goals in post-game interviews for the Sabres somewhere down the road.

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