OTTAWA – The only thing Ondrej Roman knows for sure about his hockey future is that he’ll be on an airplane Tuesday.
He now has to decide whether he’ll be on a flight going to the Czech Republic or one traveling to the Pacific Northwest so he can rejoin the Spokane Chiefs, where he hasn’t played since last season.
It’s a decision he may not make until the very last minute, though as of late Friday night Roman said the odds were “60-40” that he’ll be headed to Spokane.
“I’m going to talk to my agent and we’re going to make a decision,” the Dallas Stars prospect said shortly after his Czech team was eliminated from medal contention at the World Junior Hockey Championship, after a 5-1 loss to Russia. “I talked with the Dallas scouts here and they told me they want me to stay in Spokane. So I think that’s big in my decision but I can’t tell you the final decision.”
Roman has been caught in the middle of a dispute between the NHL team that drafted him and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which wants a payout fee for Roman’s release. But because the 19-year-old has not yet been signed by Dallas, the Stars aren’t obligated to pay anything for his services. Without a binding agreement for such circumstances, Roman has been left in limbo.
While the Chiefs have held a roster spot open for Roman, he must be on the Spokane roster by Saturday, or he will no longer be eligible to play for the team this season.
If Roman doesn’t go to Spokane, he will return to the Czech Extraliga, where he has been playing this season for HC Vitkovice Steel, in his hometown of Ostrava.
“I don’t know what the people (here) say, but it’s (the Extraliga) a quality league and very good players are playing there,” he said. “But still it’s a little bit different because it’s bigger ice there. My dream is to play in the NHL and the junior league probably might be better for me to play to get used to the small rinks and hockey here in North America.”
Roman said that he’s “playing about the third or fourth line the whole season, not much on power plays” for Vitkovice, adding “I’m the youngest guy there so it’s kind of normal for the Czech league.”
If Roman goes back to Spokane, he said he’s “talked already with the coach (Hardy Sauter) and I’m going to play a lot.”
When asked if he would have preferred to have been in Spokane right from the start of this year, the 5-foot-11, 172-pound forward said “it’s hard to say.”
“It was kind of 50-50 and me and my agent decided it’s going to be better for the half-year to stay in the Czech Republic,” he said.
Roman is visibly frustrated by his situation and is not comfortable with the pressure he’s facing.
“I don’t know what to say. I have to make a decision and I hope it’s going to be a good decision for me for my future.”
The head coach of the Czech national junior team, Marek Sýkora, said through an interpreter that he thinks Roman should stay in Ostrava, where he would get progressively more playing time as he continues to improve.
Sýkora added that this whole affair “stuck in the head” of Roman during the World Junior tournament and that it “negatively affected the player’s performance.”
For his part, Roman said it was a dream to not only represent his country, but to be captain of the Czech team. After five games, he was among the tournament’s leading scorers, with three goals and four assists.
He has one game remaining tonight. It’ll be for fifth place against the U.S, which features three of his Spokane teammates – Drayson Bowman, Tyler Johnson and Mitch Wahl.
He said it has been great to reconnect with those three players in Ottawa, as well as with Spokane goalie Dustin Tokarski, who is playing for Canada.
“I’ve missed them all, for sure,” he said. “They’re great teammates.”