Through his first 24 games with the Kelowna Rockets, Filip Vasko was still looking for his first Western Hockey League goal.
Yet, the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation deemed the 18-year-old forward just too valuable to overlook. Vasko has earned an invite to Slovakia’s national junior team selection camp, Dec. 15 to 23 in Three Hills, Alta.
“I think that it’s great,” Vasko said of his inclusion on Slovakia’s selection camp roster. “It’s like a thank you from the Slovakian team for my work. I will do my best.”
Vasko has already proven his worth to Slovakian hockey after leading his team in scoring at last year’s World Under-18 Championship in Germany with two goals and five points in six games.
If Vasko makes the grade to play for his country at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Calgary, Rockets coach Ryan Huska said the experience will be invaluable to the skilled forward.
“It would be a great experience for him,” said Huska “It allows him to be with some of the people from his country, and it allows him to play at a high level and learn in a really good hockey environment.”
Despite being held without a goal through the Nov. 26 game vs Victoria, Vasko has displayed some definite play making abilities in his first WHL season, picking up 11 assists.
Huska also likes the young Slovak’s willingness to get involved in the game, regardless of the physical consequences.
“He’s around the puck a lot, and one think we like is that he does a good job of retrieving pucks, he doesn’t have a ton of fear and isn’t afraid to go to tough areas,” said Huska. “We would like to see him shoot the puck more, but as he gets more confidence and continues to use his speed, the goals should come.”
In addition to learning a new culture, Vasko has had to adapt to a new style of play.
And after some early growing pains in Canadian major junior hockey, the amiable Slovak is beginning to find his comfort zone.
“It was difficult,” said Vasko, the Rockets second choice in the 2011 CHL Import Draft.
“Hockey is different here, it is more fast here than Europe, more physical for sure,” he said. “Guys like Brett Bulmer and Colton Sissons are so good. It’s best junior league in world. I know that I didn’t score yet, but I think it’s coming.”
On top of adjusting to the North American game, Vasko is working hard at learning English and is getting plenty of help in all aspects of Canadian life from roommate and Rockets’ rookie Tanner Moar.
“When he doesn’t understand something, I’ll try to explain it a few different ways so he can figure it out,” said Moar, from Canwood, Sask. “Sometimes on the ice, the coach will explain a drill using one word, but sometimes I might have to use three or four words that are similar that explain it better for him. I like helping him out when I can. We’ve become pretty good friends.”
Vasko hails from Humenne, a city of about 70,000 people in picturesque eastern Slovakia.
Among his favourite Slovakian pro hockey players are the late Pavol Demitra, along with current NHLers, Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa.
Rocket Shots…The Rockets continue their home stand this weekend with games Friday against the Victoria Royals and Saturday against Prince George…Kelowna’s final home game before their pre-Christmas tour of the Eastern Conference is Wednesday, Dec,. 7 against Lethbridge.