Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman think Michal Rozsival played too often the last couple of seasons, that he was overworked and overtaxed, and that his game suffered from the overuse.
“I never thought about it like that,” Rozsival said with bemusement. “As a player, you want to play. Every game you’re out there, it’s a blast, and that’s what you want to do. That’s why we all do it, right? You want to be out there playing. It’s not like last year I ever thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’m playing again today?!’ I was happy. I was happy to be playing.”
But like it or not, Rozsival’s role has changed dramatically this season. After playing 42, 65, and 51 games the last three seasons, the 38-year-old Czech veteran will finally be making his season debut Monday night, in the Hawks’ seventh game of the season. Trevor van Riemsdyk’s shoulder injury might mean a few more games for Rozsival than expected over the next month or so, but he’s still behind six other defensemen that are all but set in stone in the lineup. Michal Kempny will be scratched for the first time against the Flames, but the rookie isn’t going anywhere.
Rozsival figured he wouldn’t get 60-plus games again, but when rookie Gustav Forsling made the team out of camp, bumping Rozsival from No. 7 to No. 8, he knew playing time would be especially hard to come by.
“It definitely was challenging [not playing the first two weeks],” Rozsival said. “But at the same time, I expected something like that. These players we have are all high-quality players. [Forsling] had a great camp; he deserves to be here. You’ve got to understand that. It’s part of the business, I guess. You’re never guaranteed a spot in this league, right? You’ve got to work and earn it and try to get it somehow.”
With Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg and Ville Pokka in Rockford, the Hawks have their deepest blue line in years. But Bowman cautioned that everyone should be ready to chip in at some point.
“It’s funny, because we had these [interviews] a year ago and they were always saying, ‘Are you worried about your defense? Do you have enough depth there?’” Bowman said. “And now you’re saying we have too much depth. I think no matter what the story is, there’s a story line to it. But I’d rather have more guys who can play. Are we going to be healthy all year long? I hope so. But I don’t know if we will. … The thing with Michal, even last year, he just played too much consecutively. He still has a lot of hockey left.”
“We want to get everyone in at some point,” he said. “We don’t want to wait too long to get him into the season here. He can be useful — gives us some experience, can play minutes against top guys, can be useful on both [special teams] units if you need him.”
Rozsival said there never was any sort of clearly defined role laid out for him when he signed — that he’d play a certain amount of games, or that he’d be primarily responsible for helping Kempny get acclimated to life in the United States. He’s not here to sit, and he’s not here to babysit. He’s here to play hockey — whenever he gets the chance.
“It’s been like this the past three years; I never played all the games,” Rozsival said. “I’ve never really been a starter. Obviously, it’s a little different these days. But at the same time, I’m still treating it the same way. I’m ready for anything, because anything can happen.”
NOTE: Vinnie Hinostroza will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game. … Artem Anisimov was named the NHL’s second star of the week after posting four goals and three assists in three games. Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot was first star.