Plzen, Czech Republic, is best known in North America as the originator of Pilsner beer.
But for the Blackhawks’ Dominik Kubalik, Plzen is simply home.
Back in Europe after a brilliantly successful first season in the NHL, Kubalik will temporarily return to his roots this autumn with HC Plzen, the city’s Czech Extraliga team.
“Right now, I’m going to take a couple of weeks rest to recover, get the mind away from hockey,” Kubalik said Thursday. “And then . . . same like I usually do, I’ll start practicing off the ice. Today, I talked to [HC Plzen general manager] Martin Straka so I can skate with them, so that’s great and I’ll be with the team on the ice.”
Kubalik’s pro career basically launched with HC Plzen. He debuted with the club in 2011-12, at age 16, before playing two years in the Canadian junior leagues. He then returned to play four full seasons in Plzen from 2014 to 2018.
His stature in the hockey world has grown immensely since then — he remains an outstanding finalist for the Calder Trophy, with the winner not to be announced until October — but his connection to Plzen hasn’t changed.
And conveniently, the Czech Extraliga will start its 2020-21 season on time on Sept. 17. That puts it on a substantially different calendar than the NHL, which plans to start its next season in December, and the Hawks have taken advantage.
Recently signed Czech prospect Matej Chalupa was temporarily loaned back to the Extraliga team Mountfield HK so he can play hockey this fall.
Kubalik won’t play official games for HC Plzen, but he will informally practice and work out with them while simultaneously negotiating a new contract with the Hawks. He’s a pending restricted free agent.
That hopefully should keep the momentum rolling steadily forward from his 30-goal breakout NHL regular season and solid follow-up postseason performance.
“When the year went on, when you start feeling more and more confident [and] reaching your goals, you still want more and more,” Kubalik said. “That’s what I want right now for the next year. I want to get better. I need to get better, that’s for sure. I hope I will be better. All I can say is I’ll do anything for that.”
Fellow Hawks rookies Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist — despite being six and five years, respectively, younger than Kubalik — also will try to keep their momentum rolling from their rookie to sophomore years.
Dach said Tuesday he’s set ambitious goals for adding muscle and weight to his body this offseason.
“If I could add that size and protect pucks the way I want to protect them, make those plays, it’ll only help my game,” he said.
Dach plans to take a few weeks off to get his body fully healed and rested, then continue his rigorous offseason-like workouts from the coronavirus pause this spring and summer.
One of the changes he made then was to start working out virtually with Patrick Kane’s famed Chicago trainer, Ian Mack. One of the changes he’ll make is to incorporate the lessons he learned from the playoff series against the Oilers and Golden Knights.
“You can never be fast enough, your shot can never be hard enough,” Dach said. “I’ll have some people look over my game and look at areas I can improve.
“I’ll get the same routine I had going -during COVID. [I’ll] still work on my body and make sure my body’s always flowing and in a good state where I’m not too rigid or gaining too much muscle. I want to add weight the right way.”
Boqvist said he has similar goals to strengthen his body in a productive fashion.
“I want to be stronger in my upper body and legs,” he said. “My biggest thing is to be able to handle guys in the corner. I’m really going to work on that.”
His top priority, though, is improving his conditioning.
The young defenseman played 54 regular-season games in juniors in 2018-19, then 56 regular-season games in the NHL and AHL in 2019-20. He hopes to play the NHL’s whole slate in 2020-21.
“[I want] to be able to play 20 minutes per game, play a big role,” Boqvist said. “[And] to be able to play 82 games, as well. Last year, I got tired during the year and didn’t play my best hockey. But I have a good few months here before the season starts to work on that.”