Dagmar Havlova, the 3rd liner for the Prague Phantoms, has always had a bit of a juggling act to do. Being both a political figure (she's the wife of the late former President, Vaclav Havel) and a professional hockey player, she never really had a moment to spare. It made things a bit weird for a while, but the increased workload has led to both her team and her country doing well for the most part - the novelty of a stateswoman on a professional hockey team has increased tourism among hockey fans. Likewise, the increase in fans and ticketing income has led the Phantoms to be able to spend a bit more freely and actually approach the salary cap, unlike the first few seasons where last minute bonuses were given and the team still had space. It's become somewhat of a self feeding cycle, with the team feeding the tourism industry and then the tourism industry feeding right back into the team. It's pretty much indisputable that the acquisition of the Phantoms as a VHL franchise, and the subsequent signing and playing of Havlova, has been a good thing for both the Phantoms and the Czech Republic on the whole (and no, I'm not calling it "Czechia"). What began as nothing more than a glorified publicity stunt has become a great financial move for both sides.
However, it seems the team will be reaching a bit of an impasse. At the end of the season, Joel Ylonen and Brick Wahl will both be retiring, and as these are two of the better players for the Phantoms, it seems likely there will be a bit of a step back for the team entering next season. Solomon Crawford has been waiting for an opportunity to step into the starting goaltender role, and while his improvement hasn't been some meteoric rise to stardom as the team had originally hoped, he's improved incrementally, and it should be enough for him to at least fill the role in Wahl's absence - it'll definitely be a step back, but Crawford will be adequate enough in the role, especially as next season wears on. He has to be, anyway. Woody McPine is in the pipeline, but he's very early in his career, so it'll be Crawford for a while. The head office's confidence in Crawford admittedly faltered a bit throughout parts of last season, but given the rate at which he's attended practices the last three weeks, the confidence is back to where it once was and Crawford will definitely be fine.
The Phantoms' greatest strength is its defense, which should help ease the load on Crawford early on, and that's always a good thing to have in front of a developing goalie - if Crawford was going to be hung out to dry a bit more then perhaps there would be more of an issue, but that shouldn't happen. With the likes of Seabass Perrin, Wolf Stansson Jr, Cinnamon Block, Gert B Frobe, and Jacob Perry in front of him, there's no reason Crawford should struggle, especially if his development keeps up like it has been the last few weeks. This is the Crawford we've been expecting to see - it may have taken him a bit longer to break out of his plateau, but he's certainly doing it now, and he'll have one of the strongest defensive crews in the league in front of him to help with that.
So if the loss of Wahl is mostly covered by Crawford, what about the loss of Ylonen? Well, players such as Willie Dredge have continued to improve up front, and much has been made of the impact Thomas Landry II is making in just his rookie season, but that arguably won't be enough given the fact that the following season the Phantoms are set to lose Roll Fizzlebeef as well. Now admittedly, looking two seasons down the line is a bit much, considering there will be more drafted players, free agents, and the like between now and then, but this team needs to mostly keep up the pace, which is admittedly easier said than done. However, when an entire country is riding on the results, it doesn't matter how easily it's done, it needs to happen. This is where Havlova comes in.
With the success of not only her team, but her country, resting on her shoulders, Havlova has taken to the practice room for extra hours every night now. It's certainly not been easy, as most professional hockey players - most professional athletes in general - don't work two jobs at once, especially when one of the jobs affects the success of an entire country. However, her teammates manage to put in the extra hours, and so she's decided that her role as a stateswoman shouldn't hold her back. It's been more than a convenient excuse so far into her career, some might even call it a perfectly justifiable reason not to have been quite as heavy on the practicing as those without such an important role, but if the Phantoms are going to maintain their position as regular European Conference playoff contenders, and perhaps even take a step forward, it falls to Havlova herself to put in the necessary work. After all, her other role isn't really in any sort of official capacity, a lot of it is just PR and financial things, so she can always delegate more of the stuff on the stateswoman side to assistants and the like. That job can be set aside. This one can't. The Phantoms must not fail, they have such an impact on the tourism industry that their success is absolutely vital to the city of Prague and to the entire Czech Republic.
Other teams chose designated players who generally tend to be solely focused on hockey and improved faster than Havlova as a result - well, except for Malmo, but that's merely a bit of unfortunate luck on their part, and best wishes to the player brought in by their last GM - while Prague chose someone who was always going to have to juggle two facets of life. That has admittedly made things harder, and Havlova is nowhere near as developed as the other designated players who entered the league at the same time, George Washington and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. This can be a chance, however, for Havlova to make a mark on a team that could use the help.
1077 words, 2 weeks of claim