by Lisa Brown on 11/12/11 at 10:30 PM ET
The Edmonton Oil Kings were proud to select in the first round of the 2011 CHL import draft Martin Gernat, a Slovakian player who had just been drafted in the fifth round by the Edmonton Oilers. Being a fifth round pick, expectations were low going into this season but Gernat may be out to prove just how much the amateur scouting of the Oilers has improved since Stu MacGregor has taken over at the helm.
Martin Gernat is a young man from Slovakia, with the size that many NHL clubs would like to see in their prospect defenceman. At 18, Gernat stands at 6’5” and 187 lbs, with lots of time still to grow and put on mass.
So far this season, Gernat has played 20 games, has six goals, 12 assists and 10 penalty minutes. Gernat is also an impressive +10. Gernat’s equally impressive 18 points puts him third on the team behind only Michael St. Croix (centre, New York Rangers) and T.J. Foster (undrafted centre).
Several Oilers’ prospects in the WHL are still learning conversational English and are transitioning to a North American lifestyle, and Gernat is certainly one of these players. On October 21st when the Oil Kings hosted the Portland Winterhawks I was very excited to speak with the defenceman who had made such a splash, such an impression during the Young Stars tournament in Penticton and even during the Oilers training camp. I was unsure how well Gernat spoke English and knew only the basics of Gernat’s game.
It turns out that Martin Gernat speaks at times with a little hesitation and sometimes searches for his next words, but overall has an extremely impressive grasp of the English language and is very intelligent and quick witted. Gernat is also quick to smile and you know that he is truly blessed to be doing what he loves.
“To start was really hard for me but with time it’s gotten better.” Gernat says of his grasp of conversational English. “I go to English class with school and its better talking with the guys, all people really. I need talking to get better.” As with most things, practice makes perfect and with as friendly as Gernat is, the young Slovak should have no problem getting the opportunity to practice.
The reason that Gernat is as prepared to play in North America as he is is that “We had it in school for a few years, but English here is different than in school But it’s okay now I think.” Ask any child who takes French in school if it’s exactly like speaking in a social situation; usually it doesn’t compare.
Gernat seems to really appreciate that he plays for the Oil Kings, and that his NHL club plays in the same building especially since the Oilers have some excellent European members of staff. Gernat mentions that he speaks with Frank Musil and although he was surprised to be drafted by the Oilers, he was even happier to be selected by the Oil Kings; “I see games here, so it’s good.” Playing in Edmonton, Gernat is given the opportunity to watch his NHL club, and see potential holes and the current development, as well as having several opportunities to catch live NHL games, something that is not as easy for players of some WHL clubs, such as those in Regina and Saskatoon.
Gernat’s proximity to the Oilers also aids in his communication with the team. While learning English, face to face contact may be a little easier than text messages or emails. Being in Edmonton, Gernat has several opportunities to speak not only with the Oilers’ development staff, but also the Oilers’ coaching staff. And that communication is something that according to Gernat happens “All of the time,” Gernat specified “I go on the Oilers website and talk with the boys here, play lots of games and all of the time talking with Tom Renney.” I had been told several times about the contact Billy Moores keeps with the players, but was impressed to hear that Oilers’ head coach Tom Renney also gets hands on. “All of the time I talk to someone,” which will go a long way to helping erase the idea that the Oilers don’t communicate well with their players. True, this was something that was said years ago by a player who was out with injury, but some things you hear are difficult to forget.
I was reminded just how tricky English can be when I asked Gernat if he had any goals on the season. “I had a lot of points, but last game was a little hard for me; I was tired. We won, that is the best part. If I can help our team, that is good.” We both laughed as I told him I was more interest in what he would like to accomplish for himself on the year. I asked if Gernat would like to score 30 goals, he laughed and exclaimed “I don’t know, maybe, we will see. It’s a long season and all team we need wins and points. My points aren’t for myself. It’s for my team.”
Again, it became very apparent to me just how much of a team player Gernat is, and how interested he is in being a good teammate and friend. By being a player that others want to be around, that should definitely give Gernat opportunities to work on his conversation English skills.
Living in Edmonton, Gernat says “It’s all different from home. It’s pretty good here, I do miss my family but they come here in November because I stay maybe on the World Juniors maybe in December, but I don’t go home. I stay here.” With the World Juniors being played in Edmonton and Calgary, Gernat will have a “home town advantage” of some sorts, which will be an excellent opportunity should he play for Team Slovakia.
Although the language and culture are different in Edmonton versus back home in Slovakia, the food would also take some getting used to. Gernat says he seems “A lot of sandwich and hamburgers here, so it’s different. We have special food in Slovakia. Here is like, normal food what we have in my home in a restaurant, but special food is not here.” Thankfully, Gernat has several friends in town, and they are able to band together to make comfort foods from home from time to time. This is not an uncommon comment from European players. On Oil Change season one, fans were given the opportunity to look into Magnus Paajarvi’s freezer. Paajarvi expressed missing foods from Sweden, and although pizza was not the same that he enjoys at home, Paajarvi still had a freezer full of the bake at home type.
The Oilers do have another Slovakian prospect in centreman Milan Kytnar. “The first time I met him was this summer in Penticton. He’s a good guy; it was fun with him and Marincin. It’s a good Slovak team here with the Oilers,” Gernat says with a smile and a laugh.
Martin Marincin is another Slovakian Oilers’ defenceman prospect who is a lot closer than Oklahoma City to Gernat in Edmonton. Marincin currently plays for the Prince George Cougars and although Marincin is a year older than Gernat, Marincin is still an excellent form of friendly competition and someone who can help make the transition to North America and it’s hockey a little easier. “We talk on Skype all of the time with Marincin and Milan sometimes, but it’s hard because he is busy all of the time with games.”
The Oil Kings play in the extremely competitive Central division of the WHL. With a 11-6-1-2 record, the Oil Kings are fourth of six teams and the Medicine Hat Tigers lead the way with 14-5-1-1 and five points more than the Oil Kings. But all is certainly not lost at this point. Martin Gernat and the rest of his team still have high hopes of a long playoff run this spring and are taking things one game at a time.
Further to an Oil Kings playoff run, Gernat anticipates the opportunity to play in the NHL. If Gernat can continue to develop at this pace, and play with the passion he has shown so far, he could find himself in an Oilers uniform in another few years.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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