‘Homecoming’ has Coyotes’ Vrbata back on track
Turns out, despite the contrary postulations of Thomas Wolfe, you
can go home again. Phoenix right winger Radim Vrbata is proof of
The skilled seven-season NHL veteran returned to the Coyotes
this off-season after a disastrous 2008-09 that saw him sign a
three-year, $9-million free agent contract with Tampa Bay following
a career year in the desert.
“When I got here two years ago, everything seemed to click,”
said Vrbata, who lasted only 18 games with the Lightning before
returning to Europe. “And then when I became a free agent (in 2008)
I was 100 percent sure I was going to sign here, but it didn’t
happen. And when I went to Tampa it didn’t work out, so getting a
second chance here, I’m very pleased with that.”
Beyond the on-ice issues that were present almost from Day 1
with the Lightning, Vrbata’s family was going through a tough time
with his wife, Petra, dealing with medical issues.
“She was pregnant at that time and when things weren’t going
well, it was a family decision to go home to where she would be
comfortable,” Vrbata said.
Thankfully, all went well in the end and the Vrbatas welcomed
a son, Krystof, into the world in March. With that load off his
mind, Vrbata decided to return to North America and with the
Lightning’s permission, his agent, Rich Evans, began the process of
finding the 28-year-old a new team.
“In the summer, the first thought was about Phoenix,” Vrbata
said. “Once we got the OK from Tampa to work out a deal, they were
the first team we talked to.”
Upon arriving back in Phoenix, Vrbata noticed a change in
team philosophy, one that, so far, has served the team well and has
them ensconced in the West’s playoff picture.
“My first year we had a lot of rookies, but this year I knew
would be different because they went out and signed a lot of
veteran players,” Vrbata said. “And it shows because the veterans
have been through a lot of different situations and they can handle
them better than the young guys.”
The Coyotes roster isn’t bereft of youth, however. One of the
youngsters, 22-year-old Martin Hanzal, is skating on an all-Czech
line with Vrbata and former New York Ranger Petr Prucha.
The trio, which, despite being No. 3 on the Coyotes depth
chart was the team’s best during a dominant 6-3 win over the Maple
Leafs in Toronto Wednesday, has earned positive reviews and, more
importantly, trust from new coach Dave Tippett: With the Coyotes
holding onto a two-goal lead with fewer than two minutes remaining,
Vrbata’s line was sent over the boards to help ensure the victory.
After scoring the empty-netter Wednesday, Vrbata has a goal
in each of his past four games. And a hot scorer is something the
goal-starved Coyotes — 22nd in the league in total tallies
— could certainly use.
“He’s a very smart player, a very crafty player,” Tippett
said. “He gets lots of attempts at the net and it’s good to see
some pucks going in for him. He’s found good chemistry with the
Czechs on that line; they do a lot of real good things together.
He’s been a good player for us.”
With 11 goals through 34 games, Vrbata is essentially on pace
to match his output from his career-high season of 27 in ’07-08.
Surely it’s a pleasant surprise for the team he’s acclimatized so
quickly considering the roster turnover and the fact it’s no longer
Wayne Gretzky wearing the coaching hat.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Wayne, as he was
the first coach who just let me play my game,” Vrbata said. “But
it’s the same with Dave. He’s a really good coach and I always
liked what he did with Dallas.”
Seems no matter who’s behind the bench, the desert air suits
“This place,” he said, “is just a really good fit for me.”
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog
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