While much of the talk heading into the Stanley Cup Finals has centered around all the young Blackhawks and how pumped they are to participate in their first Finals, there’s a certain older guy in the room who’s just as excited.
Say hello to 34-year-old defenseman Michal Rozsival.
Last year, Rozsival, who began his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999, was a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. After the Coyotes dispatched the Blackhawks in the Western Conference quarterfinals and Nashville in the next round, Rozsival thought his dream of finally playing in the Finals might actually come true.
Then came the freight train known as the Los Angeles Kings — and just like that, the dream was dashed ... again.
The native of the Czech Republic admits he began to wonder if he’d ever reach the promised land.
“I definitely felt after beating Nashville in the second round and then going against L.A. that I’m getting close,” Rozsival said. “Closer and closer.
“I got a little taste of it and this time it happened.”
Courtesy of their thrilling 4-3 double overtime victory over the Kings on Saturday, the Blackhawks are back in the Finals. Eight of the players from the 2010 Cup-winning team will be returning, including Marian Hossa — who will be playing in his fourth Finals over a six-year span.
And then there are the handful of young Hawks ready to hit the stage for the first time.
But no one is more relieved, more grateful or more excited to be here than Rozsival.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity a long time — a lot of sweat, a lot of blood,” said Rozsival, who signed with the Hawks as a free agent in September. “It would be nice to win one. It’s something you dream about.
“Every time I’ve signed anywhere I was hoping to be in the spot that I’m in now. It was a little different this year when I signed with Chicago. I knew I was signing with a great team that would be a contender.
“It was kind of the plan and I was really excited early on this season and I’ve enjoyed every moment of this season even though I wasn’t playing every game. I’ve cherished every moment.”
Rozsival saw action in only 27 regular-season games, but it was in the playoffs where the big guy with the big smile began to turn heads.
In Game 4 against L.A., with minutes-man Duncan Keith out of the lineup due to a suspension, it was Rozsival who picked up the slack, playing the game of his life while logging over 25 minutes in a 3-2 Hawks victory.
“He was like an old pro out there,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville of the performance. “He did a great job. He did what we were hoping he’d do.”
Just what his teammates have come to expect from the steady veteran.
“He’s been tremendous,” defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “He was in and out of the lineup earlier and he was really, really good. Now that playoff time comes, he has the experience you want.
“He’s a smart player, he’s calm all the time — just one of those guys that you want to have around for a series like this.”
And now it’s on to the big dance and all the hoopla surrounding it.
“I’m trying to block it out,” Rozsival said with a smile when asked about how his nerves might react Wednesday night at oh, about 7:20 p.m. “I’ve played a lot of games in my career but never one like that.
“But at the end of the day you just have to go out there and give it your best.
“It might be my last shot at it.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.