Ondřej Trejbal's game continuing to translate well for SCSU
The 22-year-old Huskies defenseman from the Czech Republic is in his third season with No. 2-ranked St. Cloud State.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When Ondřej Trejbal came to the United States in the fall of 2017, his command of the English language was limited. Trejbal, who is from Hamry nad Sázavou, Czech Republic, was 18 years old and had decided to play for the Minnesota Wilderness, a junior hockey team in Cloquet that competes in the North American Hockey League.
"At the beginning, I didn't really speak English," Trejbal said. "I knew some basics. I knew how to say, 'I'm hungry,' or 'I need food' — stuff like that. But there was no chance I could have a conversation or something like that.
"I was listening in the locker room, listening to my billet family and trying to learn. As the season went on, I felt more comfortable in English ... and hockey as well. At the beginning was really tough, but nothing too bad."
Trejbal's toughness and offensive ability have moved a bit more into the forefront this season for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team. The second-ranked Huskies (3-1 NCHC, 9-3 overall) play 13th-ranked Western Michigan (1-3, 6-4) at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday (NCHC.tv) in a conference series at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Getting better, adapting
Trejbal has five points and is tied for the team lead in plus/minus (plus-7) in 10 games played this season. Going into the season, he had 16 points and was a minus-1 in 57 college games.
"I've just seen him get better and better each year," said Brett Larson, a former college defenseman who is in his fourth season as SCSU's head coach. "He's a guy that quietly does all the little things, he defends well and he can jump up and make a play (offensively) as we've seen. He's made some really big-time plays coming up the rink and he's smart.
"The area where he's really gotten better — and (associate head coach Dave Shyiak) has worked on him a lot on this — is aggressive defending, his ability to get into the corner and be more physical with a guy and shut a play down," Larson said of the 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior. "Early in his career, he was content to just kind of stay 'D' side with a good stick and allow movement. Now he's getting in and becoming a more physical defenseman in those tight areas. He's able to close the play and shut the play down more than when he first got here. I think that's given him confidence.
"I can tell you that (Monday) night, I walked out of the rink here at quarter to 6 to get on the radio show and we had practiced and worked out in the morning. There was one guy in the weight room doing extra and it was Ondrej Trejbal," Larson said of Trejbal, who has been doing his additional work with strength and conditioning coach Jake Franczek. "He's really committed to getting better."
- Read more St. Cloud State coverage on The Rink Live
- SCSU associate head coach Dave Shyiak on the team's defense, newcomers and the challenges, process of recruiting
While his English needed a lot of work when he arrived in the country, Trejbal also had to adapt to junior hockey in United States. The NHL-sized rinks (200 feet by 85) were smaller compared to the Olympic-sized (200 by 100) that he was accustomed to back home. But there were other differences as well.
"At the beginning, I was shocked by how physical the game was," Trejbal said. "At that point, I wasn't really thinking about it because I was so shocked at being in another country.
"But I just played my hockey and played my game. It turns out, it was a good decision (to come here)."
As an NAHL rookie, he was tied for 21st in points among NAHL defensemen (29) and was a plus-5 in 53 games. His second season, among defensemen he tied for ninth in the NAHL in assists (29), tied for sixth in points (40), tied for second in power-play assists (17) and was a plus-10 in 55 games as he finished his high school degree online.
"High school is a bit longer back home and I finished my degree after my second year," said Trejbal, who also made a recruiting visit to Minnesota Duluth. "I talked to my (junior) coaches about college hockey and, at that point I didn't speak much English and I didn't know much about college hockey, I was trusting them to tell me if it was good or not as good.
"When I saw the (SCSU) facility, met the coaching staff, when I met the boys, I knew this was my new home."
Speaking the same language
The Huskies also had something that not a lot of college teams have: another player from Eastern Europe on their roster. Goalie David Hrenak is from Považská Bystrica, Slovakia, which is about 160 miles from Hamry nad Sázavou, Czech Republic.
"At the beginning, I was more worried about school than hockey," Trejbal said. "I was struggling with school back home and it's my first language. I was like, 'What am I going to do here with my second language and it's college and it's harder than high school?'
"But then I talked to David and (he said) I don't have to worry about it at all and if I need something, he's going to help me. I had to take some international classes and I had some Chinese guys in there and their English was even worse than mine. I felt comfortable in there.
"I learned how it works here and you have to do your homework. If you do what you're supposed to do, you'll be fine."
Trejbal and Hrenak also speak their native languages when they talk to one another. While people in the Czech Republic speak Czech and people from Slovakia speak Slovakian, there is not a huge difference in the languages, according to Trejbal.
"The accent is just different," Trejbal said. "If you talk to somebody from England, you hear the accent, but you can still understand. That's the same for (David and me).
"If we talk to each other, we usually talk in our language unless there is somebody from the USA or speak English around."
His mother (Iveta Trejbalova) also made the trip over to see him play for the Huskies when he was a freshman, which also helped.
Trejbal said that a lot of his family has played hockey, including his father (Roman) and his younger brother (Michal). Michal, who is 20, played forward for the Alexandria Blizzard in the NA3HL in 2019-20, but injuries ended his playing career last season.
Roman played some pro hockey before injuries ended his career, though he still plays recreational hockey and is a bartender in Prague. Ondrej said that his dad was an assistant coach on most of his teams growing up and will often watch SCSU games while he is at work, because with the time difference, most of them are live when he is finishing his shift.
"We talk about hockey, but at this point, it's not about teaching," he said of talking with his dad. "We talk more about what he saw, what I saw.
"He used to teach me until I was like 15 or 16, but he realized that our coaches and everybody here, understands hockey way better than him. But it's still so great to talk to him (about) hockey and I feel like he's basically right about all stuff."