FRISCO, Texas – Around the same time Ales Hemsky was helping the Dallas Stars to a 4-0 victory over the Wild in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Thursday, his homeland was in the midst of an identity crisis.
Right now, Hemsky is from the Czech Republic. But, if a recently proposed name change goes through, the 32-year-old Stars forward would be a native of Czechia — a simpler, shorter name that fits better on a map.
“I don’t know what’s the point behind it,” Hemsky said after the Stars’ optional practice Friday. “A lot of people already screw it up. I often hear people say Czechoslovakia or think we are part of some other country.”
It hasn’t been Czechoslovakia since 1992, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia decided to split into two nations. The Czech Republic or Czechia, whatever name you use, borders Germany and Poland, and it’s not to be confused with Chechnya, a region in Russia.
“I don’t think you could point it out on a map,” Hemsky said. “Most people can’t.”
While the nation of residence may be changing on his passport soon, Hemsky has gone through a similar identity crisis.
He signed with the Stars on July 1, 2014 — the same day the franchise traded for Jason Spezza. He was expected to take the burden off Dallas’ marquee names and provide depth scoring, possibly hit near the point-per-game status that he carried in Edmonton from 2007 to 2011.
However, through the first two seasons in Dallas he struggled. Hemsky had 32 points in 76 games in the 2014-15 season and underwent hip surgery in the following summer. This season his offensive game fizzled early and he missed time with a lower-body injury in January.
But, he found his game in early February. Over his past 28 games Hemsky had 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists), and on Thursday he found himself in an NHL playoff game for the first time since the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals with the Oilers.
“It’s exciting. It just shows you can’t take anything for granted,” Hemsky said. “You never know when you’ll get another chance.”
And Hemsky was good in his first playoff game in a decade.
He had an assist on Radek Faksa’s second-period goal after he stripped the puck from Jarret Stoll. He broke up a shorthanded chance by Ryan Carter when it was still 2-0 and he would have scored if not for a gusty poke check by Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.
“I thought he really skated, and he was noticeable every time he was on the ice,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. “I know he was disappointed when Dubnyk gambled and poke-checked him, but almost every time he stepped on the ice he had the puck or he made something happen, you know the player is having a good night then.”
After several lean years with the Oilers, Hemsky is enjoying having plans for the playoffs.
“It’s been a little different and I don’t even feel tired,” Hemsky said.
It had almost become second nature for Hemsky to pack up his bags after the regular-season finale. Consider this: since he last played a Stanley Cup playoff game, he has had enough spare time to play in three different IIHF Inline World Championships for the Czech Republic, er, Czechia.
“It’s been a long time coming and this is why you play hockey,” he said. “It felt like this season went faster. I guess time really flies when you’re having more fun.”