Coming into the season, Vitek Vanecek looked AHL-contract bound as either a member of the Capitals taxi squad or the full-time starter in Hershey. Instead, prized free-agent signing, Henrik Lundqvist, was forced out of the season due to a heart condition, creaking open a possible opportunity for Vanecek with the big league club.
The Czech goaltender walked in and busted that door open, helping lead the Capitals to one of their best starts in franchise history. The Capitals began the season with a nine-game point streak and did not lose in regulation during the month of January.
Tuesday, Vanecek was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month after posting a league-high five wins in goal. After practice, Vanecek spoke to the media about the honor.
What was it like this morning learning that you were the rookie of the month? You’ve been trying to make it here from the minor leagues the last five years.
Vitek Vanecek: First, thank you so much. It is really nice. I was working hard. I been here for a really long time. It great to hear that from the players when they tell me on the ice. I was really happy. The teammates help me a lot. They do everything for me. They was blocking shots, cleaning the pucks in front of net.
Did you even know about this award?
Vitek Vanecek: I didn’t know. I just hear it when they tell me on the ice. I was really happy. The guys was happy too. It was really nice to see it.
I see you talking to Scott Murray, the Capitals goaltending coach, a lot after games. What are you working on most?
Vitek Vanecek: Hockey change from AHL to NHL. We’re trying to focus on getting my head mentally ready for NHL and do the small things on ice, playing the puck behind the net. I get better everyday. That’s why we working every time. It’s quality.
What are the biggest differences between the AHL and NHL?
Vitek Vanecek: It’s a little bit different when the puck’s going on the blue line and they shooting from the blue line. The guys come to the front of the net. It’s hard to find the puck. You have to battle through that and find the puck, make a save.
The schedule allows you to play every other night? How much do you like that?
Vitek Vanecek: It was a little bit harder in the first couple games. I was getting to game shape because I wasn’t playing too long. And then now it’s much better. I feeling in game shape. It’s easy for me right now.
Has your family watched back home?
Vitek Vanecek: My uncle and father watching all the time. My mom she’s scared to watch it. She’s too nervous. She’s not watching it. Just watching the application NHL from the bed. But they watching all the time. My girlfriend is here with me so she’s watching too.
Who were the Czech goaltenders you enjoyed watching as a kid?
Vitek Vanecek: I think I tell you five years ago it was Henrik Lundqvist.
Did you talk to him at all?
Vitek Vanecek: When I was in Czech, we get Zoom call with goalies. I talked to him over the Zoom call. I didn’t seem him here because he got hurt and surgery. So I didn’t see him.
Here’s Vitek’s interview with Capitals media.
How did you feel about winning the award?
Vitek Vanecek: It’s really nice when I heard it. It’s good feeling right now. I want to thanks my teammates too. They doing what they can. They help me a lot with blocking shots, cleaning the front of the net.
What was it like being told on the ice with all your teammates cheering for you before practice?
Vitek Vanecek: Really nice when they tell me on the ice. I didn’t know that. They was happy for me. Great teammates. I was happy to hear it.
How are you feeling in net?
Vitek Vanecek: I start feeling more comfortable and more comfortable. First game was just battle. After that, we start focusing and getting comfortable in the game.
You had a long offseason after the AHL ended its season early.
Vitek Vanecek: I was working really hard in the summer. I wasn’t playing games for long time – for like 6 or 7 months. First couple games was a little bit tough, but I get in game shape and I’m feeling really good right now.
Has Craig Anderson been mentoring you?
Vitek Vanecek: Yeah. He try and help me like when he see something in the game I can do different. He trying to help me and told me after the game, something like that, playing the puck behind the net. He trying to help me a lot.
Vanecek also filmed an adorable video to thank a frontline worker who also got honored along with himself.
And now a message from one @NHL Rookie of the Month to the other!
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 2, 2021
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