After handing the starting job to Ilya Samsonov and signing future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist over the offseason, the Capitals had Vitek Vanecek slotted as its third goaltender – likely a fixture on the team’s taxi squad. Instead, after years of being stuck in the minors with no opportunity, Vanecek had one of the most fortunate, chaotic, and gutwrenching seasons of his career.
Before training camp, Lundqvist announced he would miss the season due to open-heart surgery. In January, after starting two of the first three games of the season (1/14, 1/17), Samsonov contracted COVID-19 after hanging out maskless in his hotel room with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov. The Russian dynamo would not make an NHL start again until February 28 and never truly regained his footing.
That thrust Vanecek immediately into the starting role and he rose to the challenge. The Czech goaltender earned NHL Rookie of the Month honors in January and would finish the year with the seventh-most wins in the NHL (21). Vanecek would enter the playoffs as the Capitals’ starter, but injured himself in Game One making a split save against the Boston Bruins and would finish the year on the IR.
“I don’t wish an injury on anyone,” Vanecek said of his opportunity to CNN Prima NEWS podcast in Czech as translated by RMNB’s Alexandra Petáková. “I went through an injury during the playoffs myself, but [Henrik Lundqvist] had a heart condition. That’s nothing pleasant. It’s sad that it’s a heart [problem]. I really don’t wish that on anyone.”
Despite returning to the ice a month and a half after surgery, Lundqvist would not be cleared by doctors and the resumption of his career remains in question after inflammation was found around his heart.
Lundqvist’s injury wasn’t the only emotional rollercoaster Vanecek went on during the season. At the trade deadline, the Capitals, in a shock, dealt 2018 Stanley Cup champion Jakub Vrana and veteran Richard Panik to the Detroit Red Wings for Anthony Mantha. Vrana, who appeared to have a falling out with Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette, is Vanecek’s best friend. The two grew up together in Hershey and train and hang out together during the offseason in the Czech Republic. During Development Camp interviews, Vrana would translate for Vanecek.
“I was with Kuba (Vrana’s nickname) at the time, we were in a car,” Vanecek said. “It came out of nowhere. He didn’t know about it either, [his] agent didn’t know about it, they just called him that he’s been traded. Both of us have to come to terms with that and we might play against each other now.”
Shortly after the trade was announced, Vanecek posted a photo of the two hugging.
“Thank you for amazing 6 years, you stand by my side, you was helping me when I need, it was great time with you!” Vanecek wrote. “I wish you good luck! I already miss you bro 🤍”
“I’ll say it simply,” Vanecek said. “If [Jakub] scores on me, I’ll slap him with my stick.”
S/T to @lowerbodyinjury for sending us the story.
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