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2019-2020 Season




TOMAS HERTL: Sharks Forward is Hurtling Towards Superstardom


By Paul Freeman

Tomas Hertl

TOMAS HERTL:
Sharks Forward is Hurtling Towards Superstardom

By Paul Freeman

The San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl has always displayed a winning smile. But last season, he had an especially good reason to grin.

The gifted center had career highs in 2018-2019, notching 35 goals and 74 points. Prior to that, 46 was his highest point total.

But the native of the Czech Republic didn't take long to display his offensive prowess. Even as a 19-year-old rookie, he knew how to utilize his size, skill and speed. The Sharks had selected him in the first round, 17th overall, in the 2012 NHL Draft.

After excelling in the top Czech league, he joined the Sharks in 2013. In his NHL debut, he registered an assist. In his second contest, Hertl popped in two goals, including the game winner. In game three, Hertl dazzled, scoring four goals.

A knee injury that season sidelined him for months, delaying his progress. But Hertl battled through the obstacles and established himself as one of the Sharks' top talents over the course of the next several seasons.

The 26-year-old forward was named one of the team's alternate captains for the 2019-2020 season.

TOP SHELF:
You had such a great, productive season last year. You've focused on sustaining that or even building on it?

TOMAS HERTL:
Yeah, for sure. You know, its always hard, because when you've got a good season, everybody's expecting you to do it again. So I don't really try to think about it. I just try and play my hockey. I just try every night to do what I do best, because I know when'm in my game and do everything correct with the whole system, points come.

But it's always easier if the team's doing good and when you're winning the games. The atmosphere, everything helps you. So you can't do this alone. You have to kind of help your wings and the team. The feeling of the team helps. If you're winning, you can get on a roll and the points come with that.

TOP SHELF:
Did you have any sort of idea, before the season started last year, that maybe you were going to be able to take it to another level?

HERTL:
Yeah, I thought so. I expected to get higher points than before. I know I can be a really good player and score some goals. The years before, I was playing good, but just couldn't get it going. I was maybe thinking too much with my head. I was like, "Again, I got three great chances. I missed the net." Or something like that. I was overthinking and I'd get it in my head.

The last three years, I kind of tried working on it. Even if I had a good game and wasn't scoring goals, I just let it go. Or bad games, I'd always try to start the new game like nothing happened. It doesn't matter how many points I got before. Now I always start fresh. And that's really helped me. So my head is always clean for the games. So I'm feeling really good about it.

TOP SHELF:
Growing up in Czech Republic, did you see much NHL hockey on TV?

HERTL:
When I was younger, it was kind of tough. It's like 4 a.m. or 1 a.m. So when I was young, it's impossible, because you've got school. So you end up just watching highlights or something. Or sometimes on a Saturday, it's earlier, so we watch it.

But now there are so many games on the TV and so many ways to watch. You can see the games, the highlights, whenever you want. The technology has improved everything with that so much. So now it's easier. When I was young, it was hard. I was following my favorite players on the highlights. But watching the NHL from back home was really hard.

TOP SHELF:
Who were your hockey heroes?

HERTL:
Oh, when I started, it for sure was, Jaromir Jagr, like for most kids. That's why the Pittsburgh Penguins were always my favorite team. And I always had his poster in my rooms. So it was Jagr. And after, because I liked the Pittsburgh Penguins, before I got to the NHL, I liked Malkin, too. I felt like I could be the same type of a player, because I was big, strong on the puck. So I kind of tried to follow him and be a similar player like Malkin.

TOP SHELF:
Jagr, with his longevity, you must have had a chance to share the ice with him.

HERTL:
[Chuckles] Yeah, I did. It's true. I played twice in the World Championships. So it was super cool, because, when I was born, he was already playing in the NHL. And like 19 years later, I was with him on the line in the World Championships. That kind of thing doesn't happen very often, because not many guys play so long, like him. It was a super cool experience for me.

TOP SHELF:
When you started playing was it just to have fun or were you aiming at the Olympics or even the NHL?

HERTL:
Right away, I always loved hockey. I can't remember, but if you ask my mom, she'll tell you I was actually born to skate. Because my brother, who is four years older, he was already there. So right away, I was following him and when I was two-and-a-half, I was already skating, skating almost before the walking. And always, even from preschool, I hated school. I was always telling my mom, "I want to play hockey! I want to play hockey!" For me, hockey was always number one.

For sure I loved other sports. I tried to play soccer and other sports. But for me, nothing was like hockey. Always it was number one. All my life I was playing and thinking, "This is what I want to do." But when you're young, you never know what can happen.

TOP SHELF:
And was the NHL the dream? Or was it more the Olympics?

HERTL:
Oh, for sure it was kind of both. It's tough to say which one is more. But you want to get to the NHL, because it's the best league. The Olympics is different. Every four years, you represent your country, which I love, too. Both are huge. But for sure, I was aiming for the NHL, because I want to be in this league and be able to tell my parents and grandparents and all my family that I was playing in the NHL and I'm going to take you there to see me play. That's for sure one of my dreams.

TOP SHELF:
What was the feeling, draft day, 2012, hearing your name called by the Sharks in the first round?

HERTL:
Oh, I was so nervous. Draft day was crazy. I didn't know if I would be in the first or second round. You never know, really. But when they called my name, it was so exciting. I wished I could be with my family, to celebrate. But 10 minutes later, when I got through all the stuff, I called them. Everybody was so happy and excited for me. And I just couldn't wait to get to San Jose and take part in the first practice.

TOP SHELF:
Having played in World Championships, as well as World Junior Championships, did that help prepare you for making the leap to the NHL at a young age? Did you feel ready?

HERTL:
I was actually drafted and then I was one more year home. And at the end of this, I was playing in the World Championship and when we played Team Canada, it was all the big stars and everything. And we played against them and I got a couple of great chances and I thought, "Oh, I'm ready for this league. If I can play against all these top guys right now, why can't I play the whole year?"

I know it was still early, but I was feeling, next year I want to go there and I want to earn a spot and play for the team, because I thought I could do it. And everything worked out. And I did it. And I started right away, from the first year.

TOP SHELF:
Joining the Sharks and having such an amazing start in those first few games, was that a huge confidence boost?

HERTL:
Oh, 100 percent. It was great, too, because the coach gave me a huge chance. I started with Burnzie [Brent Burns, playing forward at the time] and Jumbo [Joe Thornton] on one line. I was pretty lucky, because a lot of guys start on the third or fourth line and here I was with Burnzie and Jumbo, these two great players. And everything came to me -- goals and points.

It was like a super exciting time. And it for sure helped my confidence. And from that point, everything was pretty good... and then I got some injuries, which, for sure, slowed me down. But otherwise, for sure, the start helped me a lot.

TOP SHELF:
Having to deal with a major injury then, just as you were taking off, how frustrating was that?

HERTL:
It's really hard. If someone doesn't go through it, they don't know. Because you're actually working every day, a full day. You have to do like so much stuff. And it's like not that hard, but it's long days. Guys are having fun, but you have to go do physiotherapy. You have to work out. You have to do some home stuff. You have to do icing. It's like so many things. And it's getting long. You're doing same and same.

And other guys are playing in the games and you don't really feel like you're part of the team, because you don't really hang out with the guys, because they're on their own. And it's a really hard time. You have to get through it. I try to work my best, get stronger as fast as I possibly can. And now hopefully everything is behind me and I just can focus on playing hockey.

TOP SHELF:
Who were the guys on the team who helped you make the transition to pro hockey in the first couple of seasons?

HERTL:
Oh, for sure it was Martin Havlat [a fellow Czech], because my English wasn't great, so I was struggling with the language and Martin Havlat was here. He was helping me with a lot of stuff. It was super nice of him. I was even living at his house. That really helped me. He was like my dad, kind of, helping me out. Everything I needed, he helped me, because when you don't speak, it's really tough. So the first year, his help was huge. He showed me around and helped me get through it.

TOP SHELF:
So the adjustment to playing over here, the challenge was more off-ice than on?

HERTL:
Yeah, you could say that, because I kind of understand the hockey stuff. Some of it changes, but basically it's the same stuff. It's just the living, like going out to dinner with a bunch of the guys and you're so nervous. They're talking and everybody's laughing. You just sit there and listen. You're laughing too, but you have no idea what they're saying. So it's really hard. You have to get through it. But the guys are really nice. They try to help. If you say something wrong, they say, "Don't say it like that. Say it differently." So that for sure was helpful. But it was really hard.

TOP SHELF:
Being named alternate captain this season, what did that mean to you?

HERTL:
I was super-pumped. I didn't expect it at all, because we've got a lot leaders on the team. But I was so excited about it. It's a huge accomplishment. And if anyone told me I could just play in the NHL, I would be super-pumped, but to get this honor, it was so exciting. I know that with it comes some responsibility, to help lead the team, to help young guys to get through stuff. I was there five years ago. But for sure all my family is proud of me. And I was really happy about it.

TOP SHELF:
Do you speak out in the room in trying to be one of the leaders?

HERTL:
Yeah,for sure. I think even last year, I already, when we were kind of losing, I tried to say something in the room, say we can do better. But you have to prove it on the ice. So if you're losing 2-1, you have to be the guy, step up on the ice, make some plays, score the goal. Or if it's in the last two minutes, you're winning 2-1, you have to like block a shot or win the last face-off and lead the team.

So that's like two kinds of leaders and I try to take it from both. And for sure, I'm learning from other guys. But I think it's pretty good so far. I enjoy it.

TOP SHELF:
So over the years, you have learned from leaders like Thornton and Pavelski?

HERTL:
Oh, for sure, Jumbo, Pav, I was watching them, what they say, what they do. I was learning from them. It's not just hockey, what they do on the ice. You learn from how they work out. Look how many games Jumbo has played. You want to kind of be like them and learn from them.

TOP SHELF:
And having Patty Marleau back, what impresses you most about him?

HERTL:
I'm very happy he's back. He's just a great guy. He's 40 and he's still in great shape. He can skate. He was always fast and he still is. That's why he can still play in the NHL. He's played about 1,700 games in this league. It's amazing. He loves the game, too. He puts everything into it. He works at it so hard. It's really cool to see him back.

TOP SHELF:
Getting to the Finals a few years ago, getting to the Conference Finals last year, was that satisfying in itself, or did it just make you hungrier to get all the way to the Cup?

HERTL:
Oh, for sure hungrier. When we got to the Finals, it was great. Every round, we got closer and closer. We got so close. And everything is changing. The fans get even more into it. It's always tough to see other teams, when they're lifting the Cup, or when they take it home, or when they get the rings after the season.

It's like, I want to be there, too. I want to win it. I want to show the Stanley Cup to my parents at home and friends -- "Hey, look what I did!" It's an amazing trophy and hopefully one day we will do it and I can take it home. That's for sure one of my dreams.

TOP SHELF:
Looking at the Sharks current roster, do you believe they can make that final leap to the Cup this season?

HERTL:
Yeah, I think so. This is my seventh year already and every year, I think, the team, we can go really far. Every year we have a chance. We're looking to go far in the playoffs. So it's a lot of fun. But the first thing is, you have to get into the playoffs.

Then after, it's getting harder. It used to be like 15 teams. Now it's like 31 teams that are so good. And everybody can make the playoffs. And everybody can go far. It's getting harder. And it will be harder.

TOP SHELF:
You've had some bad luck with the Olympics. Do you think maybe you'll have a chance to participate in the next one?

HERTL:
Yeah, I wish I will be, because the first one I missed because of injury. The second one because it wasn't there for NHL. It will be really nice when they go, because I think it's super cool to go for your country. I think it's a super cool experience, all the other sports and everything. I love even watching the Olympics, all the athletes. For sure I will be really happy one day, when it's possible to go there.

TOP SHELF:
You certainly have the intensity that's needed to win in the NHL, but you also seem to still have the sense of fun about the game. Do you feel that?

HERTL:
Yeah, I enjoy. I can do what I love. So I'm enjoying every day, just being in the locker room with the guys and just playing the hockey. It's the dream job for me and I just love it. So I try to have fun. And I do have a lot of fun. That's why I'm always smiling. And try to bring the positive energy for the team, too.




   
 



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