Martin Pospisil never stopped dreaming about someday skating in the National Hockey League.
But just months before he received his first call-up from the Calgary Flames, Pospisil was worried that he may be forced to abandon his quest. During a slow recovery from a concussion last winter, the forward prospect feared his career could be cut short.
“If you told me in January or February, I would not believe it — that I would make the NHL,” Pospisil told Postmedia. “I was scared if I could still play. The doctors, they were telling me, ‘We will see how you’re going to feel.’ So it was a little scary, if it might be my last season. It’s something that was not what I really wanted, but always health is first.
“Because, you know, you want to have a good life also after your hockey career. But now, it feels even better to go through all the injuries and the ups and downs. I’m really glad that I get this opportunity to play in the NHL. I’m really happy for it.”
Pospisil officially introduced himself Saturday in Seattle, beaming as he stepped onto the ice — his hair slicked back for the cameras — for the traditional solo lap, throwing his weight around on the forecheck, burying a loose puck for his first career goal and telling Flames TV in a post-game interview: “I’m pretty much living the dream right now.” Proof of his positive initial impression, he remained in the lineup for Tuesday’s clash with the Nashville Predators at the Saddledome.
You can’t help but smile whenever an NHL newbie has one of those pinch-me moments. But if you know Pospisil’s backstory, this one is especially heartwarming.
While he’s still only 23, this rambunctious winger from Zvolen, Slovakia, has already endured more than his fair share of injury trouble. A fifth-year pro, he has been limited to a grand total of 124 appearances with the Flames’ farm team.
He ripped up ligaments on the receiving end of a dirty knee-on-knee hit.
He required surgery on a bad shoulder.
He has suffered multiple concussions.
His 2022-23 campaign ended on Dec. 30, after he sustained a head injury in a fight. For weeks and weeks, he wondered if that would turn out to be his last game. He would listen to the cues from his body and to the advice from the medical staff. And if he didn’t get the green light from both?
“Quit. Yeah, I had that in my head,” Pospisil confirmed. “But I just went day-by-day and finally after, like, three months, I started to feel better. And then my goal after that was I will be even better than before. I had a great summer. I was working for four or five months to get to where I am right now. It wasn’t easy, especially when you don’t play for three or four months. And your head is something different than knee or shoulder, you know?
“So it wasn’t easy. But working hard pays off, and the fitness testing (at training camp) showed that I had a really good summer. I’m glad that I’m healthy and I can keep still playing.”
Not just playing, but suddenly playing at the highest level. His first call-up was a reward for a strong start this fall in the AHL, where he’d put up six points in the same number of games. As Flames head coach Ryan Huska passed on after the promotion: “The staff with the Wranglers, they say he’s been their best player to date.”
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Prior to Saturday’s debut in Seattle, Pospisil made time to send thank-you messages to some of those who supported him during his ascent. A screenshot of his exchange with his billet mom with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers — he led that loop in penalty minutes before being drafted by the Flames in the fourth round in 2018 — has been racking up likes on social media.
Asked what he’ll remember about his first NHL outing, Pospisil didn’t miss a detail. He promised he won’t forget what he had for breakfast, or for lunch. He talked about the thrill of finding his name on the lineup board prior to morning skate and finding the back of the net on his fifth shift.
That first goal, converted from the edge of the blue paint, prompted cheers in numerous countries.
In Austria, where his proud parents now live.
In Czechia, where his older brother Kristian is continuing his own pro hockey career.
In Slovakia, where his childhood friends were all watching in the wee hours.
And in Calgary, of course, where he is another exciting arrival for the C of Red.
“Some messages I got from back home, they were saying they woke up the whole street because they were screaming,” Pospisil grinned. “They were scared if someone called the police, because it was still 4 a.m.
“It’s pretty special. It’s a day I’ll never forget.”
ICE CHIPS: With Adam Ruzicka returning Tuesday after missing four in a row with a shoulder injury and both Pospisil and Connor Zary making a case to stick around, the Flames placed forward Dryden Hunt on waivers. If he clears, the 27-year-old Hunt could be assigned to the Wranglers.
Wes Gilbertson and Danny Austin have been covering the Flames for years and know what makes the team tick. Have questions? They have the answers – or the contacts to track them down. Send your questions to email@example.com