On June 26 or 27, Brian Ihnacak will hear his name, put on a CCM hat, and smile for a picture. And his rights will belong to an NHL organization.
Afterwards, he’ll likely play three more seasons at Brown. Then the American League. Maybe the NHL. At every stage, the Toronto native will have a good amount of say in how far his hockey career advances. If he’s good enough to play in the NHL, he’ll play there. Simple as that.
If it had only been that easy for his father.
Far from his son’s Ivy League dwellings, Peter Ihnacak was reared on the rinks of communist Czechoslovakia. In order to play in the NHL, he had to defect. So, while with the Czech World Championship team during the early 1980s, he routed himself through Sweden to reach Toronto, where he ultimately signed with the Maple Leafs and played 417 games over eight seasons.
Not exactly strolling across plush carpet at the RBC Center, is it?
“It was different for him,” said 19- year-old Brian, in what one could safely classify as an understatement. “It kind of makes me think I have control of what I’m doing.”
So far, things have turned out fine with Brian at the wheel. With some guidance from his father — and uncle, Miroslav Ihnacak, himself a former Maple Leaf and Red Wing — Brian has steered towards what has been, at least after one season, a successful stop in Providence.
Ihnacak played in each of the Bears’ 31 games and was second on the team in goals (10) and assists (20) in becoming Brown’s first 30-point freshman in nearly three decades. He was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year and ECAC Co-Rookie of the Year.
Ihnacak’s assessment: “I set my goals high and came pretty close to following through.”
Only “pretty close” because of the way his production tapered as the season wore on. In 12 games before the New Year, Ihnacak averaged 1.42 points per game. After that, he slowed to 0.68.
Ihnacak ended the season on a 12- game goal-scoring drought and went 0-0-0 as the Bears were swept out of the ECAC quarterfinals by Harvard.
“They would start hitting me a little more, paying more attention,” he said. “Everything kind of caught up with me.”
“Everything” includes the fact that Ihnacak was 18 years old and away from home longer than he’d ever been. “I take it as a learning experience,” he said.
Ihnacak made the adjustment to college hockey. Then college hockey made the adjustment to him. His future — collegiate and professional — depends on his counterpunch.
“It’s exceptional what he accomplished as a freshman, but his bigger tests are yet to come,” said New Jersey Devils scouting director David Conte. “He’s an average skater with average size (6-foot, 185 pounds). He has to improve and become a more complete player.”
He’ll have every opportunity to do so. After all, he doesn’t have to worry about other stuff — like escaping a repressive regime.
(This article originally appeared in this month’s edition of USCHO Magazine.)