By Rick Gethin
From singing 80′s classics in the locker room to having a perpetual smile on his face, Jake “don’t call me Jakub” Voracek goes through life with a joie de vivre that is infectious. Playing in his 2nd year with the Columbus Blue Jackets at the age of 20, he’s making strides in becoming a power forward in the NHL under the tutelage of coach Ken Hitchcock.
Voracek was born in Kladno, Czech Republic. Probably the most famous person to come from Kladno is all-time NHL great, Jaromir Jagr. Voracek showed up to training camp this season sporting hair that was flowing out from under his helmet; prompting comparisons to Jagrs’ famous mullet.
Jake began his career playing for HC Kladno (Czech Rep.) in the 02-03 season. In the 2006 CHL Import Draft he was drafted 1st overall by the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Playing with Halifax for two seasons (06-08), he amassed 229 points in 139 games (including playoffs). In 2007 he was named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year and was named to the All-Rookie Team. In both 2007 and 2008 he represented the Czech Republic in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championship. His 2nd, and last, year with Halifax saw him named to the QMJHL Second All-Star Team. He was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, selected 7th overall with the 1st pick by Columbus. Making the jump to the NHL in the 08-09 season, he finished the season one point behind Rick Nash’s rookie season totals in points with 38. He bulked up his 6’1” frame over the past summer and returned with more confidence, securing a regular spot on the 2nd line.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jake Voracek for a one-on-one conversation.
Who was the player that you looked up to and patterned your game after growing up in Kladno?
For sure it was Jaromir Jagr, you know. I was watching him score goals when I was younger; watching all of the Pittsburgh games. It’s every boys dream to play like him.
Is there one player in the league that you pattern your game after now?
I try to play like myself. I don’t think I try to play like somebody else. It’s good to play like someone else once, you know. When I was younger it was Jagr and right now I’m trying to play like myself.
Compare Ken Hitchcock to other coaches you’ve played for.
It’s hard (to compare) because when I was younger those coaches were teaching me how to skate, you know? It’s different now, with Hitch as my first coach as an NHL player. I can’t compare him to my junior coaches, because they each taught me something different.
You seemed to have really taken to playing “Hitch Hockey”. Do you enjoy playing that kind of defensive system?
Sure, you know I’m playing 15 minutes a night (average of 15:50 in last 5 games). I think it’s good for me, a lot of ice time.
What do you do in the off-season when you’re conditioning for hockey?
With Prague (capital of Czech Rep.) being so close, do you go there often?
It’s pretty close, but I don’t go to the downtown area, I’ll go somewhere else; it’s too busy for me. The downtown is big there.
Is there any significance to the #93 your wear on the back of your sweater?
My dad told me to tell anyone who asked me about it that it’s because we had broken with the Slovakians (Czech Republic and Slovakia became separate nations on January 1st, 1993). But that wasn’t the reason. I just took it because I like it; it’s a nice number.
Are you still singing in the locker room to your team-mates?
(laughing) I’ve settled down I think; you can ask the guys. But, you know, I’ve got to bring it back again; we played good while I was singing so I have to start again. That’s what we need. (He was chuckling the whole time he was telling me this.)
Coach Hitchcock had you cut your hair earlier in the season; any plans to grow it back out?
That’s what I’m doing!
Jake “don’t call me Jakub” Voracek is coming into his own as player in the NHL. He is one of the most happy-go-lucky players I have met. He fits in nicely with the Blue Jacket locker room and is fast becoming a skilled power forward in this league.