International student competes for GVSU hockey

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Jiri Aberle poses on the ice at Georgetown Ice Arena Sept. 22.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Jiri Aberle poses on the ice at Georgetown Ice Arena Sept. 22.

Josh Peick

Senior goaltender Jiri Aberle made his first career start for the Division II Grand Valley State hockey team Sept. 19. Aberle allowed only one goal against Northern Michigan, coming with 15 seconds left in the game.

Aberle spent the previous three years on the Division III team before getting the call up this year. It is not out of the ordinary to be called up to Division II for a senior year, but playing among professional hockey players in the Czech Republic is not something many hockey players can say they have done.

When Aberle was 10 years old, he started playing organized hockey in the Czech Republic. He played in the Czech Republic until he reached high school, when he was then faced with a tough decision.

The Czech Republic does not have high school hockey. In order for Aberle to continue his passion, he would have to play hockey elsewhere.

He decided to attend Merrill High School in Wisconsin. There, he earned a starting spot on the varsity team received an All-Conference Honorable Mention in the 2009-10 season.

Although he came to the United States to play hockey, Aberle is proud of his home country. His favorite goaltender is Czech Republic native Dominik Hasek – an NHL legend most Michiganders remember fondly from when Hasek helped the Detroit Red Wings win two Stanley Cups.

Aberle has played on two different amateur teams – one in the United States – the Indianapolis Inferno — and another in the Czech Republic. While practicing with the Czech Republic team over the summer, Aberle shared the ice with a few professional players.

“Just being able to practice with the guys that have tremendous experience and a hard shot helped me a lot,” Aberle said.

Playing hockey in two different countries has given Aberle a unique perspective on the sport.

Hockey in the U.S. is different from hockey in the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic, the rink dimensions are larger than in the U.S. European rinks have a width of 100 feet, compared to regulation NHL rinks which are 85 feet wide.

The dimension difference makes for a different brand of hockey in each country. While hockey in the United States focuses on getting the puck on net, European hockey involves more strategy with more passing.

“Here in the United States, everything is faster,” Aberle said. “From a goalie standpoint, it’s a little bit harder here because you really have to be focused.”

Aberle has shown that he can keep up at the speed Division II hockey is played. He brings intensity to the ice, shouting instructions to the defensive players when the puck is in the defensive zone.

Off the ice, Aberle is soft-spoken, offering a humble personality, to the point where it’s hard to imagine him shouting at his teammates on the ice.

The Lakers have been known to be a quiet team on the ice according to head coach Mike Forbes. Forbes encourages players to communicate on the ice, which makes it refreshing to have a goalie who isn’t shy to let the players on the ice where to go with the puck.

“When the puck is coming in our zone, most of the time the defenseman’s back is turned to the rest of the play,” said Mitch Claggett, who has played with Aberle on both the Division II and III teams. “Jiri lets people know what’s coming and it helps us out a lot.”

With three qualified goalies, Forbes has not announced a starting goalie. The starting goaltender for each game will likely be a game-time decision.

Although there is not a set starting netminder, don’t be surprised to see No. 1 Jiri Aberle manning the net, doing his best Dominik Hasek impression to bring home a championship for the Lakers.