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Karel Vejmelka Should Be a Household Name… But he Plays for Arizona

Photos by James Carey Lauder, Ethan Miller and Harry How

Karel Vejmelka Should Be a Household Name… But he Plays for Arizona

There are likely very few people who are familiar with the name, Karel Vejmelka. Well, Winnipeg Jets fans certainly remember the 25-year-old Czechia product, and on Wednesday night in Glendale, those associated with the Toronto Maple Leafs had their first introduction to the 6-foot-4, 225-pound backstop.

The 23-8-3 Maple Leafs travelled to the desert for a road test against Vejmelka’s last-place Coyotes. Entering the night with a league-worst 7-23-3 record through 37 contests this season, it was Arizona that actually got on the scoreboard first.

A fluke bounce off the end boards led to Ryan Dzingel’s third goal of the season, which came with five minutes remaining in the first period. Despite heavy pressure from Toronto’s top guns, the visiting Leafs could not solve the rookie netminder Vejmelka.

After putting up 20 shots in the first period (compared to that of the Coyotes’ six), the Leafs added another 15 in the second period, but to no avail. Entering the third period of play still up by a 1-0 score but on the wrong end of a lopsided 35-12 shooting gallery, the unheralded first-year backstop finally gave up a goal.

It was to none other than hometown her0 Auston Matthews, and it came on the first shot of the final frame.

Having had three or four point-blank chances already in the game, the Leafs’ top dog set a franchise record in scoring for the ninth-straight road game, edging out Daniel Marios, Frank Mahovlich and Babe Dye who had each scored for the Leafs in eight-straight road games – a record dating back 100 seasons.

In scoring in nine-straight road games, Matthews actually became the first player to do so since Alexander Ovechkin accomplished the same feat back in the 2012-13 NHL season. Toronto’s sniper also has 17 goals in his last 15 games.

However, despite the early game-tying goal, Vejmelka responded well and shut down all other offensive attacks from the high-flying Maple Leafs.

“The amount of shots and chances we had tonight, I thought we really controlled the play for the most part, but sometimes you run into a hot goalie,” Matthews said. “I know they’ve got a lot of guys that are injured and in COVID protocol, but obviously [Vejmelka] stepped in and played really well.”

Dzingel scored his second of the game on a two-on-one tap-in pass from Nick Schmaltz, beating Petr Mrazek across the ice, on what ended up being the game-winner with 7:18 to go in the third period.

“We’re lucky we had `Vejjy’ back there tonight,” Dzingel said. “He puts in a lot of work behind the scenes, and he’s prepared. For a rookie, he’s unbelievably prepared and works his tail off.”

The shots ended up 46-18, and Vejmelka picked up his fourth career victory. Much like that of his three other NHL wins – to which he has made a minimum of 36 saves – Vejmelka was under fire for the majority of the 60-minute outing.

“It’s always better for you early to see so many shots, so I got to where I felt really good,” Vejmelka said. “It’s better than to have three, four shots for a period. … I felt really good. My teammates helped me and it was a big game for us today.”

Jets fans have seen two such appearances from the Czechia product. First, it was a 1-0 Arizona win in Winnipeg, to which he stopped all 46 shots he faced, before turning aside 48 of the 50 shots he faced in a narrow loss to the Jets last week at home.

Having started just 18 games this year, Vejmelka has been somewhat hot and cold. But when his team gives up a lot of rubber, he tends to thrive. Considering he plays for what is now the second-worst team in the league, that situation should come quite often. But again, based out of Arizona, Karel Vejmelka is certainly not yet a household name.

But after standing on his head twice against Winnipeg and now shutting the door on the hockey epicentre-residing Toronto Maple Leafs, Vejmelka has certainly gained some international attention. It’s just a shame that Olympic participation has been banned for players operating under NHL contracts. He would clearly be a shoe-in for the Czechs.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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