arek Hrbas will be playing hockey next season. He just doesn't know where.
Hrbas, a defenceman with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, is to celebrate his 20th birthday on March 4. Combine that with his being from Plzen, Czech Republic, and it makes his return to the WHL for a fourth season rather doubtful.
Each of the WHL's 22 teams is allowed to keep two import players and three 20-year-olds on its roster. However, a 20-year-old import player fills two of those spots.
This season, there is only one such player, a two-spotter, in the WHL - Russian forward Alex Gogolev of the Victoria Royals.
Hrbas knows the odds of returning to Kamloops are stacked against him, but that doesn't mean he wants to leave.
"I want to stay here," he said after scoring once and finishing plus-5 in a 6-0 victory over the visiting Everett Silvertips on Thursday night. "We'll see what happens. I would rather stay here than go back to home.
"But if it's not going to happen, I will go back to Europe and try to get better. No one is saying I can't be back in five or six years and in the NHL."
Hrbas has played in North America for four winters. He came over at the age of 16 to play for the USHL's Fargo, N.D., Force. Too young for the CHL's annual import draft, Hrbas chose to play in Fargo in an attempt to get acclimated to life in North America.
"I just wanted to go somewhere else and the USHL was a good choice," Hrbas explained.
Subsequently, he was selected by the Edmonton Oil Kings in the 2010 import draft and played for them in 2010-11. On June 27, 2011, the Blazers acquired him from Edmonton for a fifth-round selection in the 2012 WHL bantam draft and a swap of 2011 import draft picks.
Last season, Hrbas finished with 25 points, including one goal, in 67 games with the Blazers. He goes into tonight's game against the visiting Red Deer Rebels with 17 points, four of them goals, in 49 games.
With his future somewhat up in the air, Hrbas has begun exploring his options, and those include playing in the Czech Extraliga or the Kontinental Hockey League.
There is an Extraliga team, HC Plzen, in his hometown, and there are two teams in Prague - HC Slavia Praha and HC Sparta Praha. The latter shares an arena and part of a management team with that city's KHL team, HC Lev Praha. As well, Hrbas said, another possibility would be HC Slovan Bratislava, a Slovakian team that plays in the KHL.
"My agent has talked to some teams" in the Czech Republic, Hrbas said. "It's still in progress."
Hrbas often has represented the Czech Republic on the international stage and was the captain of the country's team at the 2011 IIHF U-18 world championship. He also has played in the last two world junior tournaments.
Should Hrbas cut a deal prior to the end of this WHL season, he would be following in the footsteps of Swiss forward Alessio Bertaggia, who was dealt by the Brandon Wheat Kings to the Spokane Chiefs on Jan. 10.
While in Europe prior to Christmas to prepare to represent Switzerland at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, Bertaggia, who will be 20 next season, signed a two-year contract with EV Zug of National League A, his country's top professional league.
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight at Interior Savings Centre is 7 o'clock. . . . Red Deer's roster includes three former Blazers - D Brady Gaudet, D Brandon Underwood and F Rhyse Dieno. . . . Dieno, 19, has 35 points in 32 games since joining the Rebels from the SJHL's La Ronge Ice Wolves. . . . G Cole Cheveldave posted his seventh career shutout in Thursday's victory over Everett. He is tied for third on the franchise's career shutout list with Davis Parley, Rod Branch and Dustin Butler. Devan Dubnyk (15) is atop the list, with Randy Hansch (13) in second spot. . . . Kamloops D Joel Edmundson has one game remaining in the four-game WHL suspension he received for a checking-to-the-head major he took on F Adam De Champlain of the Portland Winterhawks on Jan. 30. De Champlain, who has a concussion, hasn't played since that game.
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