Tomas Jirousek’s life between the pipes took an unexpected leap forward recently.
A couple weeks ago, the Whitehorse goalie got an invitation to a prospects camp for the Western Hockey League to take place this month Calgary.
“I was really excited,” said Jirousek, who admits he was surprised by the invitation. “I’ve been working really hard for this opportunity.”
The second-year bantam is one of just 12 goalies selected from throughout Alberta for the major junior league camp.
Jirousek played for the Lethbridge Jets AA team this past season, helping his team reach the playoffs and finishing mid-pack.
At the camp, Jirousek will go through fitness testing, meetings with WHL organizations so teams can get to know the players’ attitudes and personalities, on-ice goalie testing, and a series of scrimmages.
“I want to give my best out there; I don’t want to get nervous, mess up and waste my chance,” said Jirousek. “I want to do the best I can. So I’m training, getting ready, working past the nervousness.”
It’s not raw talent that has gotten Jirousek to this point, it’s determination and intellect, said his father, Jakub Jirousek.
“Tom is a real intellectual; he’s very smart” said Jakub. “I wouldn’t say he’s a great athlete – he’s working at that by training a lot. But he’s very smart as to where he should be. The athleticism is coming, but being a smart player is allowing him to be successful.”
Jakub knows a thing or two about hockey. In addition to coaching for the Whitehorse Mustangs representative program, he is the founder and head instructor of the All Out Capitals Hockey Program in Whitehorse, an elite skills and fitness program.
The invite was a real confidence builder for Tomas, who wasn’t so sure of himself when leaving Whitehorse to play in Alberta.
“We got this invite and it changed his whole demeanour and all of a sudden he said, ‘I can do this and it’s been worth it for me to go away and play,’” said Jakub. “It’s pretty special. He hasn’t said a word about it to anybody … He’s a kid who never toots his own horn.”
It may seem strange for a major minor league for players 16-20 to be prospecting 14-year-olds like Tomas. But that’s now the norm, said JaKub
“What the NHL is doing with these prospect camps is they are targeting players before their draft year so they identify them and promote their league because they are battling colleges now,” said JaKub. “Colleges are taking players from them and if a kid (goes to an American) college, they can’t play WHL.”
“Once you commit to WHL, sign with a WHL team, you’re going the WHL route. You can play Canadian university, but can’t play American college.”
Tomas went through the Whitehorse Mustangs program, always playing an age group up, and also his dad’s All Out program.
In addition to building better hockey players, the All Out program has an added bonus. Unlike the Mustangs program, which shuts down following the B.C. provincials, All Out sends teams to spring and summer tournaments during the off-season, just as scouts are looking for new, young talent.
“After two years, we’re getting to understand how important spring hockey is,” said Jakub. “That’s where all these players make big gains. That’s where scouts look at these younger guys, start to rank them. That’s where they get invited to these camps.
“Tom’s group now will be getting watched a lot through the year and (scouts) don’t have time to go watch peewee (during the regular season). So in the off-season, that’s when they go watch these guys.”
“It’s terrible because our city here takes out our ice … (so) we have to send our good players away,” added Jakub.
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