Photo by Rena Laverty
When your dad is a 14-year National Hockey League veteran who retired as a franchise’s all-time leader in games played, hockey is going to be in your blood. But it was Marek Hejduk’s mom, Zlata, who first got him on skates.
“I think it was obvious I was going to play hockey since I was young. One day, my mom took me to the rink,” Hejduk started. “I loved it out on the ice and from then, my dad would just come with us and skate here and there, teach us things, work on skills and my love for hockey just grew from there and it still grows today.”
Hejduk had the benefit of his father, Milan, playing the entirety of his career with the Colorado Avalanche. There was no need to continuously move around the country and instead, he could get comfortable in the Rocky Mountains. Plus, he got the opportunity to hang around the Pepsi Center, the Avalanche’s home rink, to watch his dad play.
“I remember going into the locker rooms after the Avalanche would win. Going to the locker rooms, hanging out there, we'd play knee hockey in the locker room with the other kids there from other players.”
And there was one extra-special moment from his dad’s career that sticks out to Marek.
“I was pretty young, but I do remember his 1000th game,” Marek recalled. “We were at it and it was truly special, the whole ceremony. I remember a few games here and there but other than that ceremony, it was a long time ago and I wish I could remember more.”
Marek had the opportunity to learn even more from his father, who ended his NHL career with 805 points for the Avs, when he coached him throughout his youth career with the Colorado Thunderbirds.
“I thought it was great, I loved it. I think he was a great coach, I thought he did a great job. It’s just amazing to have that opportunity of your dad coaching you. I can learn so much from him.”
There was another Hejduk on that Thunderbirds team, too. Somebody that Marek had been accustomed to playing with since he first hit the ice – his twin brother, David.
“I've been playing with David my whole life. Ever since I was young and even on the same line too, he started off at forward before he switched to D. I've been playing with him forever and I like playing with him. We’ve got some certain plays we do, we have some chemistry, obviously.”
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Photo by Rena Laverty
That chemistry helped propel Marek to 16 points in 17 games with the Thunderbirds 15U team last season and an invite to the National Team Development Program for a two-year stay in Plymouth. It was an opportunity that he could not turn down.
“The driving factor, obviously, is it’s a great program. The best, I love it. I've loved it since day one, being here. It’s just an amazing opportunity to get better every day and to develop. I always wanted to go with the NTDP. I thought it was a great option, I wanted to be here, and I'm not disappointed. I love it here.”
One of the hardest things for Marek in making the decision was to leave David, who he had played with his entire life. While it was a tough choice to leave his brother, the twins knew that the day would come at some point that they would need to split up to continue playing the game they love.
“Going here and leaving him, it was hard, but it's a great opportunity to be here, so I love it too. I miss David but sooner or later in our hockey careers it was going to happen that we were going to split up.”
On the ice, the 5-foot-11 forward likes to play a team game with high energy. He describes his style as a fast, smart playmaker who loves to compete. He wants the puck on his stick and that has been evident during the young season for the U.S. National Under-17 Team. Hejduk has registered seven points during the squad’s first seven games, including a game-winning tally late in the third period against Green Bay in October.
“I was actually far-side winger so Isaac Howard started with the puck. I came across and he gave it to me around the red line. I took the “D” wide, skated to the net and the puck ended up sliding in five-hole so that was a great goal.”
While a fantastic start to the season, the goal of the NTDP is development, on and off the ice. Marek knows his work is nowhere close to done.
“I think personally, my goal is just to get better every day. Go to the rink, not be satisfied with where I am right now and just keep pushing to get better. As a team, I think our goal is pretty similar - constantly develop as a team, get better and hopefully win a lot of our games.”
Off to a fast start and currently on a six-game winning streak, the U17s are starting off well in that goal. But win or lose, the pride that comes with wearing the red, white and blue will never fall short for Hejduk.
“It's amazing. I absolutely love the feeling, just putting on the jersey. It makes it feel like I'm representing more than myself and that feeling is great.”