Years later, Fehervary was watching the Chicago Blackhawks play when he noticed a defenseman named Michal Kempny. He liked Kempny’s style of play, the way he moved on the ice and his presence on the blue line. Then Fehervary suddenly realized Kempny grew up in Hodonin and the two came up through the same youth team.
“When I was there in Hodonin, I didn’t even know about a Michal Kempny,” said Fehervary, who turns 20 on Sunday. “I was a kid, and I didn’t even know he played there.”
But Kempny soon became the player Fehervary wanted to emulate. When Fehervary was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2018 draft, he told reporters that Kempny, who had been traded to Washington earlier that year, was his favorite defenseman.
“Yeah, you know, he has the ability to skate. He is skating very well,” Kempny said. “He’s really good, physically prepared. He’s in really good shape. Can defend well, can do some offensive plays. Yeah, there is a lot of similar things with my play.”
Now Fehervary and his favorite player are in the same locker room. Fehervary made his NHL debut Wednesday night in the Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues, getting the chance to be in the season-opening lineup in part because Kempny has been injured. Kempny, who tore his hamstring in April, was placed on the team’s injured nonroster list Tuesday and is still questionable for games Friday and Saturday against the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively. He was cleared for contact as of Wednesday morning and was slated to be reevaluated soon.
When Kempny is ready to play, Fehervary could be in danger of getting pushed out. But for now, the young, witty blue-liner is making the most of his chance. When Coach Todd Reirden pulled Fehervary aside at the team hotel Tuesday to tell him he would be in the lineup against the Blues, Fehervary was unfazed: “Yeah, that’s what I thought so!” he said.
That was typical Fehervary, unassuming and willing. And to play on the same team as Kempny? Well, that’s a dream come true.
“We talk a lot about everything,” said Fehervary, who earned 13:35 of ice time Wednesday. “We spend a lot of time after practice together like workout or to the hot tub, cold tub, and talk a lot about everything. It is really nice to be with him.”
The Capitals have an ample number of Czechs and Slovaks in Kempny, Fehervary, Jakub Vrana, Radko Gudas and Richard Panik. The group already went out to dinner, and despite the slight language difference all have adjusted well.
“Marty is such a nice guy,” Kempny said. “He works really hard every day, and I like his attitude. For me it is really nice to have some guy that is looking up to me. … That’s really nice to me, and I really appreciate it. Obviously, as a hockey player you want to be better every year, and if some young guy says, ‘I want to be like Kempny,’ that is really nice of him.”
Fehervary said it’s usually easier for Slovaks to understand Czechs because a lot of movies and other entertainment in Slovakia were in Czech, whereas Czechs normally have a harder time understanding Slovaks. Fehervary said Vrana has been the main player to take him in and show him the ropes, but when the Czech tries to speak in Slovak, Fehervary sometimes just laughs.
“He tries,” Fehervary said.
And as the group continues to mesh off the ice, Fehervary is still honing his game on the ice, getting better each day. His training camp impressed General Manager Brian MacLellan, who described the youngster as having excellent detail in his defensive game, stickwork and footwork — just about everything Reirden and the coaching staff wanted to see.
He leapfrogged multiple blue-liners in the Caps’ prospect pipeline to make the season-opening roster, including 2016 first-round pick Lucas Johansen and 2018 first-round pick Alex Alexeyev, who suffered a concussion in mid-September.
“He is a lot like Kempny, which has been said over and over again,” MacLellan said. “It is a pretty similar style of play. Both really good guys, upside is tremendous. As he figures out the puck movement and offensive side of the game, I think he is going to be a great player for us.”
The organization sees Fehervary as a crucial part of its blue line, if not now, then soon. And while Fehervary looked like a true rookie at times Wednesday night, he also had multiple instances, such as his first shift, when he didn’t look like a 19-year-old. His play earned him the team’s “Hard Hat Award” — a Nationals batting helmet — presented by captain Alex Ovechkin after the game.
“He’s not overwhelmed by the situation at all,” Reirden said. “He’s aggressive. He’s in-your-face style of defending. He’s in phenomenal shape in terms of his conditioning, and his off-ice testing is way ahead of any other 19-year-old on our team, so he has prepared that way as well.”
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