Czech goaltending prospects: Marek Schwarz

By Robert Neuhauser
Quality goalies don’t grow on trees. First you have to recognize the talent and then develop
it patiently into the future diamond. Only then you can from a kid make the next cornerstone
of your franchise. The best of them compete for a NHL job and often became the stars of the
senior national teams. One of the biggest talents to come out from the Czech goalie developmental
system can be Sparta Praha midgets standout Marek Schwarz.

Marek was enjoying first a non-hockey childhood like millions of other kids, he didn’t seem
to be on the beginning of a hockey career at all. He just liked sports, that was it. Sons
of hockey coaches or players often make their first strides immediately after the first normal
steps and have hockey all around them. Not Marek Schwarz. None of his relatives played hockey
and a career in pro hockey wasn’t one of Marek’s first dreams. He laced up the skates in the
small Czech village Piskova Lhota for the first time, he was regularly visiting his granddad
there. And one day he took him skating on a frozen pond. Marek was a quick student and soon
he was capable of making all the skating moves and turns.

He started attending elementary school in his native city Mlada Boleslav, the ‘Czech Detroit’.
The well-known Czech car factory Skoda is based there and almost nobody knows the city for
hockey. Only for cars. Even if most of the kids start playing the game when they are about
five or six, not Marek. His time didn’t roll around until he was eight years old. By this time
kids often have two or three years of experience with organized hockey.
His parents
wanted him to play some sport and because Marek loved to skate, he chose to enter the local
hockey team. He didn’t have anybody who would bring him to the game, it can be said that
he brought himself to hockey alone. But his parents supported him in his decision of course.
The Mlada Boleslav youth coaches couldn’t know that they have on their team one of the most
talented goaltenders in the country. Other kids took the place between the pipes and the slick-
skating Marek Schwarz was assigned to the forward position. He felt quite comfortable there
and even scored some goals in the matches of the youngest kids. The situation drastically
changed when one of the netminders hanged up the pads and decided to go for another sport.
Marek Schwarz dressed into the goaltender’s gear for the first time and after the first practice
as a goalie he immediately knew that this is his position. Not scoring goals, but prevent
the others from scoring.

He got used to the new position in rapid time. Goaltending coaches Kvacek and Kozak began to
work with the ‘brand new goalie’ and gave Marek the first useful tips. He was willing to listen
to the advices and worked his way to one of the top 1986 born goalies in record time. Marek
wasn’t regarded as one of the top goaltending prospects in the country since the begin of his
career, he had to work hard to earn recognition, but he succeeded. Off-ice gymnastic workouts
payed the dividends and Marek soon developed his own style. This was on display on various
youth tournaments, where the Mlada Boleslav kids mostly faced teams from the capital’s Praha
county. Marek has a natural goaltending talent and was born with great instincts for this
position, so even if he stood between the pipes for lesser time than goalies of his age, he
could outplay them with his poise and maturity, which are rare.

Marek earned his first major success when he was playing for the 7th grade team of Mlada
Boleslav. The whole team enjoyed a highly successfull season and made it to the final
tournament of all the top Czech 7th grade teams. Marek accepted the challenge and with his
stellar play at this tournament he easily captured the Best goaltender trophy. That was his
first major hockey trophy, though it is sure it won’t remain the only one.
The next season meant a huge change for Marek. Mlada Boleslav midgets coach Vidner faced trouble
with goaltenders and decided to make an unprecendented move. He focused on the 7th grade team
standout and promoted Marek Schwarz over two levels right into the Mlada Boleslav midgets.
The three-times underaged Marek could face four year older opposition and this fact also
jumpstarted his way to the stardom. Suddenly he had to get used to the much faster pace
of game and more skilled forwards in the midget ranks. Marek proved that he is a
prospect to count on, because he handled the situation and maintained his spot with the
Mlada Boleslav midgets.

So it came that in 1999-2000 Marek Schwarz could play in the second highest Czech
midget league. It’s quite logical that in the Div I league Marek didn’t play the starter
as coach Vidner didn’t want to put too much workload on his young shoulders. He played backup
and his stats, especially the save percentage, may look horrible, but they don’t tell the
whole truth. Marek faced the shots for 732 minutes, posting a very solid 2.13 GAA, but an
awful .5273 save percentage as he sometimes was left alone to face the opposing forwards and
couldn’t do anything more than bringing the puck out of his net. Still, the Mlada Boleslav
midgets won the Div I midget league and were returning to the midget Extraleague for 2000-2001.
Marek’s talent was there and that was something the Under-16 coaches couldn’t oversee. The
underaged Marek got invited to the selection camp of the 1985 borns. Jakub Cech and Vladislav
Koutsky impressed the coaches most, but Marek’s performance also promised another look
later in the season.

Meanwhile he started performing in the midget Extraleague. The Mlada Boleslav team relied on his
play heavily as in the midget Extraleague they faced way better level of opponents as in the
Div I midget league.
And the Under-16 team coaches remembered his performance and invited him to a three-game
series against the Swiss Under-16, which was to become Marek’s first international tournament.
Marek played one game there, which turned out to be a 4:3 win of the Czechs.
Even if Schwarz was doing his best, after the season passed the halfway mark, it became more
and more clear that the Mlada Boleslav team will only fight to avoid relegation. The defense
was really poor as they gave up by far the most goals, 215. After winning just five games
and finishing with a 5-4-39 record Mlada Boleslav midgets finally got relegated to the Div
I midget league again. Marek Schwarz enjoyed a solid run, though. Albeit underaged, the best
player on the team went for a .8865 save percentage and a 4.69 GAA after appearing in all
but three games in the season, 45, and 1969 minutes. The number of GAA was clearly influenced
by the bad performance of the whole team, it is impossible to keep a solid GAA on a team
which is by far the worst in the midget Extraleague.
In 2000-2001 Marek Schwarz also saw his first action in the junior ranks. As Mlada Boleslav
doesn’t play the junior Extraleague, he dressed up for his debut in the Div I junior league.
His stint lasted for 5 games, exactly 243 minutes. His stats seem ugly again, the save
percentage only .500 and the GAA of 3.21…

At least the coaches of the Under-16 team made him happy when he was invited to perform at last
tournament of the season, again a three-game series against Switzerland, but this time against
the Swiss Under-17 team. Marek shared the goaltending duties with Tomas Kubes of Krokodyli
HC Brno. Marek stood between the pipes in the first contest, which turned out to be a 1:8 sweep
of the young Czechs. This game was
rounding out his season numbers for the Under-16 team at 2 games played, 120 minutes
and a .8308 save percentage along with a 5.5 GAA.

It was clear that Marek won’t stay in Mlada Boleslav any more. He received offers from various
Extraleague teams and finally decide to play for the midget team of HC Sparta Praha. The
mighty team from the capital city, which is always ranked atop the senior Extraleague and is
either hated or loved.
Sparta Praha midget coaches Najman and Cerny knew that they will have a huge boost on the
goaltending position. At 6’0”, 170 lbs. Marek already posesses decent size, covers
the net quite well and has considerable smarts. He plays a mix of stand-up and butterfly style which is very effective.
Schwarz is a resilient goalie with exceptional quickness and reflexes. He uses his pads
extremly well and has a quick glove hand. He also likes to challenge the shooter and plays
the angles well. Marek plays with poise and confidence and doesn’t let in many bad goals.
On the mental side he seems to be tough, but still sometimes tends to loose focus for a while.
His drawbacks are average skating and he has to further develop his stickhandling. Marek’s
play with the puck isn’t very good, but he is aware of this and working on this skill.
Goaltenders coach Termer dedicates a lot of time into Marek’s improvement and the results
can already be seen.

In Sparta he also attends practices of the senior team, where he can see Czech legend Petr
Briza live. Marek Schwarz especially admires Briza’s control of the initial shots, how he
doesn’t allow lots or rebounds and tries to learn this from him. But Briza isn’t his exact
hockey role model, Schwarz follows lots of quality goaltenders and wants to take the best
from every one.
Always with his favorite number 30 on his back, Marek Schwarz really showcased his talent
with the Sparta midgets. The team which wants to finally win the championship title needs
great goaltending, which Marek provides. Coach Najman recognized that Marek Schwarz can be
the factor which will decide about the results and made the rookie a starter.

A star of many games, Marek posted whooping numbers
this season. Thus far he stands with the Sparta Praha midgets at 42 games played, 2520 minutes
and a 1.79 GAA plus a .9315 save percentage. This effort was enough for him to earn the
Best goaltender trophy of the midget Extraleague after the regular season!
He even made his debut in the junior Extraleague, even if only for 14 minutes of one game.
The game wasn’t a lucky one for Marek, he gave up 3 goals, which means a 12.86 GAA and
a .8235 save percentage.
During the season Marek battled trouble with his sore back, but the team’s doctors were
able to heal this problem and Marek didn’t have to miss any single game.

Already with one year of international experience under his belt, it was clear that Marek
Schwarz will be one of the top stars of the new Under-16 team of the 1986 borns. He could
also move on to the Under-17 team, but for the first two tournaments of the season he
stayed with the Under-16’s. After the three-game series against Slovakia then took place
a three-game series against Switzerland. In the first meeting, a 3:0 win of the Czechs, Marek
earned the first shutout of his international career.
That game was his last with the Under-16
so far. Because instead of showing up for the Under-16 at another three-game series against
the Slovaks Marek got promoted to the Under-17 team and headed Canada for the World Hockey
Challenge. He was listed as the number three goalie after Jakub Cech and Vladislav Koutsky
and didn’t see any action in the main tournament.
In February he also stayed with the Under-17 team and joined the team for the Four Nations
Tourney of the Under-17 team. His solid play promises that he’ll stay with the 1985 borns
also during the next season and will be sent to the one year younger team only for the main

Marek is a student of the business academy in Praha, like some more Sparta Praha midgets
players. School takes him a lot of free time, but he has also time for other sports.
Besides hockey Marek prefers to ride his bike and when the weather is fine, he makes various
trips. Another sport he likes is handball, even if he isn’t an accomplished handball player.
Relaxing is also one of Marek’s activities, like is the case by many players. He listens
to hard rock music as for example Marilyn Manson, Ozzy Osbourne or Rammstein, which can
really turn him up. Marek also is a fond of watching movies, but he hasn’t a favorite one,
he likes to watch every good movie.

Marek still isn’t decdied about what way to the NHL Entry Draft he wants to take. The next
season he will definitely stay in Europe and perform for Sparta, then the CHL Import Draft
rolls around. He tends to take the European route, but doesn’t rule out coming over next
year. He didn’t made a serious decision about this till now. The NHL Entry Draft is of course
one of Marek’s biggest dreams. He doesn’t bother which team may pick him and even has’t any
favorite NHL team. He keeps an eye on the Colorado Avalanche, but likes all the teams.
It is very likely that one of them will have Marek Schwarz as the goaltender of the future
after the 2004 NHL Entry Draft is completed. Good luck!