International Ice Hockey Federation

Arctic Adventure

Arctic Adventure

Slovak Filip Lestan destined to realize dreams

Published 24.09.2014 20:06 GMT+2 | Author Joeri Loonen
Arctic Adventure
Filip Lestan returned to his native country to represent Slovakia at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup on home ice in Piestany and hopes to make the team for the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Switzerland. Photo: Werner Krainbucher
Sweden’s rise as a hockey power not only has Tre Kronor as a beneficiary. The country is also becoming a strong magnet for foreign prospects.

One of them, 16-year-old Slovak forward Filip Lestan, decided to leave home to set sail for an adventure with Sweden’s most northern-based team, Lulea.

Although a complete distant world compared to his home town of Zilina, Lestan did not feel completely alienated. Lulea has built up a good track record of bringing in young talented Slovak players since 2011. One of the players that came in the first wave was Peter Cehlarik, who also hails from Zilina.

Within three years Cehlarik claimed a starting spot in the Swedish Hockey League was drafted by the Boston Bruins last year. It was the same player who played a vital role in convincing one of Slovakia’s most talented U16 players at the time to leave home and join Lulea.

Faced with the prospect of joining a quality junior program, Lestan did not hesitate and despite being just 15 years old he left for an adventure in a different country.

“Peter (Cehlarik) advised me to come and join him in Sweden,” Lestan recalls. “The conditions in Lulea would be far better than in Zilina. Better schools, better training methodologies, more ice time etc.”

Naturally it took a few months to adapt to a new life abroad away from parents and friends but sharing an apartment with fellow countrymen Peter Cehlarik and Christian Jaros certainly made life easier.

“In the beginning it was really hard. This was my first experience of living abroad and I had to learn how to cook and clean and all that. After a year of adjusting I’m ready to do better this upcoming season,” Lestan said in near fluent English during the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup with the Slovak U18 national team.

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The region of Lulea is one of the coolest in all of Sweden and due to its geographic location, Lestan had no choice to blend in with the locals. “When I first arrived here everything was completely different than back home, especially the weather. Winters here are extremely cold with temperatures going down to minus 30°C,” he said.

“Back home in Zilina the worst you’d possibly get is -10°C, so this really felt extreme. Also in winter time it’s pretty much dark outside all day which makes a strange atmosphere as well. But luckily I’m able to understand Swedish almost fluently now and that really has helped my adjustment.”

Despite his age, Lestan does not get overlooked easily. Yet to turn 17, opposing players will have to look up to see the towering 193 cm tall forward in the eyes. It’s a characteristic NHL scouts look at.

Having already made his debut in the Slovak U18 league at the age of 14, he can look back at a good first season in Sweden. Three goals and 14 points in 15 games in the Swedish U18 league have certainly not harmed his chances of getting selected in the 2016 NHL draft.

“For me, moving to Sweden means one step closer to realizing my dream of getting drafted,” Lestan admitted. “Everything is much more intense and faster here. On the ice there’s a lot more competition and you are really pushed to the maximum every day. This is totally different than in Slovakia where there’s only a few players who really want to come to play whereas some others are just happy to be on the team.”

While playing with his childhood hero Marian Hossa in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey remains the ultimate dream, Lestan has got no plans yet to move overseas to play junior hockey in North America like fellow countrymen used to do with mixed success.

“I haven’t really thought about that, but for now I’d prefer to stay in Sweden as I really like it here and still can improve and work on my skills here,” he said.

For the upcoming season the young Slovak will aim for becoming a force at the U18 level while also getting some games at the U20 level under his belt. Furthermore he looks a lock to make his debut on the international level for the Slovak U18 team at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Zug and Lucerne, Switzerland.

Having travelled the distance to go on an Arctic adventure at the age of 15 shows Lestan is serious about his cause.

“All aspects of my game can improve and I need to work hard for that. To realize my dream I will make sure to do that.”


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