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Panthers article (found a good read)


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It might of been posted before but here you go. It was a pretty good one my friend gave me to read.


SKOLNICK: 'Uncle Rusty' settles in

Sports columnist Ethan J. Skolnick


If you didn't guess by the 20-year-old forward's inspired play, his improved grasp of English or his surprise selection to the Czech Republic's Olympic team, maybe this story will spell it out.


Joe Nieuwendyk, whose career has been as long as Rostislav Olesz's life, invited the rookie to his Parkland home to ride out Hurricane Wilma. Olesz passed two weeks playing with Nieuwendyk's three young children, earning the nickname Uncle Rusty and practicing his developing English by fiddling with their Dora the Explorer talking toys and watching Scooby Doo.


"All day, every day, with [3-year-old] Jackson," Olesz said.


Apparently, the Scooby strategy worked. One day when the Nieuwendyks were out, Olesz communicated well enough to persuade their cleaning lady to add a European soccer channel to the family's cable offerings.


"So now we have that for $12.95 a month," Nieuwendyk said, smiling. "That was a nice surprise, a nice addition."


That was a small price to pay for the continuing comfort and education of Bilovec-born Olesz, which ranks as critical as anything on the Panthers' agenda this season.


For this franchise to ever truly prosper, a handful of the touted prospects must finally emerge into elite professionals. Here. Not in Vancouver or Calgary or Pittsburgh after some trade, like others.


What's the last great non-goaltender this franchise developed, for itself?


Now that the Panthers have banished Kristian Huselius and Niklas Hagman, no pre-2001 draftee remains on the roster. Those players should be entering their Panthers primes. Several of the Panthers' eight first-round selections the past five years have shown promise, but none, not Stephen Weiss, not Jay Bouwmeester, not Lukas Krajicek, not Nathan Horton, is yet an established star.


Olesz, chosen seventh overall in 2004 and wise beyond his years, has the goods to become one.


He'd better.


"He reads the game well," coach Jacques Martin said. "He protects the puck really well. He's got a good shot; he's got to use his shot more."


He has scored five goals and added six assists in 23 games, having missed 16 with a knee injury.


He's hard to miss on the ice, even when the lefty isn't shooting or scoring.


His No. 85 sweater jumps off it.


He has the pulse-quickening presence to get fans jumping from seats.


Several countrymen, including Martin Straka, have compared his skills to those of Jaromir Jagr.


Still, it's foolish to diminish the jump he's making, not just to a higher hockey level, but across an ocean. Martin spoke of Olesz's adjustment to the smaller North American ice surface, but that's nothing compared to learning the North American customs. For most foreign players, that comes first.


"Just imagine what it would be like for us to go over to a foreign country at that age and make that kind of adjustment," Nieuwendyk said.


magine trying it while plying your trade in front of thousands.


"It is difficult," Martin said. "The culture, the language, the different game, the number of games vs. what he's used to playing. All those factors enter into it. And he's a kid who lives on his own. The quicker he learns to speak the language, and understand, it helps in that transition."


So, to supplement his Scooby study, the Panthers arranged twice-weekly tutoring sessions.


"Learn many new words, how to say this, how to say this," Olesz said.


When Olesz injured his knee in Ottawa in October, he had to rely on Slovakian teammate Jozef Stumpel to translate questions.


"I think it's going pretty good," Stumpel said of Olesz's English improvement.


Olesz feels his entire transition is.


"I feel good," he said. "Everything is OK."


As long as it is, he has a shot to be special.


His girlfriend leaves Florida for home today, but his parents are scheduled to arrive soon, for the first time this season. Asked what he misses about home, he can't think of much, since he's playing so many games per week and speaking with his folks every day.


OK, there's one thing he misses.




He frequents Italian restaurants when not preparing what he would eat overseas: pasta, chicken, beef, Czech-style.


"I think good cook," he described himself.


Nieuwendyk wouldn't know.


"No, he didn't cook much," Nieuwendyk said. "But he sure ate a lot."


It's obvious the affection the veterans have for him. It's obvious how much attention the Panthers must pay to his development.


"He's a pretty mature kid," Martin said.


Mature enough that when asked about being underage for American nightclubs, he says, "Not for me. Not for me."


He'd prefer to spend spare time at the Nieuwendyks, where European soccer is a click away.




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