Somewhat non-surprisingly, Marty Straka is heading back home to Czech Republic. Another former Penguin who I never really got the time to know and follow previous to his time in NY, Straka made his mark (his final mark in the NHL) on the New York Rangers. And they were lucky to have him.
I'm sure I'll miss someone as I say this, but in the last few years, not a player stands out in my mind for their on-ice courageousness like Marty Straka does. There are players and there are moments. But, for example, I cannot think of foreward players besides Chris Drury and Jed Ortmeyer that went down to try to block more shots - repeatedly - than Straka. (Maybe Blair Betts? Anyone know where to look up blocked shots, I'd be much obliged!) Regardless, the point should remain that Straka is significantly older and smaller than these guys. And yet he did it. He never asked any questions, just did the job. He gave his all night in and night out. On nights he was disappointed with the result, no one felt it more than himself. One look at the guys face would tell you he was unhappy with himself. He wanted to be better. He wanted the team to win. He had hockey smarts. He had guts. He had a will to win. And he didn't take losing lying down. What else could you ever ask for from a teammate?
Repeatedly during this last season, Scott Gomez kept crediting Marty Straka for keeping his line together. Gomez played with great players, but the kudos kept raining for Straks. For this strength and for his ability to think on his feet. Straka, it was said, had the mind for hockey - he was very quick thinking. And all his teammates respected him. He was the little guy with the fight and the strength to do things the others would not or could not do. I think NY is going to miss him.
I, too, will miss him. Jagr was flashier and had the bigger name. But Straks did the job marvelously. He was humble, too. Always shying away from the attention. But he deserves a lot of credit for not only keeping #68 happy and playing with him, but being a great player in his own right. He was good on the power play. He was an self-less penalty killer. If he didn't injure his wrist, and forget how to shoot ;), we wouldn't be having this farewell conversation. He would have been that guy for a year or two more.
But I'm glad he was the guy for as long as he was. A career to be proud of. Such a good, genuine guy. His goal against Pittsburgh, end to end, weaving, passing off, and gathering it back at the end to shoot it home - brilliant. And one of my favorites. If I didn't respect him for his humility, his skill, and his strength beyond his pounds, I'd respect him for loving his teammates. When Jarkko Ruuto charged and crashed Jagr into the boards in the 2006 Olympics, it was Straka who flew - yes flew - through the air to tackle him to the ground. All 5'9" of him. A big heart goes a long way. He, and Jagr and co., made it hard for a girl to not cheer for the Czechs in Italy that year.
He's got a young daughter, and he's happily going back home to play for his country. I'm sure they know how lucky they are to have him. For we, the fans of the New York Rangers, we might not realize the strength of a Martin Straka until he is gone, but we were very lucky he ended his career in New York. We got to see some really special things.
Thanks Straks. . .#82, this one is for you. . .