Florida’s Tale of Two Tomases

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE, Fla. — Wingers Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky, Florida’s new duo in the “Tomas without an H” brotherhood, sat beside one another at the stage last Friday at BankAtlantic Center, placards placed before them and one microphone to share between them. Why the two players with the same first name were sitting beside each other was anyone’s guess.

Scottie Upshall was the first seated to the far left, so scratch off alphabetical seating as the order of the day. Starting with Upshall and ending with Nolan Yonkman at the far end, the numbers from left to right on the stage read like winning lottery numbers from a game much greater than any we have played — a Mega-Power Super Ball Select 9 that popped up as 19-60-22-51-55-82-14-32-34. The winner? The Florida Panthers.

While the Panthers made news for losing one Tomas (Vokoun, to Washington), it added a pair in Fleischmann and Kopecky, who thankfully go by Flash and Kopy. The organization could have added a third at the NHL Draft if it had decided to select Tomas Jurco, a right winger chosen by Detroit just two picks after Florida grabbed Rocco Grimaldi, but why over-Tomas with a draft pick? When I had my turn to pose a question as the press conference began, I asked of Flash, “Umm, Tomas…” and both looked right at me, wondering who was up.

From talking to some of their current teammates and former opponents, Florida fans won’t get confused as to which Tomas is which.

“People haven’t seen how good Flash is,” said forward Matt Bradley, who joined the Capitals with Fleischmann in 2005. “In Washington, he was always stuck behind Ovi and those guys, and obviously those guys are top players. It’s tough to get by them. I think that with a little more ice time and the opportunity to be on the power play you’ll see how good Flash really is. You saw that in Colorado this year. When he was healthy, he was unbelievable. He scored a lot of points. That’s what I expect from him this year. He’s a great player.”

Fleischmann, 27, was dealt from Washington to Colorado last Nov. 30 for defenseman Scott Hannan. A natural left winger, Fleischmann had been playing as the second-line center for Washington to start the season but struggled, totaling just four goals and six assists in 23 games before being moved to the Western Conference. He doubled that production — eight goals and 13 assists — in playing one less game for the Avalanche before a blood clot problem shut him down for the second time in his career.

“It doesn’t help when you’re playing behind the best player in the league,” the cordial Fleischmann said during a one-on-one interview beside the club’s Den of Honor. “I was always the second or third guy. I played on the first line in Colorado and felt great. I liked having the pressure on me, and I hope it’s going to be like that this season. I was on a line with (Matt) Duchene and (David) Jones, and I know I can play like that.

“It was surprising to go to Colorado. I had only played 20 games in the season. There was talk in the offseason about a trade, but you never expect it. It’s just the way of the business. It was a great time playing on the first line in Colorado and trying to put up points. It was good.”

Fleischmann had the blood clot issue two years ago and went on medication. The problem resurfaced last year after he decided to start the season by playing without it. He said he now knows what to watch for and how to prepare for the season. When he has played well, this is what it looked like:

Defenseman Ed Jovanovski saw plenty of the 29-year-old Kopecky. He also noticed the play of Fleischmann in his 22 games in Denver.

“(Kopecky’s) just a big kid. He’s a guy that has skill, but I think his biggest asset is how hard he works. He’s a grinder. I remember playing against him in Chicago and Detroit, and he was always one of those guys that was always in your face and always hitting you. As for Fleischmann, he was on fire when he was traded to Colorado and was playing so well. Those are two great players,” Jovo said.

Kris Versteeg, a Chicago Blackhawks teammate of Kopecky, said the Slovakian should contribute directly from in front of the net, especially a man up.

“I think you’re going to see a lot from (Brian) Campbell and Kopy on the power play,” Versteeg said. “Kopy’s not going to handle the puck too much, but he’s going to get in front of the net and bang in a lot of rebound goals. He’s a lot like a Tomas Holmstrom, a guy that creates havoc. He’s going to be in guys’ faces. He’s scored big goals and has two Stanley Cups. He’s won before and knows what it takes.”

Added Kopecky: “I knew after the season, it didn’t look like it was going to work out in Chicago. I knew that Dale (Tallon) is the kind of guy who is pretty stubborn and would do anything to win. It didn’t make any more sense for me to be in Chicago. I talked to Soupy (Campbell) when he got traded, and I kind of realized this is a great opportunity for me. It’s a great challenge for all of us.”

Tomas and Tomas, Fleischmann and Kopecky, Flash and Kopy, Czech and Slovak, 14 and 82, left wing and right wing, redhead and spiky brunette. You won’t get them confused.

Whatever you call them, these two Tomases may just be better than one.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL
Email: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.com