It still remains one of the more indelible images in recent Sharks history.
Tomas Hertl, still just 19 and less than a week into his NHL career, coming in on a breakaway, sliding the puck between his legs and flipping it past goaltender Martin Biron for his fourth goal in a 2013 game in San Jose against the New York Rangers.
All while his mother, Miloslava, and his then-girlfriend, Aneta, looked on in almost total shock.
More than six years later, Hertl, now married to Aneta and 26 years old, is making his first appearance in the NHL All-Star Game this weekend in St. Louis. Hertl was a replacement for Logan Couture, who remains out with a small fracture in his left ankle he sustained in a Jan. 7 game against the St. Louis Blues.
While the Sharks’ season so far has been a disappointment for everyone in the organization, Hertl was still going to enjoy his experience of a being an all star for the first time in his career. Here’s a quick interview this newspaper did with Hertl last week. Some portions have been edited for brevity.
Q: Do you have any family coming over from the Czech Republic?
A: Actually, no. It will be just me and my wife. It’s kind of a long flight and it was kind of quick, and my parents are already coming in February for two weeks. It not easy for them, a flight for them. It’s a 12 hour (flight) just for three days. I wish they could be here. But hopefully one day they can come and see an All-Star Game, but they will enjoy it for sure on (television).
Q: How important were your parents in helping you get to where you are today?
A: They just have done everything (for) me and my brother (Jaroslav). They just put all of their money for me my brother for hockey. It wasn’t like they just give it to me, they always like to see me work hard or do something at home.
But they always tried to do our best for hockey, drive us all over, wake up every day at 5 a.m. They mean to me everything. What they gave for hockey and they’re still. My mom watches every game, even though it’s 4 a.m. back home. For sure, my dad (Jaroslav) is a little bit harder. He’s the tough guy. He’s still all over me when I’m struggling, when I don’t play well.
“My brother just finished with hockey. So it’s all our life. They just give me everything and helped me grow. With my dad it was sometimes tough, because he was really hard on me. But that’s what helped me get to the NHL.”
Q: Did you ever watch the NHL All-Star Game growing up?
A: Most of the time we watched (the highlights). It’s kind of tough back home. If it’s like at 2 or 3 a.m., when you’re a young kid, it’s tough to wake up. Next day, (I saw) the highlights or the goals, or the best moments of the all-star game. But you always dreamed about being there. For sure when you go for the first time with the other best players in the NHL, and I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully I have a good time, too.”
Q: Did you watch (Jaromir) Jagr at the all-star game?
A: Jagr, for my generation, it was everything. When I was born, he started playing in the NHL. He was the man, he got the points, he was in every all star game. I always watch him and the next day, there was some highlights of who scored the goals. If someone did something fancy on a penalty shot, or the shootout. … Watching hockey was harder, too, because it wasn’t everywhere. Now it’s just, turn on the TV and it’s there. Back then, it was just a couple games.
Q: Do you know what you’ll be doing in the skills competition, or what you’d like to do?
A: Nobody’s told me, but that’s probably the only thing I’m nervous about. So hopefully it’s something easy. I was just saying, maybe hardest shot. But whatever they give me, I’ll for sure have a really good time. I’m watching it almost every year and guys having a good time, especially this competition. If somebody messes up, it happens. There’s a lot of people watching you. I bet it will be fun. I want to see the other guys, too, from other teams. We’ve been big rivals, but now we play together. I think it’ll be fun.
Q: Was getting to the All-Star Game ever a goal of yours?
A: It was never a goal. If I got to go, that would be huge. But the first thing is, when you get here, you want to win the Stanley Cup and you want to play in the NHL just every night. You want to be just a player than can change a game, play power play, PK.
Like after my second or third year, my goal, I want to go there. I know I can be there. In time, I was maybe thinking, I know I’m one of the important guys on the team and play a lot of minutes. If I deserve it and I play the right way and play my best hockey, I know I can maybe one day get there.
This year, it’s a little bit tougher. If it like last year, we get to the playoffs and you’re doing good, it’s way better to go there than if you’re out of playoffs, you’re hunting and it’s a little bit of a struggle. I’m still happy I was chosen after (Couture).
Last year, when you’re up there in the standings, the whole team’s doing great, you’re winning, you have fun every night. This year, it’s just a little bit harder. … We’re still fighting. I think we proved it after new year that we can beat anybody, but we just have to play our game.