Erat Gets Recognition

At the morning skate before the Predators played Ottawa on Feb. 9, a reporter asked Senators Coach Paul MacLean about the scoring balance up and down Nashvilles lineup.

He did not hesitate.
Martin Erat is an exceptional player for them, MacLean said. He doesnt get an awful lot of credit, but every line he plays on seems to be the best line on their team. The words werent revelatory. They came from experience. As an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings for six years, MacLean had seen Erats skating ability, nifty hands, passing vision and hockey sense up close six times per season in the Central Division.

I consider whatever line Martin Erat is on a top line in the league, MacLean said. This season Erat has achieved harmony on and off the ice. The Predators forward has a career-high in points with 58 and has found his voice as one of the teams leaders. At home, he and his wife recently welcomed their first child. The game and life have slowed down for the 30-year-old, who has taken advantage by hitting his prime and getting the publicity he deserves.

Now I know where I should shoot, where the goalies are playing, what types of defense plays against me. You just get used to playing against certain players and you get more patient in your game, Erat said. Its just a learning experience, and in hockey the experience is the biggest thing after talent. Said Predators Coach Barry Trotz: People dont realize how good of a player he is.

The junior years
Growing up in Trebic, Czech Republic, Erat knew he had talent to eventually go pro. He also knew he needed to make a move in order to improve on his game. Back then, players from Eastern Europe playing in Canadian major juniors wasnt a foreign concept. But most Europeans didnt want to leave the comfort of the their homes and travel across an ocean to play in North America. In 1999, Erat believed it was vital for his development to leave the Czech Republic for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. His game was bent toward a North American style rather than a European style, which is often more skill based.

I think it was the best decision I ever made, Erat said. I learned the language, the hockey, learned you can play different systems than what you play in Europe and to be able to look at hockey in a totally different way. It didnt hurt that Erat had two tough-as-nails former NHL players as his coaches. With the Saskatoon Blades he learned from Brad McCrimmon, a no-nonsense defenseman in his playing days and a former captain of the Calgary Flames. The following year with the Red Deer Rebels, Erat played for Brent Sutter, another Western Canadian known for hard work and toughness.

That was the biggest influence you can have on your career when you are a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old, Erat said. It was during the 2000-01 season when Saskatoon traded Erat to Red Deer, a team with Memorial Cup aspirations. He quickly endeared himself to his new coaching staff and fans. Whenever Erat scored a goal, Rebels supporters threw rubber rats on the ice, an obvious homage to Erats last name. In the playoffs he led Red Deer with 36 points and the Rebels won the Memorial Cup. He just had that skill set that he can make certain plays at certain times that can change the whole complexion of the game, Sutter said. He wasnt just an offensive player, he played hard defensively too. He backchecked as hard as anyone.

Take a chance
When the Predators selected Erat in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, he was listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds. He was coming off a broken leg, which prevented him from being picked earlier. He was a bit of a risk. It was a little calculated strategy that he would recover from the broken leg, which kept most everybody away from him, Predators General Manager David Poile said. We thought the talent overrode the size. Its good to be good, its better to be a little bit lucky. As Erat continued to develop in junior, the Predators knew he was turning into a legit prospect. Erat himself, however, wasnt so sure. When he arrived in Nashville for summer prospect camps, the searing heat shocked him. Oh my god, how can they play hockey in this city? he asked himself.

The commitment it took to play in the NHL equally confounded him. Erat would jump on the exercise bike for conditioning and had trouble keeping pace. Oh my god I cant even play in the NHL because I cant get through the bike, he would mutter. Yet he also had a revelation: You have to work hard to be here. And in time Erat filled out to his current 6 feet, 201 pounds. In many ways, Erat was fortunate he ended up in Nashville. He grew with a young team that was patient with his development. The Predators also featured several players who spoke his language. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, whose wife grew up as neighbor to Erat in the Czech Republic, and forward Vladimir Orszagh befriended Erat as mentors.

There were times Erat forgot to do things such as pay his electric bill  which resulted in his lights being turned off  but his fellow countrymen were there to help out. Just when I needed a home meal or if I needed to ask something, they were always there for me, Erat said. People dont realize when were coming from Europe how many things we need to figure out, and at the same time you have to focus on hockey.

A good place
For so many years, Erat had an if in front of his name. If Martin Erat scored 30 goals  If Martin Erat becomes a point-per-game player  If Martin Erat finds consistency. Those ifs have been discarded. Seen for so long as the young Predator, Erat has morphed into a graybeard on one of the leagues youngest teams and embraced the role. He will not score 30 goals this season, but he has been Nashvilles best and most consistent forward. Hes not a point-per-game player, but hes pretty close at .83 per contest.

If the Predators need a late-game score, Erat is on the ice. If they need one more defensive stop, Erat is trusted to help get it done. If they need to acclimate a new player, Erat gets the call. A lot of Sergei Kostitsyns success has to do with Erat. When the Predators acquired the forward, Erat was charged with bringing him along. He told me where I can go eat, simple stuff, where I can do this and this. We were roommates last year and hung out a lot, Kostitsyn said. He helped me a lot.  We talked about the team and the way they play here.

Charity is ingrained in Erat  especially toward children. He feels strongly about several causes, but doesnt seek the public eye. If you give something you shouldnt be saying about it, oh I did this, I did this,  he said. Still, the effects of his philanthropy are noticeable in two countries. For Nashvilles last home game before Christmas, he rented a Bridgestone Arena suite for the charity My Friends House. In Trebic, Erat helped build a youth soccer field.

Now were trying to get a gym for them to make sure they can do something in the winter times instead of being home at the computer, Erat said. Im trying to always help when I can. For me its tough to see people struggling with this and this. Im trying to help with the Czech Republic.
I love to help little kids play hockey or when they need hospital visit because kids are always going to be kids. On Feb. 24, his first son, Sebastien, was born, ushering in a more mature phase in Erats life.

If there is one agreement on Erat and his maturation in his game and as a person, its that his hard work has paid off. This season has been as good as it gets. Marty has always had a smile, hes just comfortable, Trotz said. Hes comfortable as a player and he keeps everything in perspective. And he is in a good place, no question.