David Hejduk was born in Parker, Colo., but he spent a lot of his youth over 5,000 miles away.
The Wenatchee Wild’s rookie defenceman is the son of former Colorado Avalanche star Milan Hejduk who played 15 seasons in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup in 2001.
The senior Hedjuk hails from the Czech Republic, or Czechia as it is commonly referred to now. With twin boys growing up in his adopted home state of Colorado, it was always important for Milan and his wife Zlata, who is also Czech, to make sure their sons were well aware of their heritage and got to experience the culture first-hand.
“When I played for the Avs, we always spent part of the summer in the Czech Republic with relatives and friends,” said Milan. “We were bringing the boys there at a really young age, ever since they could fly. Every summer, we would spend a month-and-a-half or two months there. They got used it. They played some hockey there too. They got a piece of the culture and also the language.”
Part of the trips to the Czech Republic included spending time with relatives and friends who only spoke Czech, so it forced David and his twin brother Marek to sharpen up on the language after their primary language became English when they started school.
The Hedjuks are proud of their country, but that national pride goes both ways. Milan was a part of the Czech national team that won the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the first games in which NHL players were permitted to play.
“It was huge for our country,” he said. “The support we got from the Czech Republic while the Olympics were going on was just massive. When we landed back there with the gold medals, it was a huge celebration. The whole country was behind us. We will always be in the history books.”
When the Czechs won the gold in 1998, David wouldn’t be born for another six years. He has mostly just heard stories from his dad, but he understands the importance of that moment in the country’s history. He was also not around for his dad’s Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Avalanche, but he still got to be present for a good portion of his pro career until Milan retired in 2013.
He remembers interacting with players like Paul Stastny and Eric Johnson, as well as just enjoying spending time with his dad and his brother at the rink.
The two kids took to hockey right away. Being in that environment day in and day out, it is no surprise that they wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps.
They worked their way through the youth hockey system in Colorado, including several years with the Colorado Thunderbirds program. Having grown up playing hockey in the area, David has seen the growth of youth programs across the state.
“The hockey scene in Colorado is great,” he said. “Especially now, I think it’s developing a lot more. It gave me all the right opportunities to succeed. Once the Avalanche came to Colorado, hockey kind of exploded. I think it’s actually still growing in popularity.”
David and Marek played on the same teams up until a couple years ago when it came time to take different paths. Marek, who is a forward like his dad, joined the U.S. National Team Development Program in 2020, while David headed west to suit up for the Wenatchee Wild to start the 2021-22 campaign.
In his rookie season, David has put up 13 points in 42 games for the Wild. He sees himself as a two-way defenceman who can bring offence and playmaking ability, as well as some toughness.
Milan and his wife have been to Wenatchee on a few occasions to watch their son play live, but even when they can’t make it in person, they view the games online. Milan likes what he sees from his son’s game this year and is encouraged by his development.
“He’s showing some promising stuff,” he said, “I think the BCHL is a really good league for him. We’re really happy with the decision [to play for the Wild] and I think David is really happy too.”
Looking ahead, David is committed to Harvard University where he will eventually rejoin his brother at the Ivy League school. Harvard has a solid hockey program, but is better known for its high academic standards, which is a big reason why David wanted to go there.
“I always try to be the best student-athlete I can be and obviously half of that is education,” he said. “I take that as seriously as I do hockey. At first, that came from my parents and then after a while, you figure out that there’s life outside of hockey and you have to prepare yourself for that too. It’s something that I’m passionate about.”
It looks like the Czech Republic will have another generation of Hejduks to be proud of.