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Simon Hrubec is statistically the best goalie in the league

The goalkeeper Simon Hrubec convinces with the ZSC Lions with excellent performances. He once sold his Playstation in the Czech Republic to finance the goalie equipment – and almost had to end his career early.

Simon Hrubec is statistically the best goalkeeper in the league – but here he draws the short straw against Ramon Tanner from Biel.

Peter Schneider / Keystone

In the 1990s, Vimperk is a sleepy village in southern Bohemia where progress is slow to arrive. It is the time before the internet becomes a mass medium. And maybe it is this circumstance that saved Simon Hrubec’s career.

As a kid he struggles with health problems. He is prescribed antibiotics, and because these do not permanently improve his condition, the doctor tells him: “You have to stop playing ice hockey, it’s not good for you.” A world is collapsing for Hrubec, he loved dashing after the puck as a striker; tears flow freely.

At some point, the doctor suggests a compromise: “You stand in the goal, it’s less physically demanding, and you don’t have to breathe so heavily all the time.” A fallacy, but the doctor knew nothing about this sport. And the internet couldn’t ask her either. Hrubec says: “After the first training as a goalie, I was completely exhausted, I could hardly breathe.” He wisely kept that to himself.

It is not self-evident that the change of position was possible at all. Goalie equipment is expensive. And Hrubec’s family not wealthy. So the young man decides to sell his most valuable asset: his Playstation 1. His father brought it home for him under unclear circumstances – he worked as a border official.

The game console was a big thing, you were the cool kid in the neighborhood, in the village. But Hrubec traded them in for second-hand gear without hesitation.

Hrubec’s catch rate is over 95 percent

It was the beginning of a remarkable career that brought Hrubec to Zurich from the Czech Republic via Russia and China in the summer. Hrubec, 31, is a big reason the ZSC Lions have the most solid defense in the league to date, conceding just 11 goals in seven games.

Hrubec is statistically the best goalkeeper in the league, his catch rate is over 95 percent and he has managed to breathe new life into the club. Goalkeeper coach Stephan Siegfried puts it this way: “Our number 1 was Lukas Flüeler for many years. We’ve won four championships with him. But over the years his body didn’t keep up with everything, we had to dose the strain in the training sessions. Hrubec is different. He has high standards. Per se. And also to everyone in the club. He wants to get better every day and assumes that you as a coach will support him accordingly. The dynamic has changed, it’s fun to work with him.”

This attitude to work is based not least on Hrubec’s life story. Little has been gifted to him, from equipment to a place in the sun like he has today. At a young age he trundled through the Czech amateur leagues, the professional contract seemed far away. He says: “I was just not good enough between 15 and 19. But I’ve worked hard to change that.”

Interview with Simon Hrubec at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

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One of his first coaches was his father Stanislav. Who knew nothing about ice hockey and ordered VHS tapes from the USA to study the movements of the NHL goalies. The autodidact has come a long way: he is no longer a customs officer. But a professional goalie coach at the Czech first division club Ceske Budejovice.

His son’s first professional club was HC Trinec. In 2018, Simon Hrubec was named the most valuable player in the Champions Hockey League, in 2019 the most valuable player in the Czech Extraliga play-offs. Now he felt it was time to embark on a new adventure. Hrubec asked his agent if a move to Switzerland was possible. But he waved him off: No team would make a Czech number 1 without NHL experience, the foreigner licenses are too expensive for that.

Hrubec moved to China, to the KHL club Kunlun Red Star. He says: “Prague as a city was actually too big for me. Then it became Beijing. . . But it was a fascinating time, I learned a lot. They sometimes eat really strange things there. Once I found a fast food chain like McDonald’s just with frog meat. Or duck head salad. I always declined with thanks and just took photos.”

Simon Hrubec explains the special features of his helmet.

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After a little over a year, he will be transferred to Avangard Omsk in Siberia in November 2020, to the club of former ZSC champion coach Bob Hartley. In his first season, Hrubec becomes KHL champion there and rises to number 1 in the Czech World Cup team. He’s definitely in the elite.

Every parade benefits a good cause

Were it not for Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Hrubec would still be playing for Omsk but he ended his contract after developments in the spring. When the offer came from Zurich, he called Jakub Kovar, his immediate predecessor at ZSC, who had moved back home for family reasons. Kovar advised him to end the call as soon as possible in order to be able to sign the contract faster.

Hrubec has excellent connections with almost all goalies in the Czech Republic – and for a special reason. A few years ago he founded the non-profit organization “Saves help”, in which every goalie donates 10 Czech crowns (almost 40 centimes) for every shot saved to a good cause. In the Czech Republic, around 60 goalkeepers are now taking part in the campaign, recently even 50 in football; former world-class goalie Petr Cech (who turned hockey goalie after retiring with Guildford Phoenix in England) is also involved.

Hrubec quickly recruited his first supporter in Switzerland: his competitor Ludovic Waeber. Hrubec says: “He was immediately enthusiastic about the idea. His money will be invested in projects in Switzerland.”

For your orientation: In 2021/22, Gottéron goalie Reto Berra stopped the most pucks in the National League with 1371 saves. After all, that would have resulted in almost 550 francs, with a total of over 100 goalkeepers, that’s a nice sum. One more reason for Hrubec and ZSC to hope that the 2022/23 season will last as long as possible in all competitions. He says: “We want to be champions in the new stadium. We all have to subordinate everything to this goal.” The announcement could not be clearer.


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