Finally playing against guys his age, Marek Valach excels with Cedar Rapids RoughRiders

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CEDAR RAPIDS — He has come to America to improve his game. To ultimately play at the highest level his ability will allow.

The thought right now is to play college hockey, get an education.

But one of the immediate big bonuses for Marek Valach of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders is to play against guys who actually are his age and younger. That’s a switch.

Valach played club hockey last season for Salzburg Red Bull EC in Austria. He was one of the youngest players on his team and opposing teams.

“We played pro over there,” said Valach, who didn’t sign a contract in order to retain possible NCAA eligibility. “There was not as much skating as here. The guys were more experienced. I played against guys who were 30, 35 years old.”

Valach is at the United States Hockey League age cap of 20. The USHL generally has kids who are 16 to 20.

Competing against guys in his own age bracket has been a boon for the left winger. Valach leads the RoughRiders with five goals and 13 points going into the weekend.

Cedar Rapids hosts Waterloo at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Ice Arena.

“The ice rink is smaller. I like it more here, like it more than in Europe,” Valach said. The play is faster, and there is a lot of body contact. I can shoot from the sides, it’s close to the net.”

Everything about this move has worked out well thus far.

“Marek’s had a good, decent start,” Riders Coach Mark Carlson said. “He does a lot of things well. He skates well, he has worked really hard on his conditioning, so he is strong and heavy on the puck. He’s a real threat to score and to make a play and get an assist. He has done a nice job so far.”

Carlson brought in Valach — who is from Ilava, Slovakia — late in the summer to try and make the team. Valach’s adviser tipped off the RoughRiders about his availability.

He has impressed since he got here.

“I wanted to get better as a hockey player, so I think it was best for me to come to the USA,” Valach said. “In the summer, Coach Carlson spoke with my agent, and then Coach told me he wanted me here for camp. It was quick. He called me Tuesday afternoon, and I had to fly here Thursday morning. It was really quick.”

Though he didn’t study it in school, Valach has picked up English well, thanks to his time with Red Bull. He has the same billet family as teammate and linemate Nathan Smith, so that has worked out well.

Fellow linemate Brian Chambers also lives close, and the three are normally together, playing video games and eating at Chipotle.

“I think I work hard every summer to get ready for the season,” Valach said. “I knew I had it in myself to prove it in this league. I have played with good teammates, and everyone has helped me.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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