Following the 2015-16 hockey season, David Rittich took a gamble. A product of the Czech Republic and four-year veteran of their pro hockey leagues, he had found a comfort zone and some success in his native country. But seeking a challenge, he rolled the dice and signed a deal with the Calgary Flames organization.
At the time, the Flames had three young goalies in the pipeline – Mason McDonald, Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons – and the logic was probably that a steady veteran like Rittich could help bring them along their paths to the NHL level. Entering his third North American training camp, he’s ended up playing more NHL minutes than the three youngsters combined.
And with Gillies and starter Mike Smith in China for the 2018 ORG NHL China Games, Rittich has a golden opportunity to gain momentum in his quest to lock down the NHL backup job.
We chatted with Rittich following the first day of training camp.
Your first season was spent adjusting to North American ice and establishing yourself. Your second season saw you get some time in the NHL. Heading into this camp, is this your chance to really establish what you can do at the NHL level?
It will be most interesting part in my career probably, this camp. It’s everything open for me and I want to show to everyone that I can be in the NHL for a long time, not for just a couple months.
Your time in the NHL last season seemed to have two sections: the first chunk saw you as a backup playing occasionally but having to be ready, while the second saw you leaned on as a starter. Did you learn a lot about the mental side of the game with those two roles?
I learned a lot of things about life, about hockey. I want to use that this year to be better, not just as a hockey player but as a person.
It was a great experience for me. These two situations, when I came here it was a great time because team played really really good. Then with Smitty hurt we everyone be a little bit lower than we have to be. But it’s not an issue, so I should be better than I was so hopefully we’ll be better this year.
As the older player of the two challenging for the backup job, are you feeling any pressure at this camp?
[Smiles] Pressure is anytime, everywhere. It’s hockey, and for your job is to be one of 100 goalies. Pressure is always and I just want to show my best. I want to be in the NHL, that’s my point for this season.
Do you see not going to China as an opportunity to gain some momentum in camp? They’re only playing two games and there’s only one net, while the group that’s here will likely play four preseason games before the China group is back.
It’s better way for me than going to China. Two times in China, it’s not enough because Smitty will play most of it. So I will be here and I’ll play two, three games. It’s a better feeling for me than just sitting on the bench. I’ll be in the game and that’ll be better for me.