May 25, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Bruin: Ivan Huml

By Jesse Connolly

Bruins beat writer Jesse Connolly takes a look back at one Bruin from years past every Friday, shining the spotlight on a former member of the Black and Gold that most fans have likely forgotten ever existed.

After a fact-based, straightforward approach to his debut of this feature (Mattias Timander) last week, he’s jazzing things up with his own recollections this time around.

Today, he’s reflecting on the ever-so-brief NHL career of Ivan Huml.

"Lost and Gone Forever" was a superb album by Guster.

It was October of 1999. Boston-based band Guster’s popularity was on the rise thanks to “Barrel of a Gun” getting heavy radio play. In fact, I still remember hearing it while my mom drove me to my first day of high school. It’s a classic album. You should check it out sometime.

Meanwhile on Causeway Street, Dimitri Khristich’s popularity was in sharp decline, as it became largely evident to Harry Sinden and the rest of the Bruins’ brass that the Russian winger could no longer even pretend to give a crap on a nightly basis, despite scoring 29 goals in each of his two years in Boston (commonly referred to as “Alex Kovalev Syndrome” by most NHL doctors).

The B’s traded Khristich after walking away from his $2.8 million dollar arbitration award to the Toronto Maple Leafs, further proving that the Toronto Maple Leafs always jump at everything the Bruins dangle in front of them. It reminds me of a German Shepherd flying through the air and snatching what he perceived to be a juicy piece of steak, only to land on all fours and realizes he just sunk his teeth into a smelly sneaker.

Anyways, the point of this all is that the Bruins received a second-round pick in 2000 as compensation, which they then used to draft a young man that would prove to be the greatest up-and-coming player in EA Sports’ NHL 2004. His name? Ivan Huml. 

Jesus teaches a young hockey player -- possibly Ivan Huml -- some slick stick-handling moves.

Huml came from the Langley Hornets of the BCHL, which I always jokingly thought was the Before Christ Hockey League, but we all know the bible shows no proof of Jesus owning CCM Tacks.

After a breakout, second year with Providence (28 goals) in 2001-02, Huml suited up for 41 games for the Bruins in 2002-03. The kid had wheels. Killer wheels. EA sure took notice as, if I recall correctly, Huml had somewhere between an 86 and a 90 for his speed attribute when the ’04 edition of the game came out in the fall of 2003. 

Back then, as long as you knew what moves were the so-called exploits of the game that allowed you to score on a regular basis, all you needed was a guy who could fly. Enter Huml, a guy who could barely get five minutes of playing time a night in real life but who absolutely rocked in video-game land.

It wasn’t long before the Czech winger was on my top line, pouring in goals and racking up points en route to capturing the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer and the Hart Trophy for MVP of the National Hockey League.

Unfortunately the fantasy trumped reality by leaps and bounds. Huml did squat in his final year in North America. He played in just seven games for Mike Sullivan’s squad in Boston, spending most of the season down on the farm.

The blazing speed he had in video games was no exaggeration, but Huml’s goal-scoring abilities were essentially nowhere to be found in the NHL.

When I think back to his short time with the Bruins, the only thing memorable I can recall Huml doing was making what my cousin and I dubbed the “Ivan Huml Face” on a nightly basis. 

Ivan Huml, moments after learning the show "Becker" had been canceled by CBS.

Certain players have their quirks, but the young winger almost always had this perplexed look on his face with his mouth wide open and his eyes looking up at the sky. He constantly appeared so befuddled, as if someone had just told him that his girlfriend was leaving him to join the circus or that someone had taken a dump in his skates right before warm-ups.

Or maybe, just maybe, Huml’s confused look stemmed from teammates encouraging him to score goals – something he could actually do with regularity in the AHL, but not the NHL. Unfortunately, things never clicked for the kid in the big leagues.

Huml went back to Europe after the 2003-04 season and is still active. In fact, former B's prospect Mikko Lehtonen is one of his teammates with Karpat in the SM-liiga. The two can probably joke about how their careers never panned out in Boston, but unlike Lehtonen, Huml can sleep easy at night.

Why, you ask? Because even if his NHL career was a failure, once upon a time, Huml was a god in hockey video games.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.