Patrik Elias always has credited Robbie Ftorek for having the biggest influence on his career.
When Elias arrived in the United States from his native Czech Republic for the 1995-96 season, he was assigned by the New Jersey Devils to their American Hockey League affiliate, the Albany River Rats, who were coached by Ftorek.
The bench boss remembers the young forward, who was selected 51st overall in the 1994 NHL draft by the Devils, as a "can’t-miss player."
"Patrik had the desire to be the best," Ftorek, 66, said. "He had the work ethic and was an eager learner. When you have that type of player, you don’t really teach him a lot. You let him play, and then you tweak him here or there."
Elias, who turns 42 years old on April 13, said having Ftorek as his coach in the early stages of his career helped him mature as a person and as a player. He’ll never forget what Ftorek told him during their initial season together.