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September 29, 2023

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Two Tomas’ from all the way across the ‘frozen’ pond

This weekend’s Central Collegiate Hockey Association match-up between BG and Nebraska-Omaha features a little international rivalry not often seen in college hockey.

The two players of note are sophomore Tomas Petruska of the Falcons and junior Tomas Klempa of the Mavericks, both of whom originate from Slovakia in Central Europe. Petruska and Klempa both left their native country for the U.S. a few years ago to concentrate on junior and then college hockey in the states.

Though it’s more common to see European players leaving their countries for the NHL, BG coach Scott Paluch has enjoyed seeing a Slavic presence at the college level.

‘There have been spurts throughout the last 15 or 20 years of European players making an impact in the NCAA,’ Paluch said. ‘With so many of them in the NHL, it’s nice that some of them can qualify academically in the NCAA to improve their skill level on the ice. With Tomas [Petruska], we’ve seen that, but we’ve also seen him be a terrific person for us.’

Back in Slovakia, the two Tomas’ grew up about four hours apart, as Petruska was born in Presov and Klempa in Prestany.

They did not know each other in Slovakia, but quickly became familiar while in the junior hockey circuit.

Petruska played one season (2004-05) in the United States Hockey League against Klempa after leaving their shared homeland. During that year, Klempa put up 25 goals and 27 assists with Indiana in the USHL before moving on to college in Nebraska.

After that single season in the USHL, Petruska landed with the Cleveland Barons of the North American Hockey League. In 2005-06 Petruska put up numbers nearly as impressive as his compatriot’s the season before, totaling nearly 50 points in 34 games with the Barons.

Both players’ scoring prowess carried over well to the college level, as Klempa now has nearly 70 points in his three seasons thus far with UNO. Petruska, meanwhile, led all Falcon freshmen last season in scoring with 17 total points.

Klempa has been slowed somewhat by injuries this season, but Paluch still considers him a threat that the Falcons will need to keep an eye on this weekend.

‘[Klempa] is a very talented spark plug type of guy who is very difficult to play against,’ Paluch said. ‘He gives his team a pretty good lift.’

Perhaps Petruska will be able to do the same for BG as his team battles Klempa’s for fifth place in the CCHA. Both players assisted for their respective teams last March in a Nebraska playoff victory.

This weekend will be the first time they have taken the ice against each other since that series and both players said they are looking forward to it.

‘It’s always fun to play against someone like that and be able to talk in your own native language,’ said Petruska.

‘Talking to him on the ice is pretty cool, but other than that it’s just another player to me,’ said Klempa. ‘We might say ‘hey’ or whatever on the ice, but other than that it’s really nothing special.’

A joking Petruska offered a different side to their on-ice exchanges in Slovak.

‘He always asks me to fight, so I suppose I should expect that.’

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