Home for the holidays doesn't have quite the same ring to it for Andrej Sustr as it does for the rest of the UNO hockey team.
For Sustr — the junior defenseman from the Czech Republic — the past two years have meant spending Christmas with the family of teammate Johnnie Searfoss in the Dallas area.
Since coming to the United States to continue his playing career in the juniors ranks, Sustr has also spent Christmas time in Alaska, playing in the World Juniors tournament in Saskatchewan, and in St. Louis.
“I'm used to it,” Sustr said. “It's tough when Christmas Eve comes around because you want to be with your family. But the Searfosses provide a good environment to overcome that.”
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Sustr misses family back home in Plzen, but not necessarily the traditional Czech food, where fish is served on Christmas Eve.
“Traditional Czech food … I'm not really a big fan of it any more, I guess,” Sustr said. “I eat it, but it's not like I crave it. I've gotten used to the food here.”
Sustr and his Nos. 12 and 13 Maverick teammates reconvened in Omaha on Wednesday and are scheduled to travel Friday to Hamden, Conn., for a big two-game series with No. 9 Quinnipiac on Saturday and Sunday.
Sustr blocked a season-high seven shots, picked up his ninth assist and recorded a plus-two rating in UNO's last game, a 5-1 win Dec. 15 over Minnesota State-Mankato. That came one night after UNO's 6-3 loss to Minnesota State, in which Sustr didn't record a blocked shot and served a pair of two-minute penalties.
“He struggled a little against Mankato on Friday, but he came back and played well on Saturday … just like the rest of the team,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “It's tough for him … they're finishing finals and everybody else is thinking about going home, that's what Christmas is all about. I think that's hard on him.”
For the season, Sustr has four goals and nine assists, a plus-11 rating and a team-high 34 blocked shots. A key member of the Mavs' power play and penalty kill units, he's on the ice as much as any Mav at right around 23 minutes per game.
Sustr's combination of size, skill, savvy and ceiling has NHL scouts salivating.
He considered his options in the offseason before deciding to return to UNO for his junior year.
“I'm not thinking about that,” Sustr said of professional hockey. “I'm excited to be here and happy about the decision to stay. We're having a lot of fun. There's a lockout anyway.”
When asked if he expected Sustr back for his senior year, Blais quickly said no.
“I expect him to join an NHL team after this season,” Blais said. “But he'll decide that. He loves school. He's a good student. He likes his teammates and he likes Omaha. He might surprise me and stay.”
For Sustr, that decision can wait. He's tried to limit contact with NHL types, particularly between games during weekend series.
“I think we're handling it pretty well,” Sustr said. “At the end of the day, the focus is on this hockey team. There's nothing else to worry about. Everything that matters is on the ice, not in the stands.”
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