To fully appreciate the phenomenal start Luke Flicek has had with the Dayton Demonz — he has scored 12 goals in his first 11 games — you’ve got to know what all he went through to get here.
Just over two years ago, Capt. Luke Flicek — West Point grad and military intelligence officer with the U.S. Army — was stationed in Amarah, a city in southeastern Iraq on the Iranian border.
“I led a 12-man multi-function team that did everything from meet and greet with the citizens and ask how we could help them out to trying to get information on who was setting roadside bombs and who was shooting rockets at us,” he said after practice as he sat just off the ice in the chilly underbelly of Hara Arena.
“In the middle of the summer over there it would get up to the mid-120 degrees outside. It was a dry heat — so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been — but when the wind was blowing it felt like somebody turned a blow dryer on hot and pointed it at you.”
Needless to say, hockey wasn’t something Flicek (pronounced Flee-Check) thought a lot about then.
Although he said they were on an “advise and assist mission more than a kinetic operation,” he added that they did lose a soldier from his unit: “We were right on the Iranian border and they were pushing weapons across. There were terrorists there doing whatever they could to target us and disrupt our efforts.”
He said he didn’t put on a pair of skates for a good 16 months around his deployment and said he was out of competitive hockey for over 3 1/2 years as he did his Army duty.
Finally last season — at age 28 — he made his pro hockey debut with the New Jersey Outlaws of the Federal Hockey League. Halfway through the season, he suffered a painful abdominal muscle tear in the pelvic area — a sports hernia — that he said prevented certain twisting and turning motions and kept him from all-out sprinting on the ice.
“All I could do was kinda glide around out there,” the 5-foot-10 forward said.
He gritted his way through the entire season though and finally, after insurance issues were worked out, he had surgery in September.
When Demonz coach Marc LeFebrve picked him in the expansion draft for the new Dayton team, Flicek was still mending and would be forced to miss the first five games of the season.
He finally was able to play on November 8 and after one goal in his first four games, he’s had 10 the next six.
“He’s been phenomenal so far,” LeFebrve said.
Although the injury might account for some of it, a year ago Flicek played 46 games with New Jersey and scored five goals on 116 shots. That a 4.3 percent scoring average. This season — even though he said he’s still not at 100 percent — he had taken just 36 shots and scored 12 times. He’s scoring at a team-best, almost unbelievable 33.3 percent.
“I’ve never been on a run like this before,” he admitted. “Honestly, I’ve always been more of a playmaker, a guy who moves the puck and sets up the other guys for their goals. All I can say is that my teammates have found me this year, and I’ve been in the right place at the right time … And then there have been times when the puck just found the net.”
Choosing West Point
Flicek grew up in Burnsville, Minn., a south suburb of the Twin Cities. He followed his cousins into hockey and, coincidentally, one of them — Tim Hartung — played for the now defunct Dayton Gems last year
Coming out of high school — where he was a three-sport athlete and a National Honor Society Student — he said he realized he needed to play junior hockey if he wanted to get the kind of Division I college offers he hoped for.
Following two seasons with the Texas Tornado of the NAHL, he was accepted into West Point. While it was a great honor, he also knew — because of the academy’s post-college requirement of five years of active duty — that his pro hockey dreams would be put on hold for part, if not all of, that time.
“That’s a tough decision for an 18- or 19- year old to make, but I eventually realized it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” he said. “The experiences, the education, the traditions and history, the relationships and connections in life I’d make, I’d regret it if I had turned all that down.”
He played four seasons for the Black Knights and after graduation was deployed to Iraq in September of 2009.
“At first when you get over there you just want to get back home, but after you get into a routine and understand the worth of what you’re doing — for your country and the people there — to be honest, it ends up pretty fulfilling,” he said.
“And when I look back now, it’s pretty cool knowing I’m a veteran for this nation.”
A true veteran
When LeFebrve was putting his team together, he said he wanted a strong nucleus of veteran players in part because the Demonz would open the season with six of their first seven games on the road.
In Flicek — the oldest player on the Demonz roster — he got a veteran like no other.
“I think being in the service helped me as far as giving me perspective,” Flicek said. “I’ve experienced a lot of things — positive and negative — that most people haven’t had an opportunity to experience. I’ve had to lead other men, and I think I can draw on some of all that.
“But what’s really helping here is that they have accumulated a really good group of guys. We get along on and off the ice. And we have talent. We’re really deep. Technically, I play on the third line. We have three solid lines and when you throw one of them after another on the ice, you can sometimes wear another team down.”
The Demonz have pretty much done that. They've won 13 of their first 16 games and have the best record in the six-team FHL.
Although he is the most prolific goal-scorer on the league’s top team, Flicek admitted he does have one issue to come to grips with.
To raise awareness of prostate cancer, players grew mustaches in November.
Flicek’s dark Fu Manchu look stands out — especially on that once clean-shaven West Point face — and he said his mom and girlfriend back in Minnesota are only lukewarm, at best, in their approval of his new look.
“Hey, I rocked this look last year, too, but this time I’m afraid to shave it,” he laughed. “I’ve gone on such a run with it and I’ve gotten a little superstition. I don’t want to mess up a pretty good season.”
Especially when you know what all he went through to get here.
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