By Warren Kozireski —
Not many players, if any, have participated in four U-20 World Junior tournaments but Buffalo Sabres 2023 second round draft pick Maxim Strbak, currently plying the blueline for top-ten ranked Michigan State could be the next in 2025.
Last month Strbak, who will not turn 19 years old until April 13th, registered seven points in five games for Team Slovakia in his third tournament where he was named one of his team’s Top-Three Performers.
“It was a little hard (to adjust),” Strbak said after his first weekend back from overseas. “At the World Juniors we played on an Olympic sheet, so it was a little bigger and I think the competition was much faster so I could definitely feel it in the first two shifts in both games, but I tried to adjust as much as I could, and I think I got better throughout the game.
“Personally, I felt I had a good tournament.”
Strbak, a coveted right-shot blueliner, left his Kocice, Slovakia home—eastern part of the country just north of Hungary, at 16 years old to play in the USHL with Sioux Falls. There he had 18 points in 46 games in preparation for being one of the youngest this season in the NCAA.
His father, Martin, was drafted by Los Angeles and played a combined 49 games on defense with the Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins before heading back overseas and playing competitively for various teams in eastern Europe until he was 41 years old. He represented Slovakia in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“He kind of just let me play and I took the role so there wasn’t much pressure (to be a defenseman). I knew what I wanted to do on the ice and off the ice. I want to have a career in hockey also, but (playing until) 41 is a little out there, but we’ll see.”
Strbak attended the NHL draft in Nashville and took in the moment when he heard his name called.
“I still remember it as if it was yesterday. Me and my whole family got some breakfast in the morning and then just sat around. A lot of names fade away and it was 33, 35 and all of sudden it was 40 and I was like, am I going to get picked. And then Buffalo at 45. It was an unreal moment for me, and my family and I will definitely remember that for a while. I talked with basically every team and didn’t have a bad conversation with anyone…but I had a feeling about Buffalo.
“I did Development Camp this summer; it was a good time. The (NHL) Combine was in Buffalo, so I was there two weeks before not knowing where I was going to get drafted and, after two weeks, going straight back to that hotel and that rink, so it was kind of nice to know where I was going. But for me it was more about meeting people who I’m going to work with and practices and everything else we did.”
Strbak has been a key component as one of four freshmen playing regularly in the Spartans blueline helping them to their best start in over 20 years, His 6’2”, 205 lb. lanky frame gives him great stick reach and his long skating stride allows him to fill gaps quickly.
He stood second on the team in blocked shots despite missing two games for the World Junior tournament, scored his first collegiate goal against Canisius Oct. 19 and had four assists through 17 games.
“Here at Michigan State, I’m getting a lot of ice time; as much as I can prove myself to play so it’s been very good and obviously, we as a team have had vary, very good season too. It’s been fun.”
(Photos provided by Michigan State Athletic/Men’s Hockey Depts.)