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Working Toward Capitals Comeback, Kempny Playing Key Role For Hershey

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Capitals/Bears blueliner Michal Kempny
(Photo credit: JustSports Photography/Hershey Bears)

The last couple of years have not been ideal for Washington Capitals/Hershey Bears blueliner Michal Kempny, but the Czech blueliner isn’t letting adversity rule his path forward.

After the Capitals sent him down prior to the start of the 2021-22 season to get his groove back, Kempny has been working to get his game back. And right now, he appears to be on the right track.

It all started in 2018-19 for Kempny, when he suffered a torn left hamstring against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It took months for him to recover, and he was able to play in the 2019-20 campaign. However, while training back home in the Czech Republic, the 31-year-old sustained yet another injury while training, this time tearing his Achilles tendon. It took 6-8 months for him to return to game action, and while conditioning down with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, he suffered yet another left leg injury, a Grade-2 MCL sprain, during a collision with an ice shoveler while taking a sip of Gatorade.

“In that moment, I just didn’t know if I should laugh or cry,” Kempny recalled. “I believe that everything bad is behind me and I’m just trying to focus what’s now and enjoying every day here.”

He “gave up” on his comeback that year and returned to D.C. for training camp. However, this got off to a rough start with Washington in practice and the preseason, as a long time off the ice led to missed reads, turnovers, struggles with gap control and ultimately, trouble returning to full speed.

“We got to give him some games… it’s been a long grind for him, two major surgeries,” head coach Peter Laviolette said earlier in the preseason. “We got to give him some time to plan to work things out.”

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“I just need to do the reps and be in those situations in a game because it’s different in a practice, let’s be honest here,” Kempny added. “I don’t have a problem with the system. It’s the matter of to get used to it and all will be fine with that.”

As a result, the Capitals placed him on waivers. He cleared and headed back to Pennsylvania, ready to take on a new role and regain his rhythm.

So far, he is making the most of his time in Hershey. Wearing the “A” for Hershey, Kempny is skating on the top pairing alongside Bobby Nardella, as well as Cody Franson. He has two assists in 13 games, and his 28 shots on goal are tied for seventh among AHL d-men. He is also getting time on the power play and is moving the puck effectively, while also getting more involved offensively and showing more speed and confidence on the ice.

At the other end of the ice, Kempny is getting better at reads and is positioning himself better. He doesn’t shy away from sacrificing the body, and he’s also able to battle for the puck and do what it takes to keep it out of harm’s way.

Overall, it looks like Kempny is getting more comfortable with each game and playing a key part in the lineup. Getting more minutes is ultimately the best path forward for him. Right now, the Capitals’ blue line is clicking and doesn’t appear ready to change anytime soon, but Kempny is still looking to prove that he belongs in the big leagues. But first, he needs to return to full strength, and so far, he’s looked good.

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