Centennial

Retired Colorado Avalanche star Milan Hejduk becomes a U.S. citizen

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Milan Hejduk sits in the ceremony room at the Department of Homeland Security at 12484 East Weaver Place, Centennial, awaiting his turn to become a United States citizen. The former right winger wears an expression of anxious anticipation, a look Colorado Avalanche fans remember from his playing days as he sat on the bench, awaiting his next shift on the ice.

Hejduk, 40, a native of the Czech Republic, has lived in the United States since he began playing for the Avalanche in 1998. He and his family live in Parker. His wife, Zlata, 39, was naturalized three months ago and his twin 12-year-old sons, Marek and David, were born in the U.S.

“I'm the last piece of the family to get it done,” he said.

The former right winger listens intently to a speech by senior immigration officer Tiffany Brown, who explains the new privileges and responsibilities Hejduk and his fellow initiates will share. He occasionally cracks a nervous smile as the man seated next to him, Ken MacArthur a Canadian national who lives in Highlands Ranch, leans over to whisper a joke. MacArthur, 48, got to know Hejduk as the coach of his son's hockey team. On March 28, by coincidence, they become citizens together.

Scoring always came easily for Hejduk, who totaled 375 career goals before retiring after the 2012-13 season. But his transition to living, and playing, in the U.S. was more difficult.

“I didn't speak any English,” he said. “The first few months were tough. Guys and coaches… give you some instructions, but what are you supposed to do? You have no idea what (they) are talking about.”

A tutor hired by the Avalanche helped Hejduk learn English after practices. Now he speaks clearly and with better grammar than many natural-born citizens, though MacArthur teases him about his accent.

“He's a good guy,” MacArthur said. “If you can understand him.”

Hejduk didn't need a tutor to pass the citizenship test. The most difficult part of the process may have been leaving a family vacation in Mexico before his wife and sons, who planned to return later in the week.

“The test was good,” Hejduk said. “I know quite a bit about American history… I got only six questions. Six were right and that was it. Good to go.”

Debbie Canon, public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, smiles as she checks in with Hejduk before the ceremony begins. Canon has watched many naturalization ceremonies from her office beside the ceremony room, but she says each one is special.

“Three times a week… people become new citizens,” Canon said. “I cry every time. It's just great to see people's dreams come true.”

Thirty-two new citizens close the March 28 ceremony by taking a loyalty oath, saying the Pledge of Allegiance and, finally, receiving a certificate of citizenship.

Hejduk smiles as he did before the ceremony, but his face now belies more relief than anticipation.

He asks about getting a passport, poses for pictures and signs a few autographs. He says he plans to stay in Colorado and continue coaching youth hockey to give back to the community. Though he and his family have long called Colorado home, Hejduk says a new part of his life is just beginning.

“It's definitely closing one chapter,” he said. “Now it's official and legal and I'm a United States citizen.”

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