You have been in Budějovice for almost a year. Have you ever regretted agreeing to General Motor Manager Stanislav Bednařík’s offer and leaving your home abroad for southern Bohemia?
In all cases.
Does the current season fill your sporting and human imagination?
The season is still ongoing and we’ll see what the playoffs bring. As I said before, hats off to everyone who has moved our club this far. In the extraleague, we have built a certain respect and a certain identity.
You left your wife and three children in America, and suddenly you find yourself alone on the other side of the globe. How do you deal with such a fundamental change? That you’re going to come home and no one is waiting for you there?
It’s very difficult. I was somewhat prepared for it, but I didn’t expect as much as it all entailed. It is not easy.
How often do you keep in touch with your wife and children through different technologies?
Daily. I talk to my wife several times a day. It’s not that often with the children, but I try to communicate with them as much as I can.
Is the way of life in the Czech Republic very different from that in America?
Hooray. But I grew up here and I know what that means. What is the culture here? Of course, it’s a little different. On the other hand, it’s nice to go back to where I started my career. It’s good.
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In your youth you had many friends and teammates in Budějovice. Do you find them after these long years, or are they already living their lives?
I bump into someone here and there, but he’s already doing his thing and I’m also trying to dedicate my work to myself. I was ready to improve and I work on it every day. It’s exactly what I expected. It’s nice to work with young and more experienced players. I like building a team and trying to move it in the right direction.
You worked as an assistant at the NHL Los Angeles Kings Ontario Reign farm and you are the head coach of Motor. From that point of view, do you consider it a career change?
Certainly. It is a completely different responsibility. You have to be prepared completely differently. I am responsible for many things that I only helped as an assistant.
As a player, you have played over seven hundred games in the NHL. Looking back, are you satisfied with your playing career? Or is there something you are missing?
It’s hard to argue about that now. I played something, maybe I could have played something better. I’m happy to have been able to take part in several competitions and I’ve met a lot of teammates. I am still in contact with many of them. It was nice. Now I’m on the track and it’s a little different. But I appreciate it too.
You only played for the national team at the World Cup in Finland. Have you missed a few more events in the national team jersey given how long you’ve been in the NHL’s top competition in the world?
I will not comment on that. It was right. I tried once and didn’t make the national team several times. It’s part of hockey, which is a team sport. The coaches compose the team as they see fit. That’s it.
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In your only world championship, you lost in the battle for bronze against Slovakia. Do you regret today not having won the medal?
Certainly. I always wanted to win every game and be successful. This is also part of learning and progressing. I got a lot out of it too.
Do you have a moment in your career that you consider its peak?
The most important thing for me was to have the chance to play at the highest level, which is the NHL. I loved hockey and I still love it today. When I came to ice cream, I was in baking as a kid. It’s wonderful to have had the chance to win something. Something worked, something didn’t. Only one team can win. I learned from that as a player and now as a coach I try to transfer that experience to my charges so that we can achieve something as a team.
Can’t identify a specific moment?
Probably not. Every first game in the new competition is special. Then the career unfolds. You win something, not something. I haven’t won anything big like the Olympics or the Stanley Cup. We won the Calder Cup, which is a highly prized trophy, but against the NHL it’s still the lowest competition for boys preparing to join the elite.
How the coach wants to move
At the end of your active career, did you immediately understand that you wanted to become a coach?
I have always loved teaching someone and the training is very close. You guide your players to progress and improve. Practice is the closest thing to playing, so that’s how I stuck with hockey.
Did you start training in America with young people?
Yes. One way or another, it happened. I was asked if I was going to help the kids, so I nodded. Then, I had the chance to be an assistant in the university team. It was a very interesting environment. Thanks to the youth categories, I had the opportunity to play adult hockey in the AHL. I was there as an assistant and now I am in Motor for the first time in the adult category in the role of head coach. As a coach, I want to move on.
But leaving for Europe, you kind of disappeared towards the NHL. Don’t you have that feeling?
Awesome. The engine succeeded, pushed Pardubice for the fourth time and is in the semi-finals!
Do we know at least a little about the Czech extraleague abroad?
He knows. But the fact is that the sound of Czech hockey, as it was, is a little disappearing. We lack results on the international scene. Both in the youth and adult categories. We clarify the positions a little, but it is the reality. I have the ability to do something about it. Build our club and the reputation of Czech hockey. I’m happy to be part of it.
Did you keep watching the Czech players, or did you only start paying attention to them after Motor approached you?
I used to watch the Czech Extraliga as a fan, not as a coach. When the first contact with Motor came, I said that I didn’t have any adult children yet and that it would be more complicated. As soon as it was known that he would end up at Budějovice as coach Venca Prospal, we started talking about it more and I started watching him more intensely. I looked for players who would help us build our club.
How was it when you first stood in the extraliga on an inverter in front of the nearly sold-out Budvar Arena?
It was great. I was groomed from the AHL, where I spent three years. I knew how I wanted to run a club and how to work with it. My assistants helped me a lot in the beginning. Especially Patrik Martinec, who has a lot of experience.
Traveling by bus will affect a player’s performance
On the sporting side, are you satisfied with how the season has gone so far?
The season is still ongoing and it is still not over. We have brighter moments, but we could also have done something better. It’s everywhere. If I look at it in general, we’re pretty much in the waters where we deserve to be for the whole season. Now we have to go further and further, so that it is difficult to play against us.
Were you surprised by the extra league level, or did you expect it somehow?
I knew something because I played the extra league ten years ago. It has changed a bit. It’s a fact. I looked at the match sheets to be ready. And as I said, my assistant Patrik Martinec helped me a lot.
We want to end this at home so we can shout at our fans, hopes Abdul
In what state did you find the stadiums in which you last played ten years ago?
I knew that when I came to Prague to the O2 Arena it was a vacation. It’s really beautiful there. Playing it is a reward. Then there are other stages where this is not the case. In general, however, the environment in the stadiums is improving. New ones grew up in Liberec, Karlovy Vary or Třinec. It is also very pleasant there. Hockey culture is improving.
Did you find it hard to get used to demanding bus journeys?
We also took a bus to America, but it wasn’t that far. Plus, he moves here on game day. It’s something new for me and it’s a certain annoyance for the performance of the players. But we have to deal with it.
You managed to put the team very strong for the season. Is there satisfaction with the key goalkeeper position?
Certainly. For a long time we only had number one Dominika Hrachovina and Honza Strmeň patiently waited for his chance. When he got it, he was ready and helped the team. He caught some big matches. Now it’s the playoffs and both goalies are doing their job well.
Likewise, are the players on the pitch doing well?
I would leave that to other experts to assess our game. I have my opinion on that. I try to improve our players every day. It’s a question of details. If we do them well, it’s much harder to play against us.
Motor Pardubice failed on fourth attempt, will have another matchword on Monday
Sparta awaits you in the semi-finals. Will it be more difficult to break in the quarter-finals of Pardubice?
Once again, a club with a big history, big ambitions and a big budget awaits us. It will be a real test for us, which we are looking forward to. We won this chance and I am very happy for our whole club that we have the opportunity to fight in the semi-finals against an opponent of such quality. I think our fans will appreciate it. For me, it’s a holiday to play the semi-finals and fight for the final.
But the quality of the Spartan frame inspires respect.
Sparta have different hockey players in their staff, there’s no need to talk about that. They are creative and strong. There are very good players in every position. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be intimidated by the opponent. We will give what it takes to represent our club.