(NEW YORK, from our correspondent) For years he was a leading face in Philadelphia, and he said he hoped for a career in Pennsylvania’s biggest city. Last summer, however, Jakub Voráček returned to his Columbus roots when he was traded for Cam Atkinson. “I’m glad it happened like this, I’m really happy,” he said in an exclusive interview for hokej.cz.
His Blue Jackets have just lost in New York against the local Islanders 2: 5, but Voracek did not refuse to meet the journalists. “If there were only fifteen, it would be better,” he replied, asking if he would have time for about twenty questions.
You recorded the fifth defeat in a row, the passage to the playoffs is not very realistic for you, taking into account the big defeat, is not it?
From Game 20, I say the eighth team in the conference will score over a hundred points this year. It was pretty clear there. If it was 93 or 94 then maybe something could be done about it. We now have five straight losses, but the hockey we play is not bad. Sometimes you lose a game even though you are a better team. We had a tough trip to Winnipeg and Minnesota, we went there twice in overtime. Because we’re young, I think we’re playing good looking hockey.
At the end of the basic game, you are also missing goalkeeper Korpisalo, defender Werenski or captain Jenner…
On the other hand, it’s a chance for young players, they have more opportunities, more minutes to control and weaken. They have to catch it if they want to play. But we lack very good players, unfortunately we can’t do anything about it. It happens sometimes during the season, maybe they will be back soon. ¨
“Above all, I feel good in the game, I’m pretty good with the puck.”
From a personal point of view, you are doing well, you scored six times in a row before Thursday’s duel in New York. Are you watching?
I think every player keeps track of their personal stats. When someone says he doesn’t care if he has a goal or an assist… It’s true that if he wins, everything is better, but we always want to help the team. Above all, I feel good in the game, I’m pretty good on the puck. Hope I continue. I don’t know how many more years, but maybe for a while.
There was a lot of talk before the season that you could sit down with Patrik Lain – he’s a shooter, you’re more of a game. How do you get along concretely? It is sometimes said to be a bit more complicated in nature.
It is said, but we have an excellent relationship. I think it shows on the ice. I don’t know how many hits he had today, but if it hits there, it really hits there. He may have tried too hard to save the first ten or fifteen games before getting injured. The number of times he could shoot, he disagreed and unnecessarily invented. When he came back I told him not to give it back and try to shoot as much as possible. He does now and is on the verge of the game. He is a very good hockey player. For him, it’s very much a question of self-confidence, when he believes, it’s unstoppable.
Longtime Columbus assistant Brad Larsen took over Columbus last June after John Tortorella’s six-year stint. What kind of coach does he emphasize?
We have a lot of hard physical training. I haven’t experienced that yet, it was a bit of a shock to me. (smiles) But given our style, it is necessary. He lets me play, we have a good relationship. More importantly, it’s open, which is probably the best thing you can have with a trainer. Compared to the last few years in Philadelphia, it’s a nice change.
You announced your return to the Blue Jackets after ten years. During the season, do you remember all the memories of what it was before and what has changed now?
It’s been so long… It doesn’t matter which team I was going to. Philadelphia was my second home – I spent ten years there and thought I would end my career there. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work. Somehow we didn’t agree there and I went back to Columbus, which was a pleasant surprise for me. But there are still a lot of people around the team who have worked here and are still working. Many former teammates work in the lead or are on the switch, sometimes we even laugh about it.
“She lets me play, we have a good relationship. More importantly, it’s open, which is probably the best thing you can have with a coach.”
And what are the differences between Jakub Voráček from 2011 and the current one?
I don’t chase the puck as much as I used to. I have to keep my energy in the most important parts of the game when I have a puck. It’s also a question of experience: when I was here before, I had played a hundred matches, now it’s more than a thousand. The difference is that I know where to go differently, where to hold the puck more and so on. I’m the oldest in the team, it’s a big change. But good.
You probably also like your roles a lot, you play the first line, the first power play…
I also played the first power play in Philadelphia, we probably had the same thing there all the time. It was more about that… If you don’t agree with the coach, it’s hard. I didn’t get into the conflict at all, but I thought I could. The flyers decided to take a different path and I didn’t want to get involved. I’m gone, now G (Claude Giroux, ed. Note) and it’s one of the worst teams in the NHL. After the season, they have to look at what they did wrong. But I don’t think they imagined the year they were in.
Did you discuss the departure of Claud Giroux?
Yeah, we often called before the trade deadline. Leaving after fifteen years was hard for him because he always thought he would play there his whole career. Over the past few years, the chemistry outside the cabin has unfortunately been so weird, but that’s been beyond our control. We can say that under Ron Hextall we rebuilt the team, even if it didn’t look like that, because we always missed the playoffs or arrived at one of the last places. Before covid started, I thought we were playing really good hockey. We could perhaps go far then, but that’s the way it is.
What are the circumstances of your exchange? Did you talk about disagreements with coach Alain Vigneault, what was your relationship with general manager Chuck Fletcher?
There was nothing to do with the coach. His ego was so big that unfortunately there wasn’t much to deal with. Chuck and I talked about it, I had a great relationship with him. After the season, we sat down and thought it would probably be best for both sides to move on. I’m glad it happened like that because I’m really happy.
“Nothing could be resolved with the coach. His ego was so big that unfortunately there wasn’t much to deal with.”
Also, you’re really glad things are back to normal after covid, aren’t you?
God forbid, the last two years have been terrible. We can say that this is already a more or less normal, and I hope it will continue to be so in the future. It hasn’t been really fun the last two years.
You mentioned the milestone of one thousand games in the NHL, which you exceeded at the start of the year. How high do you rank him in your career, what does that mean to you?
I’m not watching it right now. If I finished after the season, I would probably argue about it, but I think I still have a few years ahead of me. Now I have a two-year contract, then we’ll see. I’ll watch this when I’m done playing hockey. It’s a nice lens, but not something I had thought about for a long time.
“It’s a nice goal, but not something I had thought about for a long time.”
Do you sometimes wonder what awaits you after the current contract expires, or do you not think about it at all now? It’s still far away.
I don’t know at all, we’ll see. Like I said, I can finish, I can continue, I can sign here. I don’t know what will happen and I don’t care. I go there day after day, game after game.
So at 32, do you still have the same tastes for hockey?
Luckily, I wasn’t hurt too much. As long as there is stubbornness and fire, I will play. When I don’t care, I’ll probably hang it on a nail.
Photo: Instagram Columbus Blue Jackets
We’re going to change the subject. You have certainly recorded the recent events of the national team, the dismissal of coach Filip Pešán and the arrival of Kari Jalonen. Did you learn anything about the new coach?
I heard good things about him. Patrik Laine had him in the Championship in 2016 and I’ve also spoken to a few other players about him being a quality coach. We’ll see. Let’s hope the coaches don’t change often, even if it’s hard after a few failures.
How do you perceive the involvement of a foreign coach? The Czech national team is led by a foreigner for the first time in history.
We are not the first countries. Craig Ramsay did a great job with the Slovaks, winning a bronze medal at the Olympics and playing great hockey. Somehow I wouldn’t decide where the coach came from. If he has any qualities, then he’s probably the best he can be.
“One way or another, I wouldn’t decide where the coach came from. If he has qualities, he’s probably the best he can be.”
Petr Nedvěd, the general manager of the national team, also took part in the game against the Islanders. You will probably come to your participation in this year’s World Cup in Finland, right?
I haven’t seen it yet, we haven’t had fun yet. I have to stick together, because when we were playing with Minnesota, Foligno almost ripped it off me. Then at the end of the season we will discuss with Meda what and how.
So it’s still not clear at all?
No, this is not the case.
Looking back, you probably also regret that the NHL players couldn’t go to the Olympics…
I think it suited the NHL. They clearly didn’t want to let players into China, there was various speculation about a five-week quarantine, which I think was complete bullshit. It was growing like a mushroom, we were all looking forward to it. Unfortunately, nothing can be done.
“Towards the end of the season, Meda and I will discuss what and how.”
Finally, are you following the current situation in Ukraine? Or how do you perceive the IIHF’s decision that Russia and Belarus will be absent from the World Cup?
Of course, the terrible thing is happening. I’m not talking about sports right now. I don’t understand how something like this could happen in 2022, and some people still defend it. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me that such people are found. It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not used to looking for alibi answers, but I really don’t know what to think. I’m still shocked that this happens and that so many people accept it. Sport is secondary there, when children are dying in Ukraine. It annoys me, for example, that Plushenko defends him, a man who has traveled the world. He is one of the best figure skaters in history and he defends it. I do not understand this.
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