Slafkovský is privileged. One unsuccessful match will be forgiven – NHL – Hockey – Sport

For more than one season, he had to fight hard for his place in the best hockey league. More than once in the training camp he heard – you start the season on the farm. Tomáš Kopecký (40) delayed his way to the NHL for four years. “I always had to go all the way. Someone is always breathing down your back and wants your pocket,” says the former Slovakian representative.

Photo: USA TODAY Network / ddp USA / Profimedia

Tomáš Tatar in a friendly conversation with Montreal youngsters – Juraj Slafkovský and Filip Mešár.

Peter Šťastný mentioned in his biography that the preparatory camps were also about health. Does it also apply in today’s NHL?

I wouldn’t even say. Of course, there is huge competition, everyone wants a job and there is a lot of competition for every post. Often five or six players. On the other hand, there is respect, I don’t think there is anyone who wants to hurt a teammate just to get into the team easier. Maybe it used to be like this, but not now.

So the hunt for Europeans, or young, starting players, is no longer in danger?

Not even that, in Detroit, where I fought for a place in the team for years, there were many Europeans, many of them stars. They respected them. It’s probably rougher in rookie camps. Well, even in the main, no one gives you anything. However, I have never experienced insidiousness in my life.

Are the hockey players on the same starting line at the beginning of the camp?

Not entirely, teams usually already know roughly what composition they will enter the season. The stars are in an easier position, they know that even if they don’t get one preseason game, it won’t become a science. For young hockey players, such a failure can be fatal, for them every duel is existential.

How many places in the team are you really fighting for?

No one is untouchable, because the hockey players, who are counted in the third or fourth five, are fighting for two elite formations. Everyone wants to show themselves in the best light and have as much space as possible on the ice. When I was in the third line, I also fought to participate in power-ups. There is always something going on at the camp.

And what about Connor McDavid, does he also have to show one hundred percent in the camp?

Of course. If he underestimates it, he will not be sent to the farm, but he may lose his leadership position in the first team. He will get less minutes on the ice and that means fewer goals. In this way, he could lose his star status, or someone else could overtake him. He certainly doesn’t want that.

Tomáš Kopecký in the jersey of Detroit. Photo: LARRY MACDOUGAL / PA Images / Profimedia

Tomáš Kopecký Tomáš Kopecký in the jersey of Detroit.

How does phasing out work – is it announced by phone?

We had two teams in the main camp and it was slowly sorted out. It was never handled over the phone, they call the player after training and tell him to go back to the junior team or to the farm. It is announced by the coach or general manager.

Do you still remember such moments?

Of course, mostly I got a kick out of it, I was thinking about what I should do so that it doesn’t happen again in a year. No hockey depression took place. (smile) Of course, it’s also a financial difference, after all, it doesn’t matter whether you earn half a million or only 100 thousand dollars a year. But I didn’t think about that at that moment, in the camp it was always about purely sports goals.

In the first years abroad, you had to fight hard for a position before the season… Were you able to even step on the famous stars of Detroit – Zetteberg, Dacjuk or Shanahan?

There was respect. A lot could be learned from them. I would never go after them on the sly. They were giants, moreover, friendly people, if I wanted to prove something to them, it was only through sport.

Young Adam Sýkora is said to have mercilessly knocked down NY Rangers goalkeeper Igor Šestorkin during one of the training sessions. Should a player pay attention to something like this?

I heard about it. Adam certainly didn’t do it on purpose. In the heat of the fight, the player often loses his balance and bumps into the goalkeeper. If he wanted to bump into him, they would have looked at it differently, but this was surely just an unfortunate accident.

When did you first say to yourself at the campsite: Now I have a place for sure…

In my fourth year in Detroit, I had already signed a one-way contract, I suspected that I would not be sent to the farm, although – true – it could always happen. However, there was some psychological relief. Despite that, I had to fight to play in the first team and then to play even more. In the end, nothing changed for me, I always went all the way. Someone is always breathing down your back and wants your pocket.

Juraj Slafkovský before the game against New Jersey.

  Filip Mešár before the match against New Jersey.

Are preseason games between NHL clubs different from duels in the regular season?

No, no, it’s getting tough there. Both teams have players who have a great chance to play in the first team and need to prove themselves.

During your penultimate season in the NHL, Florida drafted Finn Aleksander Barkov from the No. 2 spot. Does the club have a protective hand over such a player?

In a way, yes. They are different hockey players. When he was drafted, it was immediately known that he has a great character and is an ambitious and hardworking boy. When you have such talent in the team, it starts to gather around him – others also want to be like him. In NHL organizations, all players are respected, but fighters like Barkov are irreplaceable. The Chiefs would hate to see someone get rid of them in training camp.

Barkov jumped into the NHL in an instant… Do you see any similarities between him and Juraj Slafkovský?

Similarly, like our Juro, he was still a child in a man’s body. A guy like a mountain. He worked hard to become the league’s top player. I guess Slafkovský will match him one day.

What was the biggest problem for him in the beginning?

(laughs) English. It really didn’t suit him very well. He was and remains a quieter boy. But gradually he got into it.

Florida was one of the teams where there was less interest in the games compared to other clubs – Montreal is the exact opposite. Will Slafkovský have a harder time than Barkov?

Everyone knows that in Canada, if you turn the TV to channel number one and then channel fifty, there’s only hockey everywhere. They are taking it apart from every side. The pressure will be much greater than in Florida. Slafkovský simply has to displace it.

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After the first game, there were doubts among the fans, but also in the media, whether he should go to the farm in Laval after all. Wouldn’t it be a small hockey tragedy for him?

The transition to the NHL – and it doesn’t matter if you go there from Finland, Sweden or the Czech Republic – is very difficult. Profiliga is incredibly fast. The preparatory matches will help him to adapt. Juraj was a draft pick and is therefore a bit privileged – he will get more chances. One unsuccessful match means nothing to him.