BRATISLAVA – Pavol Demitra knows what it takes to compete on the world stage. The 36-year-old playmaking centre from Dubnica is playing in his 12th international tournament since 1993, and is aiming to add another medal to his collection. He captured bronze with Slovakia in 2003.
Demitra starred at last year’s Olympics, leading the overall points parade (10) and cracking the tournament all-star team. Professionally, after starring with five NHL clubs since 1994, the 2000 Lady Byng Trophy winner took his talents to the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl for 2010-11.
IIHF.com caught up with Demitra after Slovakia’s Thursday afternoon practice to ask him questions submitted by fans from all over the world.
Anthony Lancione, Toronto, Canada: How do you enjoy playing on home ice in Slovakia, especially since you're reuniting with Marian Gaborik?
Obviously, so far, it hasn’t been that fun. But I think we’ve played a couple of good games, although we’ve had a hard time with the power play. I think our team is getting better and better. Hopefully tomorrow we’re going to play our best game against the Czechs.
Alexander Wirdzek, Bratislava, Slovakia: How will the Slovak team feel tomorrow against the Czechs with the attendance distributed more evenly between Czech and Slovak fans?
Hopefully there are going to be more Slovaks. I believe that it’s going to be our house. I think it’s going to be a great game.
Jeffrey Cui, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: What’s been the most memorable moment for you representing Slovakia on the international stage?
Especially being at home. Playing at home. We’ve got unbelievable fans and they give us a lot of energy. Hopefully we’re going to give them something back.
Adam Peleshaty, Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada: Even though Slovakia finished fourth in the Olympics, the country hasn't reached the quarter-finals of the World Championship since 2007 and hasn't medalled since 2003. In this year's World U18 Championship, Slovakia was relegated to Division I. Should we be worried about the present and future states of Slovak hockey?
Yeah, I think Slovakia has a lot of problems. Hopefully our government will step up and help hockey, and other sports too. In Slovakia, hockey’s getting so expensive and not too many families can afford it. I think that’s the biggest problem for Slovak hockey right now. We don’t have enough guys, enough coaches, and everything is kind of slowing down. Especially in the last 10 years, we haven’t really built up any great players. Gabby [Marian Gaborik] is, I think, the last young guy who can be a superstar. That’s what we’re missing. Hopefully our country steps up and helps hockey, because hockey is one of the top things that people follow in Slovakia.
Vladimir Gradskov, Russia, via Facebook: What do you think about the current status of the KHL and its future? And would you like to see a Slovak team join this league?
[laughs] Yeah, I think that would be fun. I was surprised by the KHL. I had a great time there. It was unbelievable. Obviously, Lokomotiv is one of the top teams in the KHL. We’ve got everything there, and a great organization there. That organization, you can compare it to an NHL organization. We had a good team, and you can see so many great teams that could challenge NHL teams if they played one another. I think Russia is going forward. Every year the KHL is getting better and better. Especially now, with them trying to get more international teams in there, it’s only going to improve.
Matus Morong, Bratislava, Slovakia: You have almost 20 years of pro hockey experience. From the perspective of a top player, how different is hockey compared to the early 1990s? Which changes do you like the most, and what has gone the wrong way?
I think hockey’s getting much faster. [laughs] It’s totally different. I don’t know what’s better. But I think like before, older guys always would get together and we had a little bit better groups within teams. Right now, it’s so different. Everything’s changing. When I was in St. Louis, we had almost the same guys for eight or 10 years. Everybody knew each other. Now, when you watch the NHL, every year it’s like totally different. They change the teams, and not too many teams get so much chemistry. That’s a big change.
Stephen Dunn, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada: Pavol, how did you like your time in Prince Edward Island back when you were a member of the PEI Senators?
I had a great time. I have to say, every year for me in any league was memorable. But that was a great start. I learned a lot there, especially English, and North American hockey. I was lucky. All my years I always played for a good team. Even in the IHL, we always challenged as one of the top teams in the league, and it was so much fun.
Klaudia Jochmanova, Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia: Why do you wear number 38? Does it mean something to you personally?
In my first year in Ottawa, I had 78. My first three years were kind of up and down. When I got traded to St. Louis, I decided to change. I changed it to 38 and that number stuck me. I really like it.
Smuel Stiller, Espoo, Finland: I've noticed that many players have customized equipment: gloves, skates, curved sticks, and so on. Do you have any specially customized equipment?
Not really. However, I have been wearing the same stuff for almost 18 years. My shoulder pads, my shin pads, and my elbow pads. I never change. I like to play with old stuff. I like to wear short gloves, too.
Martin Andersson, Uppsala, Sweden: In 1993, you won a bronze medal with the last World Junior team from the former Czechoslovakia. What was it like to wake up on January 1, realize Czechoslovakia had now been divided into two different states, and that you were never going to play on a national team with Czech guys again?
That was very tough. At that time, we had a very tight group. I remember after the New Year, we’d won a couple of games, and then they didn’t play our national song anymore. That was very weird. But I remember that after we won the bronze medal, everybody sang the Czechoslovakian national anthem all together, and that was very special.
Cedric Bernard, Ottawa, Canada: I noticed that you and other top players from Slovakia almost always accept the invitation to play for the national team at the World Championship. Is there something unique about playing for the Slovak team?
We are very close. We’ve known each other for many years. A lot of guys are from the same hometown, and a lot play together for some NHL or European clubs. I think we’ve got a tight group. And for many guys here, this is the last national tournament for Slovakia. We know what we’re facing, and hopefully we’re going to go far. Right now, we’ve got a couple of tough games coming up. Hopefully we win tomorrow and look ahead.
Jeff Carpenter, New York, USA: Who is the funniest teammate you've ever played with?
Funniest teammate? I always like Slovak guys. I like Gabby. I think he’s one of the funniest guys. Everybody’s trying to make fun of him, too. Everybody plays pranks on him.
Wayne Chang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: I heard you like to play golf. What are some of your favourite courses to play, and do you have a favourite golf player?
I like Tiger Woods. Everybody likes him. Especially with family, I try to play golf once a week. We’ve got a couple of nice golf courses in Slovakia. I usually play in Slovakia.
Marek Galik, Zvolen, Slovakia: What is your favourite kind of music? What artists do you listen to?
Most of the time I listen to Slovak music. But my favourite band is Nickelback.