COLOGNE – When Tomas Vokoun joined the Czech team in Stockholm a week before the World Championship, it had been four weeks since the Florida Panthers goalie had practiced with a team. He had been skating on his own, but surely wasn’t in his best game shape.
He was jet lagged and his mind was still in the small North American rinks. He said he was really tired in his first game. But he was happy to be there.
“It was the third year my team didn’t make the layoffs. It was disappointing and I didn’t want to finish my season like that,” he said then.
He’s even happier now, just one win from his second career World Championship. Tomas Vokoun backstopped the Czechs to the title in 2005 in Austria, recording a shutout when the Czech Republic beat Canada in the final, 3-0. Then, as this year, Vokoun played all but one game in the tournament, and beat the Swedes in the semi-final.
This year, the whole team has struggled a bit, but like its goalie, found its stride when it mattered.
“It was tough. My play was somewhat suspect in the first few games,” says Vokoun.
“And it was not just the goals I let in, it was the feeling I had, a little out of place. I worked hard to get back to the good feeling I had during the season, and could slowly regain my confidence and slowly get my game back to comfortable level,” he adds.
Shootout wins in two straight playoff games must help with regaining a good feeling, too. Only Finland’s Petri Kontiola and Sweden’s Linus Omark beat Vokoun in the two shootouts.
“This is a team effort and everybody supports the goalie by playing great defence. This is not in any way my doing,” says Vokoun.
“Our guys make it pretty easy for me. I have to make a couple of big saves, in the low one-digits in a game. But it’s a different game in Europe. This feels great, we play as a team and it shows," he adds.
Tomas Vokoun is, at 33, and as an established NHL goalie, one of the leaders on the Czech team. After the semi-final, the team stood on the blueline, arms around each others’ shoulders, singing the national anthem, then resuming the jumping and hugging they had done for five minutes right after the buzzer. Jaromir Jagr said that he was especially happy for the young players on the team.
“Our team spirit is unbelievable. I’m in the same boat with (Jagr) and I don’t know if I’m going to get another chance like this, probably not, but we have a dozen rookies in the tournament, and some of them wouldn’t even be here had more NHLers joined the team. They deserve this. They prove it on the ice night after night,” Vokoun says.
The Karlovy Vary native is also making sure he appreciates all the good things while they happen. And he’s having a time of his life.
“The older you get, the more you enjoy these tournaments, and the team life. I won the world championship once, but it was a stressful time and I didn’t enjoy it. This time I do,” he says.