We talked with the Kosice native to speak about the current situation in the world and hockey. For the 24-year-old player of the Ottawa Senators these days have also brought back memories from last year’s Worlds where Slovakia was host and the national team played its games in his hometown.
How do you see the current situation in the world?
Everything is blocked, so it’s pretty boring. For a while I couldn’t train outside, so my workout was inside of my house. All gyms were closed and everything was lifeless. But we all know why these measures were applied. Health is the most important thing so we have to wait and hopefully everything will be OK. At least I had time to do things around the house.
Was that some kind of workout for you?
Oh yeah, don’t say that. It buckles me down, because it’s completely different movements than in the gym and I’m not used to manual work. Works at the house are done, but there are also some things around the house to do and it’s really hard.
I took it lightly to be honest. Everyone said it’s some kind of flu, but now people in the whole world are aware how serious it really is.
The new virus was close to you when some of your teammates were tested positive. Weren’t you afraid you could get infected?
Of course I was scared, but I knew I wasn’t in touch with them. After our last home game, the guys flew to the California and I was sent to AHL. So, I wasn’t part of that road trip. As far as I know, everything has started where it was warm. During that trip the NHL was on hold. But yeah, I had some worries about that, because some guys went up and down so some sort of contact was there.
You left the Canada in mid-March. What did it look like at that time?
Basically, everything was open and it wasn’t so strict. After that, the NBA, NFL, MLB were cancelled and the NHL is still paused. The situation was still relaxed and teams recommended the players the self-quarantine. A few days after I left home, they started to close all stores and only food shops and takeaways remained open.
Would you like to continue the current season?
My team in the AHL was in leading position in the standings so I think we would have had a good chance to go far in the playoffs. But as I said, health is most important. Things need to be put back to normal and then we can talk about reopening the league. [In the meantime the AHL has cancelled its season while the NHL is still paused.]
Last year you played 61 games in NHL, this season you have spent more time in the AHL. Haven’t you been a little surprised about it?
Sure, I was a little stunned. I came to the camp with a confident mindset, so I thought I have a stable spot on the NHL team. But I still knew I had to show hard work to get that spot again. Obviously, I have been astonished when they sent me to the minor league. It was difficult for me, but my parents helped me really much in that times. Also, my brother came over and spent a whole month with me. I’ve had some injuries which put me behind to play more games in NHL too.
Apart from the medical issues, why do you think they didn’t give you that many games compared to the season before?
I don’t know. They changed all coaches. Everyone likes a different game style. Maybe there was something in my style of play so they sent me to the AHL. I could be the seventh defenceman in the NHL, but in the minor league there is more ice time for me where I play more than 20 minutes per game. So, it was better than play every third game or so in the NHL. Also, I am still in the final year of my entry-level contract so they didn’t need to put me on waivers.
Do you want to stay in Ottawa?
If they offer me a contract I will be pleased. If not, I am still open for other teams. My goal is to stay in the NHL. Everything is with my agent, but it’s complicated, because now when everything is stopped, we just have to wait what will happen in the next few weeks.
Last year the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship took place in Slovakia. You were the part of the home team, which played their games in your hometown of Kosice. How do you remember that tournament?
It was incredible to show up where I was growing up. Many of my friends and relatives came to watch the games. I really enjoyed it.
And you played with your cousin Erik Cernak in one of the top defensive pairs.
Exactly. We spent long time together in Kosice and then we made the national team held in our hometown. That was so amazing for me.
Wasn’t it hard for you to concentrate on the games while you’ve had all of your family members in the crowd?
Not at all. We are professionals and we have to know to put some things aside. So when I saw my family members or friends on the seats it didn’t disperse me. Rather it boosted me to show a better performance.
With Tomas Tatar, Richard Panik or Erik Cernak in the lineup, Slovakia had almost the best players that you could have. What did it look like in the locker room?
We were a great group of guys. Since my first practice on the ice and until the end of the tournament we stuck together, which was great. I can’t forget our first game against the USA, we played with one of the best teams in the world and won it 4-1. That encouraged us and our confidence rose.
But there were couple of bad games and the results were not enough to make the quarter-finals.
Yeah, that’s right. During the World Championship you have to play many back-to-back games. So, when you lose with someone, there is no time to think about it more than a couple of hours, because on another day there is the next game on the schedule. You have to go on the ice with a clear head and try to win. Of course, it’s bad when you lose, especially like we did in the last seconds before the end of the game and it happened a couple of times. But there is no time to think about it during a tournament like the World Championship. Otherwise it puts you under the stress.
Do you think Slovakia could have made a quarter-final last year?
Definitely yes. We showed balanced hockey made us play some good games. We could have taken points from the game with Canada, where they scored the winning goal only one second before the final buzzer. Same against Germany. If we had beaten one of them, we could have gone to the quarter-finals.