With Marek Hrivik and Robert Lantosi, he created the most productive scoring line and led Slovakia to the first quarter-final participation since 2013.
The talented winger is now focusing for another important tournament for Slovakia – the Final Olympic Qualification. From 26-29 August the Slovaks will be facing Austria, Poland and Belarus on home ice in Bratislava with one and only goal: Advance to the Beijing.
After the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Slovakia is before another crucial tournament. Are you excited?
Yeah, I am really looking forward to it. We must handle all three games. I believe we could prepare for whole tournament well, even though there will be a short time for it, because most of the guys are in the training camps of theirs clubs. But I believe in those few days we will stick together and make it.
Only winner will be advance to the Olympics in Beijing, so there is no room for mistakes. Could this affect the performance of Slovak national team?
Well, truth is that we didn’t play under the pressure last time in Riga, where there were not relegation games. But we should have the same mindsets as we had in the last World Championship. Now we must be concentrated on every game and find the road to the victory.
During four days you are going to play three games. Slovakia is expecting to win all of them. Is it a difficult situation for the players?
I don´t know. It´s hard to say for other guys. It could be little bit tough for someone, and for another player just not. For me personally, I will have no problem to play on a team with highest expectations. I believe there is no one in our line-up who will be thinking other way. We just should show that we belong there.”
The tournament will be hosted in the capital city of Slovakia. Is it an advantage for you to play on home ice?
Absolutely yes. It’s great that fans are allowed to the arena. It’s good that we know the rink and the whole place very well. We will be at home and the support from our people will be felt during every game.
You are going to be one of the main leaders of the team. How do you feel in this position?
I will try to play same way as I did last time in Riga. I believe that I will be with Marek Hrivik and Robert Lantosi again on a line so we can continue with the performance from couple of months ago. It’s still something special to play with them in the national team.
Your line contributed 23 points in eight games. How do you explain that great chemistry?
I played with Marek Hrivik the whole last season as well as with Robert Lantosi earlier at the Providence Bruins. So, we have some club experiences. But I think each of us just grew last year and became a better player than before. Everything gets together in the right way, so we just enjoyed the time on the ice. I believe, we will continue during the Olympic Qualification.
Do you feel that you’re still in that shape you were in Riga?
I don’t think it’s all about that. The last two years I don’t look at it that way whether I have a good shape or not. I found out that it’s more about experience coming up with your age. When you have many practices where you work hard on details that bring improvements. This puts you to a certain level of your game that you can consistently show up. That’s why I think there is no reason to think that we couldn´t repeat the same performance of our line as we did in Riga.
In that tournament you became Slovakia’s scoring leader with 11 points in eight games. Then the directorate nominated you as best forward. Did you expect that?
I had a good regular season with Leksands IF where I played with Marek Hrivik on the same line. So, I believed we could continue to show up the same hockey. But in the play-off, I was upset about my performance. That’s why I had an extra motivation in Riga. Besides that, I got a chance to put on the national jersey after five years again. I felt a new challenge, which I was excited for. I enjoyed it and the happiness of my game was clearly seen on the ice. Now, I will try to bring it over again to the Olympic Qualification.”
After eight years Slovakia reached the quarter-finals. Why did your hockey have to wait so long to get into the top eight?
“For me it´s hard to explain it because I haven’t been in Slovakia since 2016. But since that year, a good job has been done in our country. People who work in Slovak hockey stick together and set up the process which brings first achievements. We saw it already during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where our U18 team reached the second place. There was also progress in the senior team last couple of years. Slovak hockey made a step forward in Riga too. And we want to keep showing that we belong to the top eight of the World Championship, and everyone has to count with us to fight in the play-offs every year.”
Your strong performance in Riga has increased the interest of many teams about you, even from the NHL. Why did you choose KHL team Avangard Omsk?
We’ve been in touch little longer. It was during the play-offs in Sweden. On the other side, the World Championship opened other opportunities for me even from overseas. But the Boston Bruins still have all rights on me, which all interested teams tried to sort out. When the offer came from Omsk, I knew I had to decide quickly, and I did it. I made a choice instinctively, but I believe it was a right decision. The thing is that Omsk just won the Gagarin Cup and I am in the part of my career when I want to start winning something special. There are many inspirative people in the club including coach Bob Hartley. He already won the Stanley Cup, the title in Swiss league and now in the KHL. I choose it because I want to improve myself in leadership in general.
You have become one of the most productive Canadian player since Reid Boucher. Did the coach talk with you about that before you came?
It is often mentioned that I should be a replacement of him. He set the bar high, while he was one of the best players in KHL. In one of the best teams in the league It´s so hard to keep productivity in high numbers as he did, because there is place only for victories, not individual stats. But the management of the team kept putting me into the position, where I could hit the mark. I look forward to see what kind of level is in KHL.”
Did you speak with coach Bob Hartley about your role in the team yet?
Yeah, he likes twins in formations. He put me together with Corban Knight, so I am trying to find chemistry with him during the preseason games. But my position will be similar as last year in Sweden where I was playing mostly on the power play. I should also be a goal scorer and I should help in shorthanded formations too, so they include me in these tasks which is great. Due to these roles, I could get a lot of ice time, which is extra benefit for me. And that´s what is all about. To get opportunity on the ice where I could show my best hockey.
The KHL starts straight after the Olympic Qualification. Could success with your national team help you with your new club team?
If we repeat the good performance from Riga, it could help. Bringing over a good mood from a tournament always helps. Especially this year when the summer went so fast. There were three weeks on the ice and only about two more of holidays. So, there wasn’t too much room for the rest. And now we have a lot of hockey to play with these three extra games, which I am so excited for. I believe we can show good hockey and advance to the Olympics.
What would qualifying for the Olympics mean to you?
The fulfilling of a dream. When I was little, I realized Olympic hockey is something more than the World Championship, which is every year. Being a part of that major event and represent my country would be something special. From a personal point of view, to play on even higher level of hockey, could reflect my individual skills.
Can you perform as well in Beijing as in Riga?
Well, that would be great for sure. But let’s be realistic. All teams will have a lot of different players there if the NHL season will be paused. But I will still try to play my best hockey. If Slovakia will get there and I will be invited to the Olympic team, hopefully I will go there as a better player than I was in Riga. That’s why I went to the best team of the KHL.