With a return to the ice plan now underway following an agreement between the NHL and NHLPA to resume the season, Slovak star forward Tomas Tatar and the rest of the Montreal Canadiens are getting ready for not just a return to play, but an unexpected appearance in a 24-team Stanley Cup playoffs.
It is a situation that seemed unlikely to happen three months ago, when no one knew how the situation would turn out. While U.S. and Canada were still before the first wave of coronavirus infection, while Tatar’s home country of Slovakia was in the middle of it.
But the situation went for Tomas Tatar very well. Since the NHL paused the season, Tatar remained in Montreal about four weeks before deciding to go home, workout, and wait for news. IIHF.com caught up with him during his last practice in Bratislava before heading back to Montreal to restarting of the NHL season.
How have you spent the period since the NHL season was interrupted?
The first three or four week I was in Montreal where I healed of my injury. After that I moved to Slovakia, because I didn’t know how the whole situation would turn out. Coincidentally Slovakia started easing measures whilein overseas things were going worse, so I started to work out in my fitness center Fit Fabric in Dubnica. Due to coronavirus restrictions it was closed for public, but as owner of the facility, I could be there on my own, which was great.
How did you prepare yourself to get back to game shape?
“I seeked to strengthen myself to have a muscular foundation. On ice I am working on technical things, like skills drills or power-skating. Later I would move these practices more and more into ice hockey situations.”
Some players said they would rather close this season and go straight to the new one. What is your opinion?
Yeah, this is one of the solutions, but I’m not sure if they could handle it. It will definitely not be easy. The simplest would be, as you said, just finish the current season and jump to new one, but NHL is still huge business and league wants to have Stanley Cup champion. Although fans are not allowed in the crowd, they are enthusiastic about restarting the season too. Despite of this unusual situation for us as players, we still want to help the league to finish the playoffs. We are missing hockey too. It will be strange, but no one knows, what life brings to us.
Let’s talk about last year when Slovakia hosted IIHF World Championship, where you were part of the home team. Which moment has stuck in your memory the most?
The whole atmosphere was unbelievable. The ice hockey fanbase in Slovakia is amazing. Everyone was enjoying the games.
We could have handled the game with Germany a lot better which could have pushed us to the quarter-finals in Bratislava. But the best memories from the tournament will be our fans for me. I will remember them for the rest of my life. Although, there was big pressure on us, I really enjoyed it when I felt that hockey madness.
Last time when Slovakia went to quarter-final it was in Helsinki in 2012, where you finally won the silver medal. You were there one of the youngest guys, how do you remember on this tournament?
It was unbelievable. Wining the silver medal in that young age, it was incredible for me. That atmosphere when we came home was awesome, that’s why I can’t image how it would look like, if we would have won it in a home tournament. It was great experience for me. We won game against Switzerland 1-0 and then we won with Canadians 4-3 and Czech 3-1. It was an incredible run for us.
Did the euphoria from the rival victory over the Czech Republic outweigh the gold medal game against Russia where you lost 6-2?
“Probably yes. We weren’t as prepared for that game as we were for the previous ones. But I don’t want to underestimate the Russian team, which was really strong team and they rightly won. After the semi-final victory over the Czechs, some kind of pressure dropped out of us. Maybe we could have handled the gold medal game little better, but Russians and their experiences were unbeatable.”
Right now, you are well-known player in NHL. In Montreal you were scoring leader with the most points from the team. Next season it will be your final year of your contract. Have you talked about your future with your agent yet?
All these things could start to be discussed from 1st of July. But by the whole current situations everything has to move to later dates and CBA doesn’t allow contract discussions at the moment. We’ll see, what will happen when I will come to Montreal. But I think all managers have to think about other things right now. For me I really like to be in Montreal, but on the other side, I could try free agency for the first time in my career. So, we’ll see what future shows us.