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06-08-2011, 01:59 AM
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The following interview with Peter Bondra appeared this week in Pravda. The translation to English is mine. I thought it would be of some interest. Peter was a favourite player of mine.

Pravda: What weighed most into your decision to depart from the position of general manager of the Slovak national team? Can it be considered running away from the battlefield?

PB: Firstly I want to explain why I accepted the position four years ago shortly after retiring as a player. I didn’t plan for the job, nor did I prepare for it. The position was offered to me by Julius Supler. I remain thankful to him, namely for the start of my career as a player. I took it as a nice entry into the world on the “other side" of the boards. I was pleased to continue as GM when Supler’s replacement Jan Filc announced that he would like to work with me. The president of the federation Juraj Siroky immediately offered me a multi-year contract, but I insisted on playing it year to year. In any event, I wanted to make sure that I was in fact well suited for this position.

Pravda: Were you?

PB: It is very interesting and exciting work. I have over the years worked with several experienced general managers and got to know them personally which in a sense prepared me for this role. My other great motivations were the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver and right afterwards the World Championships at home in Bratislava/Kosice.

Pravda: How did you take Slovakia’s continued fall in placement position at the World Championships: Thirteenth, 12th, and twice at 10th place. Did it ruin your appetite to continue or increase your motivation?

PB: Placement, with the exception of Vancouver where we were a pleasant surprise, did dissuade me. I want to add that in Slovakia, the person in position of general manager does not have the ultimate say on the roster as does a general manager overseas. The final word always belongs to the coach, and I always respected that. I was always informed of my role ahead of time. I tried to implement my ideas as best I could. My pay hovered around 20 000 – 25 000 Euro per year plus expenses that I had in the United States. I say this because there have been rumours that I made a lot more than that. I took this position because I wanted to help Slovak hockey.

Pravda: Let us return to the original question. Did you quit with a feeling of great disappointment?

PB: We all experienced disappointment, I was no exception. I have experienced both tremendous highs and lows with those players. Four years is long enough, the time has come to give someone else a chance. That is why I decided to inform the president of the federation and the general secretary before upcoming meetings that I would not renew my contract for another season. I did not run away from the battlefield, the battle ended for me after our last game.

Pravda: Where did the fault lie in Slovakia not making it to the QF? What have you come up with when thinking about this?

PB: (pause) We were swimming against the current and didn’t know how to change the direction. We were playing under great pressure. I still say that down to every player we really wanted to succeed. Maybe too much – and that was another mistake. In trying to help each other out, individual opportunities were passed up. We were finished by one goal losses. We complicated the situation in the first game versus Germany. We lost both important points and confidence. We played well against Russia and Finland, but with unhappy endings. A goal, such as Finland’s tying goal against us, would have really helped us a lot. A little bit of luck was missing. Luck did not come, so we struggled and sweated but to no avail.

Pravda: Shouldn’t the roster have been completed already in Kosice before the exhibition games against Sweden, three weeks before the start of the World Championships?

PB: Good question. The NHL players couldn’t have been there yet. Lubos Bartecko and Ladislav Nagy, after their two game series in the Eliteserien, received a few days off to heal and spend time with their families. Every player knew themselves what was best for them, so we made individual agreements for when they would join the team. Some worked out on their own. Miro Satan again showed the professional he is, joining camp already on the first day.

Pravda: Had you been in Kosice, would you say that the entire Zednik incident would not have occurred? How did it effect the team.

PB: If I was in Kosice, nothing like that would have happened I can guarantee you that. I know Riso very well already from our time spent together on the Capitals. We always sat next to each other in the dressing room. Maybe he had a bad day, or bad minute when he made his decision to leave. His departure was too precipitous. I told him outright that he was himself slamming the door on the team. I took his return to the team as being an impossibility since it could have disturbed the atmosphere in the dressing room.

Pravda: And did he disturb it? What effect did he have on the mood of the team?

PB: His return was decided by individuals other than myself. It was against the will of some players on the team, mainly the eight or so battling for a spot on the roster. Richard did behave like a gentleman, apologizing to the coach. The players themselves only discussed the incident behind closed doors. Zedo was also under a lot of pressure from the media. I was worried that it would carry to the team. Richard did say all the right things, but the attention did continue to build. But I don’t think it was the only reason why Slovakia was knocked out of the World Championships so early.

Pravda: Some experts and players believed that the team was missing some young talent. Most often mentioned were forwards Richard Panik and Tomas Tatar. Did they not fit into the framework of team? Coach Glen Hanlon said this very thing in Kosice with regard to Tomas Tatar.

PB: When I phoned Richard Panik after his season ended, he was surprised by my call. Within 24 hours his team let him go and he joined camp. Believe me when I say that both coach Hanlon and I like him very much. With Tomas it was a little different. Detroit called up him for the playoffs to serve as a black ace. We have an agreement not to contact players until their season is over. His agent did say some unfortunate things via the media. In addition, I wanted goaltender Peter Budaj to be on the team, but it didn’t work out.

Pravda: Instead of?

PB: That is another discussion that is not worth opening. I don’t hide that we built the team under the Vancouver Olympic template. We gave priority to those forwards. Yes, perhaps youth would have brought some life to the team. However that is just thinking with hindsight. In Vancouver, nobody expected any impressive wins, but the team did achieve some. It became a given that in Bratislava the team would again achieve some big results. The difference in expectations was the biggest difference.

Pravda: You were for four years the general manager of the Slovak national team. What are the biggest problems facing Slovak hockey?

PB: I’ll leave that to those individuals who have been involved longer than I have and are more aware of the situation. From my position I think that compared to other countries we are lagging not only behind in hockey but also in economy. That is very serious. I take it to be unfair that we are expecting a high degree of professionalism from our players while not treating them particularly well in return.

Pravda: In what way do you mean?

PB: When coach Hanlon and I cut players from the team, it bothered me that we couldn’t give them anything more than a handshake. For example a lump sum of money or a vacation. They spent a month in camp away from their families with no pay. For every exhibition win the players were given 300 Euro, and nothing for a loss. Yes playing for the national team is the highest motivation and does elevate the status of players. But times are changing. Players see the game now as a business and it is up to them how they spend their time. Slovakia doesn’t have that many high quality players. Nobody can say when a given player will next agree to represent. If we want professionalism from players then we must treat them as such. I tried to improve things here, but to no avail.

Pravda: How did you take the news of the firing of Glen Hanlon?

PB: I took the decision to be too precipitous. Good – they fired the coach – now what? Do they have some vision for the future? It struck me that nobody asked for my opinion. Is nobody over there honestly interested? If it was me trying to make a big decision than I would want as many opinions from qualified individuals as I could get. Can I return to one more thing?

Pravda: Please go ahead.

PB: Several journalists have not been fond of me. It wasn’t my intent to fight against them. I know very well that it is a fight that is impossible to win. For me it was most important that nobody would bother the players in the hotel, and invade their privacy. I stuck by that whether journalists liked that or not.

Pravda: What will you be spending your time on in the immediate future?

PB: I received an offer to coach a youth team in Washington in which my fourteen year-old son Nicholas plays on. I am really looking forward to this, and I hope I am able to teach the kids something. Maybe an offer will come from the club which I spent most of my career with. I am not in a rush anywhere, I will continue to enjoy hockey retirement. At the end of June I am planning to vacation in Slovakia.

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