We’ll start with the obvious question... what’s been the problem at home?
It’s a combination of several factors. There´s not one element that could change and everything would be fine. You know, it’s so important for us to have a good start and score the first goal. We’ve had much better starts on the road. We haven’t been getting many early chances and when we do, we just don’t seem to have any luck around the net. But I think the most important aspect is that players always want to put on a better show at home, to be more creative, although we are still trying to play as effectively as we with a secure defence.
In the last game – the Olomouc game – the team seemed to have less energy than usual. What do you think was the reason for that?
Well, we played five games in nine days. The reality is that even in the World Championships, the team with an extra day off has a better chance of winning than the one who didn’t. Our game is based on skating and physical hockey – it takes energy. That’s no excuse, but it was one of the aspects. Since February 6, we have been going nonstop and we weren’t able to give the guys a day off until Wednesday. So the fatigue had built up, both physically and mentally.
Up next you play in Zlín on Friday. What are you expecting from the game?
We’ve had a day off and then we had a high-tempo practice today. I expect another tough, close game, as it always is. If we shuffled the deck and drew another team, it wouldn’t be any easier.
Are you trying to prepare the players more mentally at this stage of the season?
It goes hand in hand with the physical. When your legs go, your head is next. You need to find the right mix and prepare the team well on both sides.
With six games to go, you’re tied for eighth place. What place in the standings are you aiming at?
As high as possible. Of course, I want to win every game. It’s still possible to finish sixth. As long as it’s mathematically possible, we’re gonna strive for it. But the other five or so other teams we’re battling with will say the same thing.
And how do you feel in this situation?
To be honest, right now it’s getting tough, and that’s the kind of hockey I enjoy. We don’t have as many injured players as before and so it’s up to us to show what we are capable of and who we are. We’re a hardworking team. We’re not a team full of stars that puts on a show, but we can go up against and beat any team in the league. We just have to be vigilant, be on the same wavelength and play our game. When we play like we are capable, it’s tough for anybody to beat us. We don’t have big names on the team, but that doesn’t win you games. You only win through hard and honest work.
Sometimes they make mistakes, though...
Yes, so do the other teams, and we see them every day. You know, it’s not often mentioned that we have the youngest team in the league. We don’t have stars, we have a young team with decent potential. Look at such Petr Kalina. At 21, he is important to us in all game situations. The same Kevin Klíma, Lukáš Rousek … they are growing as hockey players.
In the last game, Zach Sill, one of the older players on the team, scored his first goal with Sparta. How was that for him?
I like him a lot. He´s a very important player for us. He told me that he’s not happy with his offensive output, and that he’d never gone so long without a goal in his career. But his hard work and attitude are important to the team.
After the Olomouc game, the fans announced a planned protest for the next home game. Do you understand what it’s about?
Yes, they want us to win, especially in our home rink, where we are not proud of our record. They pay too much money to go to a hockey game and then be disappointed. I can understand. Likewise, I can see it from the perspective of my players. Everyone is disappointed. Just looking into our dressing room after the loss, looking at the faces of all the players. This is not written in any newspaper or blog. None of them are hitting the clubs after the game and staying out till three o´clock in the morning. These guys are able to identify with the team and take the losses very personally. They are professional athletes, but also people, men, and they take this all seriously. They are proud to be able to play for Sparta, and the losses destroy them. Victory, on the contrary, they love, and they want very badly. And if they don’t win, they´re very upset with themselves.
On Monday, together with captain Jan Piskáček and sports manager Michal Broš, you will meet with the core of our fans. What are you going to talk about?
We’ll see. In any case, it is good that this kind of meeting can take place. We’ll tell them what’s going on in our dressing room. I want to make sure that we don’t just sit back and do nothing. I can understand their frustration. But we’re still doing everything we can to get into the playoffs, and if not, we´ll try to make the quarterfinals through the play-in round.
Finally, what is the status of the return of Jaroslav Hlinka?
He’s still practising with us and we’re talking about how he feels. It’s a special situation for him, constantly getting closer to returning to the game. He’s working really hard on himself. But just his participating in practices is a great benefit to us. He has a lot of experience to give to our young team.