Hasek has won two of the greatest hockey awards – the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold – and consistently ranks in the top ten of various tables for the best goalkeeper in history. By some measures, he is difficult to beat; in the 1998/99 season, the Czech sensation saved 93.66% of shots at his goal – his record remained unbroken for 12 years. Few years before the legendary goalkeeper has returned to Europe from America.
Let’s talk about you. As I understand, you didn’t decide to devote your life to ice hockey straightaway. Pursuing the sport from the age of six, you then switched to education, graduating from the history faculty, and then went on to teach at a school. Tell me more about this period in your life and how it resulted in a sports career.
Actually the rumours about my teaching career are greatly exaggerated. There was a period in my life when I was a history teacher for primary and secondary school. I was working with children in the schools of my hometown of Pardubice. However, I only taught Czech history for around a month or two, as part of my teacher training at university. It was 25 years ago – before the revolution! But I also played ice hockey in my university years.
So now if a some university offered you the chance to give a course of Czech history, would you take it?
I think it would be impossible. First of all, I haven’t done it now for a very long time, so it would be very difficult for me to enter into the role of teacher.
So teaching can’t be said to be your hobby. So what do you like to do? How do you relax?
Let me put it this way: my hobbies lie in the plane of sport. It depends on the season. In summer I spend my free time on the saddle of my bike, play squash with friends or relax in the great outdoors. My winter is usually loaded with ice hockey, but I relish skiing. I always try to find a window in my schedule to go, if even briefly, to the mountains.
Let’s talk about ice hockey. In your career, you have played in America, in your native Czech Republic and in Russia. Can you weigh up the proposal of the Kontinental Hockey League? What do you think about the idea of creating a strong league out of the top clubs in Europe?
That’s a tough question, I am undecided on this. But I am more inclined to the opinion that the ice hockey nations – should hold their own national leagues; for example, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland. The market for Russian ice hockey is very big. There are a lot of big cities there, which is quite different from small countries. I would prefer a format like the Champions League in football or Euroleague Basketball. European hockey needs a quality tournament, where the winners of the national championships would fight for the trophy. Anyway, I think that club sport should be directed towards this and not towards merging.
There is the opinion that Czech ice hockey has been taken over by a crisis of young players. Do you think there is a crisis? Is there anyone ready to replace you and J. Jagr?
There is a crisis and it’s apparent to anyone who even just glances at Czech ice hockey. Worrying undertones are coming out of the youth and junior championships. Our teams of 16 to 20 year olds generally do not bring in any medals or finish higher than fifth place. This is a sign that the immediate future of Czech ice hockey – the next 5 to 15 years – is not positive.
How it happened and how should the situation be changed?
I’m not in a position to say. At the moment I’m just a bystander. I’ve heard that there’s a huge exodus of young players. The Extraliga is in a real mess. But, of course, the reasons for this are many.
I know that you have invested in the development of children’s ice hockey in America. Are you also going to offer a helping hand to ice hockey in Europe?
That’s true. I founded the charity program in Buffalo, when I was out there. I spent nine years there. During that time, I was named the best several times and I was one of the highest-paid players at the club. I wanted to do something more. So I founded a charity project for children, which is still in operation. I am very proud of that. I’m always going there, and I lead an active correspondence with the people who are working on the project on-site. But to organize something in Europe? I’m not saying “no”, but you need special funds for that and you have to keep working on it, and so on. I am not in any way renouncing helping little kids, but in Buffalo I was there for nine years, I knew it well, and since those days, I have never spent as much time in any one place, and not made as much money, with which to found such an organization. Of course, in the future I want to dedicate myself to youth projects and help them in some way. But to form a similar charity program to the one in Buffalo? I don’t know.
So it all depends on money?
It depends on money, and on the conditions, on everything. I lived in Buffalo for a long time. I knew the city’s top officials. There were good conditions there – and not just financial. I knew the people there. You can’t do something like that on your own; there simply needs to be a community, you need people.
A lot but not everything, depends on how many sports schools there are and how the infrastructure is laid down. A lot rests, in particular, on the shoulders of young sportspeople. What advice can you offer on how to have a successful sports career? How can we develop our inner sports star?
The most important thing is to love sport with all your heart. You have to get satisfaction from what you do. If you are truly interested in doing sport, it will never seem like hard work, a horrible chore or a nuisance. Training should seem interesting, otherwise sport will never be the main thing in your life. And last but not least, you need the support of your family, your parents. Parents should be supportive and give their time, looking out for and helping their children. I was lucky in that regard; my parents supported me in sport from childhood. We were a family that was always doing sport.
Photo: Dan4th Nicholas