Translations by Tomas Jandik
Hlinka Interview - MF Dnes - 11-Jun-01
The whole season was affected by the theme "Hlinka and Jagr". At the beginning you wanted to try Simicek next to him, but he wanted to play with Hrdina, and got his way…
Jarda Jagr is in a essence a good guy. He's got a good heart; he will do a lot for a friend. His career in the NHL is extraordinary and by no means ending. But he moved there when he was eighteen and he's had to pull himself through a lot of things. At the beginning, when he scored, not all raised their hands. That environment is very competitive, and it directed him to certain egoism. Without it, he wouldn't end up as high as he is.
How is it to coach such a star throughout the whole year?
I am always willing to talk to the players. That's not only the question of Jarda Jagr. For example, it used to be Vlada Ruzicka in the past as well. I don't have to talk to every player, but I always enjoy discussions with such real personalities. I don't require everybody to have the same opinion. I always enjoy listening to players like Jarda. Or Mario Lemieux. They are extraordinary, and they see hockey very differently. Even though the final decision has to be mine.
What was it about those disputes so colorfully described by the media? It seemed a little blown out of proportion. Like if everyone was looking for some clashes…
A discussion does not have to mean a dispute, even if it is a little louder.
You did not agree with each other hockey-wise, but how do you get along socially?
We had a good relationship and I thing we still have. My wife and Mrs. Jagrova got along wonderfully. Jarda and me can differ professionally, but no way we wait for each other behind the corner to slap one another.
So can Hlinka and Jagr get along on one team?
I think yes. At least from my perspective.
Another unique situation for you was prepared by the owner of the club Mario Lemieux thanks to his return on ice. How can somebody's boss be coached?
Pittsburgh is an extraordinary team like no other. With the number of different nationalities it is the most international team in the world. The majority owner is the player. The team has the biggest star for the youngsters, Jarda Jagr. It has an European coach, which is not usual in the NHL. It requires a different approach. When people are rational, they always find a way.
At the beginning of the 90's Pittsburgh was coached by famous Scotty Bowman and the team lead by Lemieux would not even let him to attend practices. And the person in charge was "big Mario"…
When you get older, you change. I used to listen to Rolling Stones and Beatles; everything that came after them is strange to me. Today, I would also listen to Beatles, but rather to their music played by London Philharmonics. Mario changed as well. He was in different position for three and half years, and watched hockey from a different point of view. No longer his only role was to decide the games, he had to manage the club. He is intelligent and ambitious, he wants to help.
Weren't your hands tied in a team with such individualities?
It depends what you mean by coaching. It is simpler to have twenty guys in Dukla Tabor [a third-division army hockey club], your work is far more visible. But you can't win a championship with them. They'll do exactly what you tell them to. They got drafted, and you can send them to guard the border if they disobey. I wouldn't enjoy such a work much. It is more difficult to persuade players like those in Pittsburgh to do something. You have to use different methods.
How did you cope with the attention of American media?
The media are present at the practices every day. After that, you have to be available for them, also after the game and in the morning before the game. Those questions are basically the same. You repeat yourself over and over, and after five days, you feel like an idiot. And I don't like feeling like an idiot. My wife tells me that you can easily see if I enjoy something or if it bothers me. I can't put a different mask on. They recognize that I got angry, and start reminding me that I am obliged to talk to them. It simply upsets me that I respond to the same questions like a dumbass.
What did you enjoy the best throughout your coaching with Penguins?
Maybe the second line Kovalev, Lang, Straka. They really had a good season. During certain critical phases, there was a pressure on me to split them. If I agreed, they wouldn't play together. I believed in them and managed to keep them together.
Pittsburgh made it to the Stanley Cup semifinals. In your opinion, how big a credit do you deserve for it?
I always respond that the coach doesn't win, they always talk about the coach if the team loses. The coach stays behind, and I always like when the team emits certain impulses. The players always like to work on things more in such a case. I am not a type that tries to re-model the team to his liking.
There are many coaches that like to employ scientific methods…
The study types, as I call them. They are hard working, but they lack experience. They don't know that wonderful feeling of a player if you win. Or a feeling after the game when they speared you in your privates with the stick. In their careers, they themselves did not accomplished as much, but they have big dreams and they try to pass them on the team.
Your philosophy is rather different from the American image of the coach, the boss on the bench as well as in the locker room…
In America, they go for the authoritative leadership much more. They want to be lead. Maybe it has some effect, but I don't think a long-term one.
You told yourself that they took you into the NHL as Hlinka, that you wouldn't have to change. But you had to adjust at least something, right?
Certainly. You have to adjust if you want to function is a different environment. But you can't change your basics. (But) You can adjust your opinion about something, sometimes you can move back.
Where in particular did you adjust your opinion?
I was convinced that we will get though the season playing with three lines. Over there, they don't particularly care about long-term cooperation among defensemen and forwards. They don't believe that if the players play with each other for a long time, they can do many things automatically. Nevertheless because of all that competition, the pressure from the players in the minors, the three-line strategy was impossible to keep. In addition, later it showed that it is crucial to involve the fourth line more as well. It was visible that the team got tired. Maybe it was a mistake to overload the best players so much.
You were criticized because of the lack of your tactical skills. You didn't always match your checking line with the opponent's elite formation.
For the checking line, you need players who don't do anything but defend the best line of your opponent. We did not manage to form such a line. Maybe it is a little of my fault as well. I did not want to select certain players and put them into the drawer 'defenders'. They could stay there forever.
Do you mean Josef Beranek who did not crack the first two offensive lines?
Also, but more importantly, such an assignment would be premature for the young players. Over there, it is common that they assign a guy according to the level of his contract. A lot of our guys get there will less money, and never make it out of the bottom drawer.
They say you did not rely enough on video…
Each of our game preparations did include video as well. The point is how much you want to show to the players. It should be just the substantial things. Whether positive or negative. Some other coaches have different opinions, but that's their problem. What matters are the results.
And what about the difficulties with the language?
At the beginning, I gave space to the assistants. They are outstanding hockey personalities. For example, Rick Kehoe is the third in Pittsburgh historical scoring race right behind Mario and Jarda Jagr. He is an intelligent guy, he represented me on a very high level. Certainly, there were moments when I had to jump into it.
At your age, are you still able to master English good enough to say everything you need?
What I need to say as the coach, I say it. There is no problem with that. But in Czech, I am used to express myself exactly. I don't want to start somewhere, and end somewhere else. That's more difficult when you have to speak in a different language. We can agree on everything, Rick Kehoe is a good speaker, and I did not want to interfere with it much. Even though sometimes I got angry and had to do something. The work of the coach includes speaking. You can't get by without it.
So are you able to yell at the team in English in the locker room?
You can't play emotions. What's in me, I let people know. Sometimes I am already able to control myself more, but the players would feel that you think something and say something different. There is no point doing that.
You did not have any pre-game speeches. Was it because you felt ashamed?
I had the feeling that I would not be able to say it the way I am used to. That it would not have the appropriate quality. In a certain way, I retracted a little.
Will you push yourself to talk to the players more?
Definitely I know things where I have to start behaving differently. It just did not feel right to change something in the middle of the season.
What will you change about yourself?
There are things such as game preparation, formation of a special checking line. You have to get there through experience. I am lucky that I can apply that experience.
Sometimes it happens that before you gain it, you are out, doesn't it? There had been articles saying that Pittsburgh might have fired you after the season. Were you afraid of that.
It can happen every day. It happens everywhere in the world. And the worst thing is that after you gain all that experience in life, you kick the bucket. And all of it is worth jack.
Tomas Jandik is the resident Czech on LetsGoPens.com and is a man who unifies all the goodies of the American dream - meaning, of course, being a Pitt graduate, a Razorback, and a Penguins fan.
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