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Translations by Tomas Jandik
Bondra Likes Mrs. Jagrova's Pork (MF Dnes interview) - 13-Jun-03


People are sitting on a tram coming from the center of Helsinki, and out of nowhere, Peter Bondra in his blue jacket hops in. He buys a €1.40 ticket, sits down and starts writing text messages on his cell phone. Only one Finn interrupts him, asking for an autograph, since he recognized the hockey celebrity. The scorer of the winning goal in the last year’s championship finals game is a pleasant celebrity.

How come that you are traveling on a tram?

[Because] is just came, No. 7B.

Didn’t you have any money for a cab?

Somebody told me that this one goes right by our hotel. So I tried it {he smiles}

When was it the last time you took a tram?

It was when I was still playing in Kosice, some 13 years ago.

Never in America?

I have never taken a tram; went on a metro once. In New York. Some six, seven years ago. Never took a metro in Washington, either.


You have lived in Washington since 1990. You play for the Slovakian National Team. But you were born as the citizen of Soviet Union in Ukraine, weren’t you?

My father was a Slovak, my mother was Polish. It happened like that: After the war {WWII}, Russians were wooing people to go to work there, and tons of Czech and Slovak families went. My father lived there since he was 16 or so, he met my mom, the kids were born. My two brothers and then I. When I was three, we returned back to Poprad {http://www.poprad.sk/En/index_en.html }, we were growing up under the Tatras mountains {http://www.vysoke-tatry.sk/en.html }, then I went to play for Kosice.

Your Soviet citizenship had one advantage, you were able to avoid the {mandatory, two-year long} army draft in Czechoslovakia.

I’m remembering that. Anytime we played in Jihlava, the coach {of their army club} Standa Nevesely always insinuated that I should change my citizenship into Czechoslovakian. But the last thing Kosice team needed was for me to be drafted by the army for two years…. And then I was drafted by the NHL, the [Velvet] revolution came, then the end of [Czechoslovak] federation. I have been carrying a Slovakian passport since 1994.

What about the Soviets, did they know about you? Didn’t they want you to play for their National Team?

One hockey writer had been spooking me that Tikhonov was interested in me. But I have never dealt with anybody in person. So I quite doubt [there was ever any interest]. After all, they used to have 150 “Bondras” like me.

And what if they came regardless?

I’d have been really scared. But how could they know about me? They had enough of their own players, so why would they look for somebody in Kosice?

Do you feel any ties to Ukraine?

Not really. I know, they have their own National Team here at the WC, and one of their players is my buddy Khristich. But I don’t feel like they are ours or something. I am a Slovak. In fact, last time I visited Ukraine, I was 10. Maybe me and my brother will go there for a visit someday.

But your family will ultimately stay in America, right?

My kids are growing up there. I could easily live in Slovakia, but I have to look for what’s the best for them. And it looks like we will be living there.

And which place do you consider your home?

Poprad. Definitely. That’s where I spent the longest part of my life.


You won the world title with Slovakian National Team the last year. Shortly before the end of the final match against Russia, you scored the deciding goal. Do you still remember those days?

Certainly. I still get goose bumps when my sons play the DVD showing our title run. I’m glad I had the opportunity to be there. And I’d like to experience something similar with Washington in the NHL as well. That’s my dream.

You spent the last summer in Slovakia. It must have been quite wild, right?

I spent a day in Bratislava with the team. Then I flew back to America, and returned back in July and stayed until the middle of August.

How were you able to reject all those invitations for a shot of pine liquor {one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Slovakia}?

I have experienced a lot during those 24 hours. I did not even have any sleep. I would have liked to stay, to spend weeks, even months of celebrations with the guys. But the family comes first.

But even during your summer vacations, people must have been pursuing you a lot, right?

It went on and on. People were literally mad about hockey. I don’t drink alcohol that much, but all that huge interest was visible everywhere. For example, I went to a supermarket, and people started literally chasing me around there. I realized how tough life Hollywood stars have.

Were you able to run away?

I try to accommodate everybody. An autograph isn’t a problem for me. When I was a boy, I admired hockey players, too.


Last time when we saw each other in Washington, you said that you tend to use 200 hockey sticks per season. Is it still true? Do you still play with wooden sticks in the age of graphite?

Yes, I still have wooden sticks. I don’t break them all. Sometimes, they don’t suit me well. You know, when you don’t play well, you need some relief.

To be able to blame it on something…

Right. I lock myself in my little workshop and start to whittle them. Until I stop.

Do you break your sticks out of anger?

No, I don’t do that. But sometimes, naturally, you hit the board with it when things really don’t work out. [Still,] I am not a psycho; I know that it is not in your stick, but in your head and hands. {laughter}

And that 200 per year, still correct?

Can be. {nods his head}. Our equipment manager told me lately that I used seventeen…dozen {said in English}

You mean dozen {said in Czech}? 17 times 12, that means over 200 {204 for the math challenged :) }. Still, during the last WC, you used to play with the sticks of somebody else, didn’t you?

I broke a few of mine. And the rest were too springy. I prefer hard sticks. So I borrowed one from my teammate Nagy whom we call Magyar {i.e. Hungarian, since Nagy is a traditional Hungarian name}. And immediately I scored two goals against Russians with it. And then two goals against Canada.

Still using the same stick?

Yes. So I made an ‘M’ mark on it, like ‘Magyar’. And then I broke that Magyar’s stick as well, and he did not want to give me another. I had to take it away from him almost forcefully. During the semifinals against the Swedes, I broke it as well after my third line change, and I knew that at this point, I won’t be able to get another. So I started playing with my own [again].

And that’s the one you scored the game-winner against the Russians with?

Yep, yep, these are the stories of my sticks.


How often do you see Jaromir Jagr and his clan during the season.

I meet Jarda every day in the arena. And our families tend to visit each other a lot as well, our houses are in the same part of Chesapeake Bay. Sometimes we have dinners together. [Once even] Mrs. Jagrova prepared pork with cabbage and dumplings and brought it to us. She is an excellent cook. However, so is my wife!

Don’t they compete with each other?

When Jagrs are to come, we tend to grill. Salmon or something like that. That’s something that’s impossible to spoil. And when Mrs. Jagrova brings her pork with cabbage and dumplings, then we put our own food aside. [Her cooking] is something special. We really enjoyed it.

What do you consider your own specialty.

I catch crabs at home. Our bay is famous for its Maryland Blue Crabs {http://skipjack.net/le_shore/crab/crab.html }. You put some special net into water, and use stinking fish as bait. The crabs crawl in and can’t get out. Then you boil them in steam, and use some special hammers to get to their meat. It’s delicious. Jagrs in particular really enjoy it.

Jagr has been heavily criticized in Washington after your elimination from the Stanley Cup. Is it tough for him there?

Definitely. They brought him as a superstar, he’s making a lot of money. He is under a lot of pressure. The pressure that used to be on me. I feel a little more alleviated now, [since] everything went on his head. Jarda has played very well. He left everything on the ice.

After his trade from Pittsburgh two years ago, Jagr has lost his scoring crown. Does it mean that he is over his performance zenith?

I wouldn’t say that. I have never seen such a talent he has. [Everything] is a question of health, teammates. I know [from my own experience] that sometimes you feel great and everything tends to fall it. And other times you tend to squeeze your hockey stick a little too tight and then it is ‘you against yourself’.


You are missing your two front teeth. What happened?

First there was a collision with John LeClair from Philadelphia. What a strong guy. Like if you fall under a train. The result was one lost tooth, I was looking for it on that cold ice.

And what about the other one.

I lost that one during our practice. During the conditioning skating without a puck our rookie Brian Sutherby accidentally lifted his stick and I ran into it. I told myself that I’m going to get new teeth after the season, so that I have everything fixed at least for the summer.

Do you at least have something temporary you can insert so that you look better?

I left it like it is. My wife doesn’t mind. As long as she is happy with it, everything is OK.

How can you even bite without those two front teeth. What if you want to eat an apple?

Well, I have to go after it with a knife. {he laughs}

Are you going to get some firm grafts?

At this point, they can tie them to my roots, and when I get my roots knocked out as well, they’ll have to insert them directly into my gums.

In Slovakia or in America?

In America. My dentist has been waiting for me for two months there. He said he has some kind of a new invention for me. Allegedly, those teeth are somehow flexible. [Meaning] that they can bend. Seriously! He told me that they are the newest technology. Shock-proof teeth. As soon as I return back to America, I’ll hop into his chair.

Peter Bondra:
Born: February 7, 1968 in the Ukrainian city of Luck, at that time a part of Soviet Union
Height: 183 cm Weight: 90 kg
Family: His father was a Slovak, worked as a driver. Died in 1982. His mother is of a Polish origin. Bondra has two older brothers. He and his wife Luba are raising three children: Petra, David, and Nicholas. Bondra grew up in Poprad, won the Czechoslovakian hockey title with the team of Kosice in 1988. Played his first NHL game in 1990 against Pittsburgh (which roster included another debutant Jaromir Jagr).
Career: Scored 451 goals in the NHL, one more than his childhood idol Peter Stastny. Holds several club records in Washington. Currently under a four year guaranteed contract for $18 million. Two times the fastest skater in the NHL. Won the World Championships title with Slovakian National Team the last year in Sweden.
Personal: Founded a charity organization ‘Scoring for Children’. Pays $100 to it for every of his NHL points, later followed in this effort by teammates like Jagr and Lang. Has a dog named Hugo, likes playing golf, boating and fishing. Cares for his children, one time declined a late invitation to the NHL All-Star game because of a family trip to Florida.

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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