Svoboda soldiers on with Tampa Bay
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Originally published on EuroReport.com in 2000
By Lucas Aykroyd
It’s tough to forget the image of a skinny kid from Czechoslovakia marching down from the stands at the 1984 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal to pull on an oversized Habs jersey. But today, Petr Svoboda epitomizes the term “veteran.” Nearing 1000 NHL games played at the comparatively youthful age of 33, the 6-2, left-shooting defenseman leads the Tampa Bay Lightning in average ice time (24:03) this season. He can inspire youngsters like Vincent Lecavalier and Pavel Kubina with tales of his 1986 Stanley Cup conquest with the Canadiens. His plus-minus rating of +6, second only to winger Steve Guolla on the team, proves his skills have survived. Svoboda spoke with EuroReport after a 3-3 tie with the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place on 5 January. He was forced to leave the game partway when he joined the ranks of the wounded.
EuroReport: What can you tell us about your shoulder injury?
Petr Svoboda: It’s a little sore right now. I hurt it about three weeks ago and I tried to play with it, but I separated it again today. I just tried to hit someone in the corner and it popped out again.
EuroReport: This season you’ve been asked to take on a lot of responsibility in terms of your ice time and being an assistant captain. How do you approach that role?
Svoboda: I’ve been around the league for a long time, so for me the responsibility is to teach the young guys and give them some help. I have been playing a lot, but I’ve always enjoyed that throughout my career. I just wish we were in a better situation right now with more wins, because I believe that even with a young team, we deserve to have more. We’ve been in a lot of these games, and a few mental mistakes led to us losing. Hopefully we can turn things around.
EuroReport: When you broke in with the Montreal Canadiens in 1984, you were listed around 160 or 170 pounds. Now, you play at closer to 200. How much more important is strength to a defenseman now than in the 1980’s?
Svoboda: It’s huge. I’ve gained five or six pounds every year. When I started, I was 18 years old, and at that age, you’re not fully developed. It took four or five years before I got up to 190. It’s definitely easier to play in this league when you’re a little heavier.
EuroReport: You used to run a lot of marathons. Do you still do that?
Svoboda: No. I still run a lot, and I enjoy it. But with the schedule we’ve got and some of the injuries I’ve had, I’ve given that up for a while.
EuroReport: You’ve been out of Montreal since 1991-92, but what are your thoughts on the way the Canadiens have gone since they last won the Stanley Cup?
Svoboda: You know, I guess that was my best time in hockey, when I played nine and a half years in Montreal. I always watch the way things develop there, and I wish them the best. It’s a franchise that’s got a lot of history. The people of Montreal deserve to have winners. It’s unfortunate the last few years the team has been struggling, but I’m sure they’re going to turn it around.
EuroReport: Yesterday the Czech Republic won the world junior hockey championship in Skelleftea. What is making Czech hockey so good right now? You have so many guys in the NHL, and you’ve won all the championships in the last two years.
Svoboda: Well, hockey’s always been big in Czechoslovakia. There’s a lot of talent. I believe in the past the Czech guys lacked confidence because we come from a small country, and we didn’t think we could beat the big countries. But now, with more guys having experience in the NHL, things are different. The guys used to be shy and give the opposition too much respect. But in the last two years, they’ve taken matters into their own hands and the results have been great.
EuroReport: When you defected as a teenager, did you ever dream you would have the chance to score the winning goal for your country at the Olympic Games, as you did at Nagano in 1998?
Svoboda: No, I never thought of that. When I defected, the way I looked at it was that I had played my last game for the Czech national team. Basically, what happened was that with the change of regime after the fall of Communism, I was able to go back and do it again. It was a great experience.
EuroReport: This season, Tampa Bay has really struggled on the road with just three wins. What’s the problem?
Svoboda: You never want to make excuses, but we do have a young team here. We’ve got five or six defensemen between age 20 and 22, and with more experience, we’ll start to win more road games.
EuroReport: What does the team need to do in the second half if you want a shot at making the playoffs?
Svoboda: We just need to make sure everyone’s going the same direction. It’s a long road ahead of us, but we’ve got the people to do it here.