On July 6, 2020, Pavel Mandát published an article with hokej.cz interviewing former NHL player, Tomas Fleischmann, about his career. The title of that article in the original Czech is “Fleischmann’s Confession: The NHL Star and the Premature End. What is he doing now?”. In this translated interview, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at the conversation with Fleischmann.
Today, 35-year-old Tomáš Fleischmann is still young enough to play hockey at the highest level. But his health put an end to it, so the Kopřivnice native retired from the world of professional sports four years ago.
Question: You ended your career during the 2015-16 season. Then, it abruptly ended. So, what are you doing now?
TF: I am currently employed full-time by my family. (smiles) When I was finished in the NHL, I trained for a while and waited to see what would happen. Then I tried coaching and real estate. However, family is a priority for me now.
Question: So, are you trying to determine your next career?
TF: That’s exactly how you can say it. I would enjoy coaching, especially youth, but when I finished my career, it was not my goal to get locked into something right away. So it is to this day. In my life after hockey, I keep looking around.
Question: You’re talking about coaching, but you already have some experience with it, don’t you?
TF: It is true. I did training camps for young people. In addition, I was able to try coaching at the academy of Tomáš Vokoun and Radek Dvořák. Now my priority is family, but once my children are bigger and don’t need as much attention, I would definitely enjoy it.
Question: There must have been interest in your camps, huh? After all, you are a former NHL star.
TF: (smiles) The interest was solid. We had about thirty boys for each session, which meant we were sold out. We had two coaches there and it wasn’t our goal to do something wrong. So I think that was the perfect number. We tried to do our best for those boys. It was a good experience for me too, because you saw how working with small hockey players in Florida works.
Question: Are kids treated differently [in America] than in the Czech Republic?
TF: I wouldn’t even say that. The main difference is in the size of the player base. With our small number of hockey players, we will never be able to select as many top hockey players as they do. That’s just the way it is. We are aware of the comparative numbers of our player base compared to overseas. Therefore, until 12 years ago, there is virtually no pressure at all on players. They know that the truly gifted will show up on their own. Coaches will then focus on them and develop them further. I wouldn’t even say that it is a sport for a richer class of people. There, sports are generally the same. It just depends on which one they choose. It’s mainly about freedom. There are no league standings, as is the case with us. They can play several sports at the same time and fully choose one over time.
Question: Being versatile is an advantage for any sport.
TF: I agree. I also did other sports and so did all my teammates. At least hockey and soccer, some added something more. But you know what … I’ve already talked about it: parents in North America are like taxi drivers. They don’t have to sign anything, they just take their son or daughter and bring them to practice. They ask them they enjoyed it, and they don’t have to deal with any pressures or anything else.
Question: So, in Czech hockey, do you think there is too much politicking?
TF:I don’t know if it’s politicking. But the pressures to get results are often too great. If the children are not looking forward to the sport, it says a lot. My father and I also did several camps in the Czech Republic. We always focused mainly on playing for fun and so that everyone could enjoy it. Then you have a good feeling when the boys return to your camp a year later. I think if this were the case at the club level, we would have more NHL hopefuls.
Question: Aren’t there too many ambitious parents in North America who shout at their child when he’s not doing well?
TF: Unfortunately, this happens everywhere. America is no exception. But they have a much larger player base. The talented ones, as I said, will show themselves. And the worse ones will find an excuse not to have to play hockey. But when parents and coaches put pressure and yell at children to win a game, the child will never have a chance to improve his potential and creativity.
Photo: Michal Eger
Question: Let’s move back to you. Do you live in Florida or in the Czech Republic?
TF: I live the same way was as when I was still playing. I was in America during the season and then I come to the Czech Republic for about two to three months to visit my family and friends and for a change in scenery.
Question: Do you prefer paradise in Florida, or your homeland that you know well?
TF: It’s about 50/50. I am the type of person who has not settled anywhere permanently yet. It may happen that we stay in Florida, but we also could decide to return to the Czech Republic. You know what… The climate difference is always big. In Florida you don’t have to deal with a cold or a jacket during the winter. It is different here in the Czech Republic. Both have heat, but it’s different. So the jump is always big.
Question: Legends circulated about how players would play a game in Florida and then go to the beach under palm trees. Is that true?
TF Those are the ideas, but not the truth. Personally, I went to warm up in the sun perhaps once when we were on a trip, which I thought was only good for regeneration, but going to beaches and bars right after games is not something that happens. Not that.
Question: You played mostly in Florida for your NHL career. Do they recognize you there?
TF: It happens to me once or twice a year. It’s a specific environment, if you’re not somewhere in the mall, I’d say around town. In addition, there are many other sports that compete for fans’ attention.
Question: So you don’t think hockey is number one there?
TF: From my point of view, this is definitely not a hockey state. The NFL is very popular there, but the team [Miami Dolphins] there has not done well for a long time now. Basketball; (the Miami Heat) is also popular. In any case, it is true that even hockey is gaining a position there. Club marketing works a lot on that. But the main thing is that you have to perform well to get people to come to the stadium. There are a lot of different activities in Florida, so if you don’t succeed, it’s hard to get anyone to come to games. People prefer to go to the beach or play tennis and so on.
Question: You ended your career at the age of thirty-two. This is very early in today’s world.
TF: Doctors recommended it. I was in Minnesota for a try out and the doctor there told me I shouldn’t play anymore. In the end, they didn’t even let me go to their training camp for health reasons.
Question: Did your family also play a role in that decision?
TF: Yes. We would then have to move again and deal with the logistics, but the main reason was health. I have been playing with a certain health issue for the last six to seven years. [Fleischmann had blood clots stemming from a genetic disorder and needed to take blood thinners]. Even before that, I had to decide whether to continue hockey. In the end, I decided yes. However, at the age of thirty-two, a doctor in Minnesota told me that I should think twice about continuing.
Question: And have you thought [of retiring] for a long time?
TF: About three months. I was still training at the time. At that time, Martin Havlát was also doing offseason training with me. He then returned to Brno.
Question: Have you considered returning to Vítkovice?
TF: I must admit I considered that possibility for some time. In the end, however, I decided to definitively retire.
Question: Do you sometimes get the itch to play?
TF: Sometimes yes. Of course, I would like to play for as long as possible, as long as possible.
Question: Like Jaromír Jágr …
TF: (laughs) Maybe. But the health aspect prevailed. I decided I’d rather finish while I was still healthy. When I can still run and jump. There are players who play as long as long as they can, or longer, and when you see them, they may not even be able to walk properly because their knees are broken. I didn’t want to end up like this. I would like to play today, but then I would need a week off. (Laughs)
Question: Let’s remember. For which of your NHL teams did you feel best?
TF: It’s hard to say. I enjoyed every season in the NHL. Each was beautiful. I remember Washington, Colorado, Florida, Anaheim, Montreal and Chicago. I met great people everywhere and had great teammates. I’m happy for every moment in the NHL.
Question: There is a saying about how important it is to enjoy every second when one has the opportunity to do what one enjoys. You obviously followed that.
TF: Yes, I say again… That’s how it was. I enjoyed everything about those years. You could say I don’t regret anything.
Question: But which organization’s management made the biggest impression on you?
TF: I’d start with Washington. It was when Alex Ovechkin came. A completely new chapter of the club had begun. The team changed their colors and jerseys … It was during this period that they embarked on a journey that eventually led them to the Stanley Cup.
Question: Was Ovechkin immediately aware of his uniqueness?
TF: Write it down! I played against him at the age of eighteen. He bothered us a lot then [when Team Russia was playing against the Czech in the IIHC 18-Under championships]. At the end of the tournament, he had 18 goals in nearly five games. Incredible numbers! He immediately proved his greatness in the NHL.
Question: What about life in Washington? You once reported that it was boring.
TF: That’s how I felt at that time. I was very young and Washington is such a business city. Everyone goes there in suits, ties… It wasn’t for me. It is the complete opposite of, for example, Florida. But I can tell you that today I look at it differently. I could find things there that I enjoyed there. I even like the local dress here. It’s about maturing.
Question: And how were the other clubs where you played?
TF: Florida was great, you had everything there. In Chicago, I got to know a lot about their organizational procedures. Mostly because of them, I think that’s why the Blackhawks were so successful. Montreal is a case in itself. There, they give you all the necessary things even faster than anywhere else. The player is really taken care of, well above the league standard.
Question: There’s too much pressure [in Montreal], too, right?
TF: Yeah, that pressure is a little higher there. But again, we were under pressure in Washington. Pressure was a little less in Florida. You have two reporters in Florida, while in Montreal you have eight.
Question: You played in the Winter Classic with Montreal?
TF: We played at the stadium where the NFL normally plays. We met [former New England Patriots Quarterback and Tight End] Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, it was great. For me, it was a return to my childhood, when I played hockey in the open air on a pond. I enjoyed the Winter Classic in exactly the same way.
Question: You started your journey to the NHL by leaving Vítkovice for an overseas junior hockey league. Were you worried about what awaited you there?
TF: I’m from Koprivnice. At that time, there were a lot of players from there in the NHL: for example Radek Bonk or Václav Varaďa. All big guys, I was much smaller. That’s why I thought the NHL would never be for me. But then I succeeded in the 18-year-old World Championship. The draft came and then the Detroit Red Wings seemed to be interested in me. They wanted to keep an eye on me, so I thought I’d go overseas. The NHL would be closer than being in Vítkovice. You can always come back home, I thought. [Fleischmann was only 5’5” until playing midget level hockey. He had a growth spurt to 6’1” but still weighed under 170 pounds in 2002.]
Question: Did you manage junior hockey without a family?
TF: I experienced things that I had to get used to. Maybe flying, but I’m the type of person who likes to look at different things. Then you take it as a good experience.
Question: It is said that there is a huge difference in the competition in North American juniors and professional hockey farm teams. Was it a shock for you?
TF: Is it true. The competition is very fierce, especially if you are European. But in a way, it was nothing new to me. Even when I left Kopřivnice for Vítkovice, my father said to me, “Whatever happens, you have to be better than the others, because you will be a stranger there. And if you don’t get better, the local players will get priority.” I’ve heard it since I was twelve. it was exactly the same overseas which is why I was used to it. [At the age of 12, his hometown youth team in Koprivnice was dropped to a lower league so he transferred to a team in Vitkovice to get a better level of competition.]
Question: But in the end, many players can’t stand the competition [in North America] and return to Europe. Did you ever have such thoughts?
TF: You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Things are changing very fast there. At that point, I sometimes had such thoughts. But there were great players from whom you can learn a lot. In addition, I believe that if you show effort, you will always get a chance overseas. Then it’s up to you to take advantage of it.
Question: Bullying in Canadian junior hockey is currently a much-discussed subject. Have you experienced anything like it?
TF: Not that. But as rookies, we had an initiation ritual, where they gave us spicy food and we had to eat it. Well, I don’t like spicy food. So…
Question: Did you eat it?
TF: I had to. I wanted to show my teammates that I was not afraid of anything, so there was no other option. There was no problem after that.
Question: Let’s go back to the present. There is a lot of discussion on whether to finish the NHL season or not. What is your opinion?
TF: I already look at it as a fan. From this point of view, I would like them to finish it, because it would be interesting for us. But if you ask me this as a player, I’ll tell you that if I didn’t have a guarantee of safety, I wouldn’t want to finish it. Therefore, I understand both sides of the argument. Although as a fan I would like the NHL back.
Question: When they resume, what team would you favor?
TF: Hard to say. It will be a new competition. I know from my career how difficult it is to maintain a stable performance, especially after such a long break. I would favor a team who can rely on excellent goalies. So maybe Montreal or Islanders.
Question: In conclusion, if you look back once again, as a boy from Kopřivnice, you made a great career in the NHL. You have to be proud of yourself, right?
TF: Yes. I enjoyed my hockey life. I did what I wanted to do. It’s a shame I didn’t manage to win the Stanley Cup in the NHL, but I know that not everyone is lucky. Overall, I am very happy with my career.
Translated by Diane Doyle
The original article from hokej.cz is here.