Like many other Czech hockey players, Vitek Vanecek returned home after the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the goalkeeper is back in North America for at least a few weeks, where he continues to chase his dream of playing in the NHL.
The goaltender seems to have a good supply of patience. Vítek Vaněček, a pupil of Havlíčkův Brod hockey, has been waiting five years for a chance to join the Capitals.
“Of course I’m disappointed I don’t have a game on my record yet, but I’m not giving up. I still believe that I will get a chance,” assures the 24-year-old goalkeeper, who was selected by the Washington Capitals in the 2nd round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Vanecek was interviewed by Eva Streichsbierova for iDNES.cz earlier this week. He was asked about his patience in chasing his dream, dealing with the global pandemic, life in Hershey and preparing for the upcoming playoffs.
Do you consider yourself a patient person?
“Definitely yes. If I didn’t have the patience, I wouldn’t be here long ago.”
What do you see as the main reason why you haven’t been able to make it to the NHL yet?
“I don’t think I have had a bad season, I’m trying my best, but the Capitals didn’t have three injured goalkeepers for three years. I’ll just keep fighting.”
Will you be better off waiting for the NHL start now with a one-way contract?
“In fact, I don’t think about it that way. Yes, thanks to that, the possibility that I get caught in the NHL is probably bigger, but I can also be in the AHL. I went to America for my dream and I stick to it.”
Have you caught any American customs in those five years? I mean, are you unpacking Christmas presents the morning of December 25th?
“(smiles) Maybe last year we were in New York for a few days at Christmas. My parents came and I had my girlfriend here. But on December 24th, we normally had Christmas carp.”
Can you get it normally in Hershey?
“I got it, so we had a Czech Christmas with an American carp. (laughs) But otherwise, I don’t think I caught any American mores. Just a girlfriend who’s been here with me all season, turkey for Thanksgiving. But overall, I’m still Czech with everything.”
As far as I know, Hershey is best known for their chocolate. How are you doing with this delicacy?
“Sometimes I have it, and when someone comes to see me, we go to see how it’s made. I’ve even tried to make one of my own.”
And what else can you do in Hershey besides playing hockey and making chocolate?
That doesn’t sound very encouraging …
“It’s a city of ten thousand people, and it’s mostly farmers who raise pigs and cows.”
Guess you don’t have anything like that at home, so what do you have fun with after hockey?
“There isn’t much time to do anything else. In the morning we go to training, then to lunch, and when I’m very tired, I sometimes go to bed after lunch. When I wake up, my girlfriend and I go for a walk or shopping, for example, and it’s the end of the day. And games are played on the weekends.”
How many spectators go to your home games?
“This is probably the only advantage, we have almost ten thousand fans at each game.”
So all of Hershey attends the games, right?
“No, a lot of people drive from around. Mainly from Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania.”
When someone lives in a town of ten thousand, it can be said that they are recognizable. Do people know who you are when you go to a restaurant, for example?
“Yeah, they know me very well. Even in shops, people get to know us.”
And they want to talk about hockey?
“Sure. There is no chance to escape.”
Have you ever had a crisis during those five years when you thought you’d rather go home?
“Of course, such situations have occurred, but one has to overcome that and move on.”
Anyway, the fact that your girlfriend was with you overseas last season probably helped a lot. Do you agree?
“Definitely yes. For example, when I return from practice, my girlfriend has already cooked, while before I had to deal with these things with some purchased food. Alternatively, you cook for yourself. But most of all, you have someone to talk to. It’s great to have her here.”
Let’s go back to the end of last season, which ended prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic. How was your return to the Czech Republic?
“A little more complicated. We wanted to fly from Harrisburg, but they canceled our first flight. Eventually we had to drive to New York, from there we flew to London and from London to Prague. There we were then told at the airport that it was the penultimate flight. It worked out that way for us.”
How did you spend time at home when there was practically nothing to do?
“We mainly had to quarantine for a fortnight at the earliest. And then, when it all got a little loose, I went to Prague to train on ice in Říčany together with Michal Kempný, Jakub Vrána and David Pastrňák.”
So now, after returning, are you in good shape?
“Well, no. Upon arrival, I had to quarantine again. Although this time only for seven days. Anyway, my lungs aren’t taking the burden much yet, but hopefully they’ll get back to it soon. (smiling)”
Here you can hear from all sides how many thousands of people infected in America are increasing every day, weren’t you afraid to go overseas?
“You know I was, but the more you think about it, the worse it will be. That’s why I tried to push those thoughts out of my head. And when I arrived, I found out that everyone here lives perfectly normally. As if nothing was happening. Sure, we have to wear masks, but otherwise it’s fine.”
Did it ever occur to you at the very beginning that a coronavirus could affect the whole world so much?
“I mainly think that it doesn’t just disappear by itself. It will just be here with us like the flu or sore throat. We have to learn to live with it.”
But so far it is not going very well. That is why the future of the upcoming season is also uncertain. Do you know when you will get home again?
“That’s a good question, but I don’t know. If all goes well, I might arrive sometime in October, but I really can’t say.”
So at least tell me what’s your name? Somewhere they introduce you as Vítek and others again as Vít …
“It is with me that I have Vítek normally written in my birth certificate, but since it is not on the calendar, I celebrate the holiday on Vít.”
Author: Eva Streichsbierová