When naming the legends of Slovak hockey, some are often forgotten. Among them may be Peter Ihnačák. The NHL career of the native of Poprad more often remains in the shadows when compared to the likes of the Šťastný brothers. In a recent interview with Sport.SK, the 60-year-old former center spoke about top Slovak prospects in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, the Capitals Martin Fehervary and his scouting work for the Washington Capitals.
Slovak juniors lost to the Czechs three times. Were you interested in anyone from our team?
“A very skilful player is Martin Chromiak, who is high in the scout rankings for the next NHL draft. He is a boy who has a hockey mindset and a sense of scoring goals. He has to work to be a bigger leader.”
Do you think he has a chance to be drafted into the NHL in the first round?
“I haven’t seen him so much in Canada, but my colleagues who scout him overseas have a lot of positive references about him. He should not be missing in the first two rounds of the draft. ”
Did anyone else on the Slovak team impress you?
“There are a few, sixteen-year-old Juraj Slafkovský looks like a huge talent. He has a great frame, skates well. He reminds me a little of Petr Šťastný when he was young. I hope that we have a great talent in him. Our hockey needs it. ”
With regards to your scout position, do you only watch young players or even professionals in Europe?
“My priority to junior hockey players. Last year it was the year 2002 (birth year), for which the draft has not yet taken place. It awaits at the beginning of October and at the moment I will focus on the year 2003 in more detail.”
You’ve been scouting for the Washington Capitals for years, what do you say about Martin Fehérváry’s progress?
“Martin is a great fighter, in America they appreciate his play. He skates excellently. I think he has a bright future ahead of him in the NHL.”
Did you have your fingers crossed that your club chose him two years ago in the second round of the draft?
“He simply came to our attention then. I have seen him often in Sweden, but my boss, Capitals’ assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, was also excited about him. He pushed us to draft Martin so high that none of our opponents could take him away from us.”
Fehérváry’s exemplary approach to preparations are most valued, do you feel the same way?
“Yes, his attitude and heart are very valuable. He has a great character and always gives one hundred percent. He could infect more young Slovak hockey players with his approach to make an example from him. You can have great hands, game skills or thinking, but without effort in every training and game you will not move further.”
Do you live overseas or do you work in Europe?
“We live mainly in Prague, because it’s best for travel. You can fly all over the world. I’m not far. Plus I’m close to Germany and also to the north of Europe. In addition, I have a long-term relationship with Prague, as I played successful years there in Sparta Prague. ”
For many years you scouted players for Toronto, for which you also played successfully in the NHL, why did you change your place of work?
“It was not my decision. New management came to the Maple Leafs years ago, and they replaced almost all the people. They wanted change and create a team they know. In the end, I was lucky because the man who worked for Washington in the Czech Republic left for Las Vegas and a vacancy occurred. The second season I was with the team, we managed to win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals are a highly professional team that draws young players.”
You played 417 games in the NHL and scored 267 points, how do you look back on the years?
“I had a good career. A knee injury prevented me from being better. It was difficult for me to assert myself because I played abroad and did not get so many chances on the national team. I went overseas at the age of twenty-five.
It was a completely different time than today, at that time the NHL did not want Europeans and it was difficult to make a name for themselves. There were only 21 teams in the NHL. It was a chore, the more I appreciate what I achieved. I’m glad I made the difficult decision to immigrate. If I sat at home with the communists, I would regret it today. Sounds great when I think I was an NHL player. ”
To this day, it is said that Peter Šťastný was the second best player in the NHL in the 1980s. How do you remember his years in profile that you could see directly as an opponent of his Quebec Nordiques?
“Yes, Peter was the second best player of that era after the legendary Wayne Gretzky. He was a superstar with everything that goes with it. He came to Quebec and made the brothers from the Nordiques, who were one of the worst teams in the NHL, one of the best. It was amazing to see how they were able to control the game and the puck in the game five on five and on the power play. ”
Not only the Šťastný brothers, but Peter Ihnačák also experienced a dramatic migration to Canada. He has worked in the NHL since 1982, later played with his younger brother Miroslav, and his son Brian, who did not succeed in the end, was also waiting for a chance. Peter escaped to Canada via Finland during the 1982 World Cup.
“The communists did not want to let me on the national team, but the legendary coach Luděk Bukač pushed for it. He also took me to Prague, where I played for Sparta. He trusted me on the national team when I played on the attack with Igor Lib and Vince Lukáč. We created one of the best attacks at the famous Russian tournament Izvestia. I was not taken to Finland for the next tournament, but the center did not play well there, so after returning they told me that I would go to the championship. I immediately called my brother Jan, who already lived in Canada, that I did not want to return to Czechoslovakia.
I was lucky because the situation was tense. Under normal circumstances, Finland did not receive asylum seekers and returned people to their home countries. The brother bought tickets for the ship. If they checked their passports, I didn’t have a chance to leave because I didn’t have a visa to Sweden. Fortunately, they only checked our tickets. I managed to get off the ship,” the 60-year-old native of Poprad explained.
You can read the entire interview here.
By Tomáš Prokop