Washington Capitals free-agent defenseman Radko Gudas has returned to his home country of the Czech Republic. Prior to departing for bubble life in North America, Gudas voiced his concerns about playing hockey in the midst of a global pandemic. Gudas said: “It’s a little sad that league bosses are willing to risk the health of so many players because of the money…Without spectators, the magic of hockey is lost.”
However, the experience seems to have pleasantly surprised the free-agent defender, as Gudas described in an interview for MF DNES and iDNES.cz.
“At first it seemed like a step into the unknown. The two-week quarantine in Washington was unpleasant, but then everything improved. We got together in the camp, the preparations got a charge. We believed it made sense. It was weird to meet like this in the summer, but I enjoyed spending time with the team.”
Gudas felt the team came together prior to departing for Toronto, and felt the team was committed to the goal of winning a second Stanley Cup.
“In the room, we said, “Okay, guys. If we want to win, we have to sacrifice everything. I was pleasantly surprised by how disciplined everyone in the NHL was and how healthy everyone was who flew into the bubble. It can be seen that the boys really wanted to play hockey. Hats off as everyone was pulling on one rope.”
Gudas, who voiced his concerns about playing hockey during the COVID-19 pandemic prior to returning to North America, was impressed by the overall quality of the bubble life in Toronto.
“We welcomed the fact that we could leave the hotel for the football stadium, about 150 meters away. We expected harsh conditions, but they did what they could for us. On days off we went to play soccer or tennis, in which I improved quite a bit. I played with Jakub Vrána, Michal Kempný and Martin Fehérváry.”
Gudas noted that he spent most of his free time with the Capitals Czech-Slovak gang.
“One hundred percent. We also spent a lot of time with Ríchard Pánik and Vítek Vaněček since the quarantine, we lived on one floor…There were two restaurants in the hotel. Sometimes we had food transported from outside. We met at a Czech party once for goulash, which was funny.”
Gudas and the Capitals stayed in the same hotel as two of Gudas’ previous teams. He was asked if he ran into any of his former teammates.
“Yes. We lived in the hotel with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers. Everywhere I went, someone I knew was looking at me. Until the others made fun of me. I was always pleased when the boys smiled at me and wanted to talk. We also managed a Czech-Slovak meeting. Before the first games began, we met on the roof of the hotel, where there is a swimming pool. We had a few beers before we started concentrating on team tasks. It was great to see so many of our boys together.”
Gudas noted that he found it difficult to get away from the game of hockey while living inside the bubble.
“It was impossible to hide from hockey. We’re used to coming home and escaping from it for a while. When I stumbled upon someone other than a hockey player in Toronto, it was a television commentator or a club official. Not that it couldn’t be sustained after the spring break. But I missed the escape from working with my family. It’s true that I hung out on FaceTime for more than an hour a day. I had fun with my wife or friends who knew my situation.”
Gudas also shed some light on the team’s dynamics and the state of the team after being eliminated by the New York Islanders in the first round.
“That’s not how we imagined the playoffs at all. Until Christmas we were the best in the league. Even though we slowed down a bit then, we still had a very strong team. But the Islanders prepared well for us. The goalkeeper played well. It was very difficult to push through. We’re sorry we’re done so soon.”
He was also asked about the actions of Alex Ovechkin and the leadership in the locker room.
“He tried to wake us up a few times in the room, he made speeches. He, Ilya Kovalchuk and goalkeeper Braden Holtby were our driving forces.”
Gudas was asked about the head and beard shaving, but declined to provide any additional information.
“It is probably not that difficult to interpret our actions. But we agreed not to talk about it. What happened in the room is to remain in the room.”
Gudas, who is now an unrestricted free agent, and previously stated that he didn’t think he would return to Washington next season, discussed being benched for a number of the playoffs games. He now seems to be taking a little more of positive approach.
“I didn’t take it inside very easily. Unfortunately, the coaches decided to do so. I do not intend to tell them anything through the media. I think I managed the camp and the preparatory games well. I did what I could. I even collected two points in two matches…We pulled on one rope. Whether I’m sitting or someone else is, I don’t want to look sour. On the contrary, I tried to bring positive energy to the practices and I waited for a chance. In game 3 against the Islanders, I started until the end of the series and proved that I still belong to the league.”
Gudas described the Capitals final night inside the bubble.
“The evening after the game, we sat down for a beer, because the next day we flew from Toronto to Washington. We talked and drank. We were sad that it ended so fast.”
Finally, Gudas was asked if he thought he would be returning to Washington.
“It’s still early. I’ll leave the negotiations to the agent. I don’t have any news yet. I don’t know if the Capitals will respond. I enjoyed playing for them. We will see what life brings. Anyway, I expect to continue in the NHL.”
You can read the entire interview here.