This was supposed to be his time. The Capitals’ mainstay in goal, Braden Holtby, has moved on in free agency, leaving an open goaltender spot on the Capitals roster. He’s spent the last five years working his way up the organizational ladder, improving with each passing season, and was the backup netminder during the Capitals latest playoff appearance. He just needed a few more NHL games under his belt.
However, everything changed for Vitek Vanecek when the Capitals signed 38 year-old goaltending legend Henrik Lundqvist this offseason.
Vanecek is staying positive. For the first time in his career, he has a one-way contract, which will give him some financial security, whether he makes the Capitals team or is re-assigned to Hershey. He is also looking forward to fighting Lundqvist for playing time this upcoming training camp and season, and realizes the setback may be nothing more than temporary.
In the Czech Republic, as with others, your training on the ice was interrupted by government regulations (due to COVID-19). How long have you been home and what do you do during the forced break?
“I’ve been in the Czech Republic since dropping out on the playoffs with Washington. I tried to train when I could. As long as we could do something, I prepared with coach Aleš Pařez in the Prague gym. Once the government closed everything, I had the exercises ready at home and I try to do them as best I can.”
Like many other NHL players, you hoped that at home you would have quality facilities for training in the gym and in the arena.
“That’s right, everything turned around completely. At one point in America, we couldn’t train at all. Now we have it in the Czech Republic, while overseas everyone is preparing in peace. I just have no idea when I’ll go there, because the situation is uncertain and postponement of deadlines is the order of the day. If it were to begin and they ordered us to be quarantined, we would have to leave earlier so that we could spend the fortnight (in quarantine) and train again.”
At the same time, you are probably glad that you are at home. In the past, you complained that you didn’t like American cuisine. How do you stick with Czech food? Did you go to a healthy regiment?
“A healthier diet is extremely important when you can’t be on the ice and have nowhere to lose weight. But to tell you the truth, I’d rather fly to America and start working again. The wait is tedious.”
Henrik Lundqvist, the toughest opponent possible, is already waiting for you in Washington.
“I followed the development of the market and assumed that they would bring in Henrik. When they took him, they called me in advance so that I would not find out from the newspaper. It’s the best league in the world, so there must be security in the backup (position). I get it. I told myself that the Caps didn’t want to jump into the season with two young goalkeepers, even though I would go for it right away. The NHL is a priority for me. I’ll just try to break through. It won’t be an easy job, because Samsonov is still there. He had a good season and has had a few NHL games behind him.”
But for you, hope for a more permanent place in the NHL shone with the end of last season?
“They had a choice between me and Pheonix Copley. They chose me, which means they feel trust in me. They must have plans with me when they took me to the playoffs.”
At the same time, it looked like you were going to the first team. The arrival of Lundqvist did not solve your situation.
“You’re right, and I don’t know what they’re up to with him. Did he come to teach us, and they would test me and Samsonov? Hard to say. But I know how Washington’s salary cap is, and I don’t think there could be three goalkeepers on the same team. There are still many things that can happen. There may be a trade and everything will be different.”
Lundqvist is taking your job right now. But were you kind of happy to be on a team with a player from whom you can learn?
“It’s a fact that I no longer look at the stars like I did in the first year overseas. I’m done with that. I take Henrik like a normal guy. I know we’re going to fight each other now, but I’m looking forward to it. I realize that getting up will be difficult, which would be difficult even without it. But he’s 38, he has a lot of years in the NHL and has tremendous experience. During the camp I will watch him and watch his approach to training and what he does.”
Will you be calmer in the fight for positions at the Capitals with a one-way contract in your pocket?
“It will not be easy, because whenever I get sent to the farm in Hershey, I will be put on the waivers list (list of available players). I will fight, I will do everything. God forbid, some injuries can come to the camp and they will keep me on the team.“
Michal Kempný, who has been injured for a long time, will not come to the camp. Is it a big loss?
“Achilles tendon injuries can happen at any time, and that’s really annoying. You never know where your weakened body is. Then one wrong move is enough and a big inconvenience becomes what will take you out for a very long time. But Michal is a strong boy and he will get out of it.”
Are you generally more prone to injury now that you have a completely broken down regiment? By this time, you would be preparing differently and playing games.
“Hundred percent. We had nowhere to prepare, so we invented our own training. Even when the rules of the covid era were relaxed, we at least went to the gym. We mainly have a long break, which the organism is not used to. When we’re on the ice and the matches start, the body doesn’t have to take it and something can happen. I don’t even want to summon it.”