Hero from Klimkovice
Hero from Klimkovice
Vladimir Vujtek about Jaromir Jagr and Yaroslavl
In 2012, Vladimir Vujtek was the coach of the Slovak national team, which reached the semi-final of the World Championship against Czech Republic. The Czech press went to the village of Klimkovice, the birthplace of Vujtek, 20 km from Ostrava. They asked the locals: “Who will you support?”
“Pan Vladimir!” they all answered.
Slovakia won 3-1.
Now Vujtek is coaching the Czech national team. However, he says that the most memorable tournament was that one from 2012.
“It was my first World Championship as head coach. Slovakia had not seen any medal for 10 years. We unexpectedly won the silver, even though many did not believe in the team.
“We had a wonderful quarter-final against Canada (4-3). Then we defeated the Czech Republic and deservedly reached the final. However, we could do nothing against the strong Russian team.
It was a great start, Zdeno Chara scored after 66 seconds. But then, Alexander Syomin scored twice, Yevgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk scored. The Slovaks did not have so many stars. Swe were not able not compete with Russia.”
About his village Vujtek told us that the people in Klimkovice were all his friends. Sometimes, he would invite a large company of them in the restaurant. Vujtek can still milk a cow and chop firewood. He built a new house there. He feels uncomfortable in big cities.
Vujtek won two Russian championships with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (2002, 2003). When he was forced to resign in 2004, Vujtek said he would not work with any Czech club, it would either be a Russian team, or he would end his career. But he had one dream: to coach the national team of his home country.
But then he had problems with his health, his heart. Vujtek was under medication but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to live without hockey. He needed the challenge as a coach like air.
He worked for Ak Bars Kazan, Dynamo Moscow and the Slovak national team.
“We are capable of winning a medal at the World Championship in Moscow,” explains Vujtek. “I will not say which one. But we can do it. It is very important to me. I have decided that it is my last season. I would really want to end my career with a medal.”
Vujtek said he was leaving hockey several times. Like when he left the Slovak national team last year. He always came back. He is 68 now.
“I never expected an invitation for the Czech national team since the coach, Vladimir Ruzicka, had a contract. Then some problem occurred. He left and they called me. This had always been my dream. I thought about it and continued my career. I came back for one year.”
We wonder, will Slovakia now support Vujtek like the village of Klimkovice?
“There was tough competition between the Slovaks and the Czechs in 1993, when the CSSR dissolved. It’s not there anymore. Now there are friendly ties between Slovaks and Czechs. But of course, not on the hockey rink,” says Vujtek.
Vujtek says that it is important for the Czech national team to get some NHL players. “Although we do not have as many players overseas as Russia or Sweden. And many of them will be at the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
And about the biggest star.
Jaromir Jagr has already announced that he will no longer play for the national team. But is there even a slim chance of seeing the «great 68» at the World Championship in Russia, where he played for four years at «Avangard»?
“There is always a possibility. Because Jaromir has changed his decisions many times before. Just like me,” Vujtek says with a smile. “He always came to help the nation.”
What is the secret of Jagr? He is 44, he has played over 1600 games in the NHL, but still plays as if he is young.
“Jaromir can play in the NHL till 50. Forwards like him are born once every 20 years. He is a phenomenon. He dedicates his whole life to his favourite game. He has not yet married. He is used to his schedule and his training sessions. He gives 100 per cent to hockey. That is why he keeps an ideal shape.”
Jagr trains at night. He puts on a flak jacket, weights to his feet and stick and skates with a load of 20 kg.
“This is unique,” agrees Vujtek. “But Jaromir is used to such training. Every day he thinks about how to improve.”
Last year Jagr amazed the coach the most.
“Everyone got the fact that Jaromir is not the boy who played with Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh. But he fought well for the team. Six goals and nine points in ten games. However, what is important is not the statistics but the passion for the game,” Vujtek says.
“There are some promising names in the NHL, David Pastrnak from Boston. A good player, who will help us,” Vujtek says. “There are interesting guys in the KHL. For example Tomas Kundratek from Slovan, Michal Kempny from Avangard. They are at a new level and might become leaders in the Czech national team.”
Vujtek is not considered as an international coach in Russia anymore. When fans think about a foreigner who brought his team to the title of champion, they only name Canadian Mike Keenan from Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
He speaks Russian like he’s one of them by the fans.
“I am very pleased that I am remembered as such,” Vujtek says with a smile. “I feel at home in Russia – a nice and beautiful country. I love coming to Yaroslavl. I started my Russian career there, when I came from Trinec. I feel very comfortable there.”
But Vujtek saddens when he remembers 7th September 2011. A dark day when Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s plane crashed.
“This is the worst tragedy in my life. There were many of my friends on that plane. I knew their families. We visited each other like neighbours. It is difficult not to remember it without tears.
Over the last four months, Vujtek three times defeated the Russian national team. But that has not changed the feeling of the fans – pan Vladimir is loved in Czech Republic as well as in Russia.
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