He spoke for Pravda for the first time about working in Omsk after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Hockey striker Peter Cehlárik left the KHL after a year. “That’s why I sacrificed a significant portion of my potential income.”
Photo: Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP / Profimedia
Peter Cehlárik was an assistant to Captain Marek Hrivík at the Beijing Olympics.
You have signed a two-year contract with the Swiss EV Zug. How was the deal with your new employer, the winner of the last two years of the National League, born?
I decided not to continue in the KHL and looked for opportunities in the two best competitions in Europe – Sweden and Switzerland. It looks like hockey players from Europe are moving from the KHL to these two leagues.
Did you have more offers on the table, or was Zug your only option?
On the contrary, I had two or three offers, and Zug was the last to speak. I was invited there for a few days, I saw them working, I looked at the training conditions and we agreed. If I didn’t go there, I had the opportunity to return to Leksand to see Marek Hrivík and continue the cooperation from the 2020/21 season. We did well, we had an excellent year, I know the local environment and the people in the club.
So why didn’t it work out?
I was given the environment, conditions and attitude of the people of Zug – if you don’t see it, you won’t believe it. I had interviews with the coach and the manager, they said what they expect from the cooperation. I realized where I can move in hockey in two years. So it came to me as the right choice. Well, until the last day, I decided between Leksand and Zug. It is also related to the quality of the Swiss league, which will definitely go up.
It will be more international, the highest competition will be extended by two teams and more foreigners can work in it.
Yes, they have expanded their quotas and from the new season there will be four to six foreign players instead. I had the opportunity to see for myself how the club works, and that convinced me. It’s a challenge – to try one of the best competitions in Europe and take advantage of the opportunities for hockey growth.
Will you earn in Switzerland about the same as in the KHL in the Avangard Omsk jersey?
The financial terms of my contract are significantly lower compared to Omsk. I had more lucrative offers from the KHL. Well, I decided that I no longer wanted to play there, so I sacrificed part of my possible income. But I am satisfied with the conditions of hockey in Europe and those in Switzerland.
After the Olympic Games, you returned to Omsk at the time of the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, and you haven’t talked about the Russian invasion since, why?
We agreed with Canadian Omsk coach Bob Hartley and other foreign teammates not to comment on the media and focus on hockey.
After the Russian invasion, foreigners began to leave the KHL en masse, the situation was unclear. How did you perceive these events?
Everyone had a different view of how to react in such a critical situation. The management of the club stood behind us – foreign players – and gave us guarantees that if the situation worsened, they would get us home safely. We focused on the sports side and wanted to finish the season. The issue of sport and politics has been in line in recent years. We made a sports decision.
Did it happen to you when it was all over and you could return to Slovakia?
Certainly yes. It was difficult to concentrate on the playoffs in the weeks after the Olympics. Although I was excited to win the Gagarin Cup. But those plans were disrupted by the conflict and it was clear that foreign teammates were not in their skins and often tackled outside of sporting events. Everyone struggled a bit, it couldn’t be ignored.
You announced at the beginning of your preparations for the World Cup that you would not take part in it. Was it also caused by the difficult period in Russia?
There were personal reasons for this, and I would not want to elaborate further.
Do you follow the performance of the national team at the World Cup in Finland?
More attentive to the last four matches of the basic group. From the beginning, I saw the frustration of some players, it didn’t come as positive energy as it should. But I’m really glad that the guys were on the right wave against Italy and Denmark.
Did you expect the most offensive performance to be shown in the group’s key match against Denmark?
The battle with Italy has already indicated an improvement and it is admirable how they managed the battle with Denmark under pressure. I believe it will help the team before the quarterfinals. We didn’t make the first two meetings at the Olympics either, and it didn’t look rosy with us. But in the next duels we got caught and had something to build on. I believe that this will happen again in Finland.
It is the domestic national team that will be Slovakia’s quarterfinal opponent. You played against her less than three months ago in Beijing and it was a close loss of 0: 2, with the second goal falling after the goalkeeper’s appeal.
I will keep that semi-final match in mind for a long time to come. The Finns play incredibly patiently and disciplinedly and it is very difficult to stay in the game for 60 minutes. The key to dueling against Finland is who will score the first goal. You need to have a good start to the match. Finland has its perfect system, which is not attractive to fans, but brings results. Perhaps the boys will now be able to break it and perform another unforgettable performance.
Both teams will play their seventh match in 13 days. Can a selection full of young players be a Slovak advantage?
It certainly can, as the 20-year-old body regenerates much faster than in the thirties. Well, it must be said that the Finns do not make such a physical style and the team is age-balanced. But a low average age can help us. I already feel that recovery after matches takes me longer. And I’m still only 26 years old.
Who is most pleased with you in the selection of Craig Ramsay at the championship?
I like the performance of the whole team and when the guys pull one end of the rope. Of course, Juraj Slafkovsky should be highlighted especially for how he can move hockey. In half a year, he has made incredible progress and can see that his potential goes much further.
You are friends with Slafkovsky and you have trained regularly before this season. What can you tell him about it?
It is paramount to its growth that it is well set up and strives to learn every day, every training, every shift and improve. He has a confidence that I didn’t have at his age. In the past, maybe that’s why we had too much respect for our opponents. But these young guys, who are now showing up, are mentally completely different. Maybe they seem arrogant sometimes, but they’d rather be like that, they believe in all circumstances and we’ll see where they get it.
You started the World Cup for the first time at the age of 20, but there was a turbulent period at the hockey association. What is it that the situation is diametrically different today?
There are several changes behind this. In 2016, some things did not work there as they should. And when I returned to the national team after five years, the environment was much more lively. Especially in relation to younger players so that they can take a step forward. Today it is somewhere else.