Martin Straka saying goodbye to his career in 2014 in a hug with Jaromír Jágr.Source: Diary/Vlastimil Leška
When your partner from the NHL and the national team Jaromír Jágr celebrated in February, did you realize that it was coming?
At all. We were at the Olympics with the boy, we filmed some spots for Džegro there. But we didn’t think about each other. It doesn’t happen to me even today. (smile) It’s just a number. If the journalists hadn’t contacted me, I wouldn’t have even remembered it. I have no time.
Even your body doesn’t tell you to slow down, the years add up?
Also not. But I keep it up and down. Sometimes something hurts, other times I feel fine. No matter if I’m forty or fifty. And I have the advantage of being surrounded by young guys in the team, and you always feel young. It would probably be different if I were in the fifty-plus group.
In addition, you have two young daughters at home.
The older one is eighteen and the younger one will soon be fourteen. (smile). Well, brother Michal, who lives next door, is similar. I am among children and young people, I perceive it through this lens.
Martin Straka with the championship cup.Source: Deník/Milan Říský
At the age of forty, you scored a historic title for Pilsen in the seventh final in Zlín. And suddenly another ten years are gone. What were they like?
Everything evolves somehow. The last few years have been a difficult time. In general, not only for hockey. First covid, now the terrible things in Ukraine. It’s no joke what society has to deal with. We have to learn to live with it.
Hockey has also moved, do you perceive it differently?
As you move through it, you always need to improve. Follow trends. They skate a lot and everything is athletic, faster. Even the training methods are different. But I stick to the old wisdom – if you can go for it and give it your all, you’ll move on. That will always be true.
It’s because you, too, have had to overcome obstacles since childhood, to follow your will.
That’s it. I didn’t have an artistic path. And there will be obstacles in sports, just like in life. You still have something to overcome. Injuries, defeats. You have to give your best to achieve something.
Don’t the passing years lead you to believe that hockey was better for you and nicer for the spectators?
Every era has its own. When I look at Nagano today and see the fouls, hockey was sumo back then. Axes, hooking, and no one thought it was weird. Then power started to be excluded, the game was more technical, a lot of combinations, thoughts. Today it’s up and down, everyone is flying. Even in the NHL, there is not so much physical play anymore. It’s so mixed up that you don’t know who is the defender and who is the attacker. Hockey has changed.
What makes you happy besides hockey?
Before, I always had to do something, think about where to go, where to go. But today, I prefer to relax at home. I work out or pedal my bike and that’s it. Rather than going out for dinner after a whole day at work, I’d rather have a drink at home and have peace of mind.
What vices? Sometimes you light a cigarette, right?
It’s been about ten, eleven years since I started. I’ve tried to get rid of it several times, but somehow it doesn’t work. Again, I practically don’t drink alcohol and I go to bed at ten thirty. I always laughed at my dad when he was watching TV and I told him: Go lie down, you’re snoring here on the couch. I have the same thing today. And I get up at six. There were times when I fell asleep at one in the morning and was up until eight.
You’ve been used to the training drill for years. How do you keep fit now?
I pedal at home on an exercise bike or on a treadmill in the gym. I go golfing, but there was no time for that either. But I like golf.
What about hockey gear? Will you ever pull her out?
At all! But I go to the ice with the team when there is training. When it’s possible. Lightly, I skate, but mostly I just stand (smile).
Martin Straka (left) together with sports manager Tomáš Vlasák poses in the club’s fan shop with a small fan.Source: Diary/Zdeněk Vaiz
Your protégé David Jiříček is about to take a chance in the NHL at the age of eighteen. You were not yet twenty when you packed up in Pilsen and flew across the ocean. Can it be compared?
Absolutely no. Those guys have it different today. I had been to West Germany once before. They have already traveled the world. David has been to Columbus, who drafted him, maybe four times. I flew to America without knowing English, nowadays the boys at school somehow know the language. We couldn’t go out because of the regime. The freedom of travel and their possibilities are incomparable.
At the time, you described how you didn’t understand that something like an ATM could give you money on the street.
Well, sure, that’s how it was! First I flew to Edmonton. We had an agent there, we were there for a month and a half. Me, Ríša Šmehlík, Robert Petrovický, Milan Hnilička. We were supposed to learn English, but we didn’t learn anything because we kept chatting in Czech to each other. So I spent the twenties in Edmonton, and in mid-September I moved to a camp in Pittsburgh.
You mentioned father. It’s been a few years since he left…
My parents didn’t live to see me in their fifties, which makes me sad. First dad, recently mom also left. Even Jarda Zavoral, the cousin, is no longer here. I won’t change it, that’s just life. But when we don’t do well at the club, I immediately think of what dad would say. He would give it to me. I can totally hear the announcements, let’s go somewhere and let’s do something about it.
With all due respect, it must be difficult for your loved ones to come up with a gift for you.
I tell everyone, I don’t want anything. I don’t want to sound stupid, but I feel like I have everything. Someone likes to buy a jet, an exclusive car. I have what I want and need. I like to have a good meal, but I don’t think of stupid things. I think I’m an ordinary boy who was raised decently by my parents. I have no unnecessary needs.
Is there really no gift that would make you happy?
If only the madness in the world would end. That would make me the happiest. Let the covid disappear, the war will end, the economy will level off. But that difficult time has only just begun, we are at the beginning. It affects hockey, but also the whole society.
What about a life dream? To look into inaccessible places, to conquer eight thousand?
Not at all. I have hockey, and that’s my life.
Are you still fulfilled by the job of manager, club owner? Dealing with people, finding sponsors.
There are better and worse moments. One must fight and work. You can either feel sorry, make excuses and complain, or grit your teeth and struggle. Especially in these difficult times. We have tough opponents. Now I don’t mean, for example, soccer Viktorka because of sponsors, but extraleague competition. There are clubs with whom it is difficult to compete financially. But we have to fight.
There has been a lot of speculation, but was there ever a moment when you seriously considered selling the club?
It was always bullshit. People were interpreting who was running around here, who already had a stake. And I never even discussed this topic with anyone. Today I say to those people: Oh, he wants to buy the club? Ok, so bring him here so he can stop and I’ll be happy to have fun with him. And never anything. Of course, it would be interesting if someone wanted to help, bring some capital. I don’t have a problem with it, but no one has stopped yet…
You will complain that Viktoria has now earned almost half a billion by advancing to the Champions League, but in hockey something like that is not possible?
That’s just the way it is. We all know that and it won’t change. So there’s no point in complaining because it won’t be any other way. And again. You can cry or take it as reality.
You also combined hockey with football in your childhood. Why did he win hockey?
Dad played football. In Town Halls, at the regional level. Well, at least that’s what he said, that he also played in the regional championship. And he led us to football and hockey with my brother. Then he said, everyone can play football, but not everyone can learn to skate and play hockey. That’s why I gravitated more towards hockey. And the brother was a role model. We had a great group at the housing estate in Skvrňany. We played sports among the block of flats, they did everything and I tried to match the older ones.
You wanted to win. Does this still apply? Is the visibility of the title the driving force for you?
Certainly. Nobody wants to play twelfth. That wouldn’t be fun for me, the players, and certainly not the viewers. After all, the goal and meaning of sport is success. Everyone wants it, but you have to earn it.
We are looking forward to Bolzano, forward Kodýtek reports
Born: September 3, 1972 in Pilsen
State: married, two daughters
Position: the owner and general manager of the HC Škoda Plzeň team, a former striker, is also involved in the hotel industry
Career – Player: Pilsen (1990-92, 1994-95, 2004/05, 2008-2014), Pittsburgh (1992-94, 1998-04), Ottawa (1995-96), NY Islanders (1995/96), Florida (1996-97 ), Los Angeles (2003/04), NY Rangers (2005-08), coach: Pilsen (2015–2018), assistant with the national team (2020–2022)
NHL: 954 games, 257 goals + 460 assists, playoffs: 106 games, 26 + 44
representation: 76 games, 25 goals
Czechoslovak Extra League: 98 games, 34 goals + 55 assists, playoffs: 14 games, 4 + 4
Czech Extra League: 299 games, 114 goals + 198 assists, playoffs: 59 games, 23 + 40.
Greatest achievements: 1998: Olympic Champion, Nagano, 2005: world champion, Vienna, 2013: extraliga champion 2006: bronze from the Turin Olympics, 3 times best extraliga player (2009-11)
Career moments associated with Pilsen
– the first match in the highest competition (then Czechoslovak) in the 1989/90 season
– in the 1991/92 season he won silver with Pilsen, in the final the team lost to Trenčín (including Pálffy, Švehla, Holaň, Nedoma, Modrý, Petrovický)
– goal at 59:59: the fifth semi-final of 2009 in Prague with Slavia – in the last second he equalized at 5:5, but Pilsen eventually lost the battle after raids
– the most famous goal after returning to the extra league: 2013 final, second extra time in Zlín, decided the title
– balance of reign since 2008: championship title (2013), 4 x bronze (2012, 2016, 2018, 2019), winner of the regular part (2010).