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Translation: Libor Hajek discusses the Syracuse Crunch, the NHL, and the IIHF World Junior Championship

Translated from an article in Czech at iSport.cz.

NHL.com

Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Libor Hajek has been on leave from the Saskatoon Blades lately to play for the Czech national team at the IIHF World Junior Championship. This year is his first time playing at the tournament, where he has been deployed as a first-pairing defenseman alongside Vojtěch Budík. Journalist Pavel Bárta of iSport.cz caught up with Hajek in Buffalo to chat about his experiences at the WJC and how he feels about the Tampa Bay Lightning system.

If you use this translated text in any way, please credit iSport.cz and Igor Nokonov (@nikonov_igor) of Raw Charge.

Pavel Bárta: The game against Russia was probably a big injection of self-confidence. Do you agree?

Hajek: Defeating Russians is always an honor. They have a good team, so I’m happy. Victory has given us confidence; the Swedes are next. We’ll see. Definitely there will be less stress. We felt better at practice. Personally I can confirm that when the last game went okay, you feel better the next day and believe in yourself. I think it’s going to be a good game against Swedes too.

Bárta: Swedes are a very strong opponent, one of the favorites at this WJC. It will be a hard game…

Hajek: They have good defensemen, classic Swedes. It will be hard to push forward against them, but we also have good offensive players. We’ll see, I think it will be a balanced game.

Bárta: You could have played at the WJC a year ago, but you didn’t make it.

Hajek: It was a big disappointment. I thought that coaches knew me and would count on me, but I didn’t get a chance in the preliminary games. And then they told me that I didn’t make a good impression. At least I was at home for a few days and the next half of the season was successful for me. So I take it as a good experience.

Bárta: You played for Tampa Bay Lightning’s farm team at the end of the last season. You were with the team until the Calder Cup final. Was it a big motivation for you?

Hajek: It was a huge experience. I’ve learned a lot of things from coaches and assistants. Assistant Coach Stacey Roest, who works with young players, writes me almost every two weeks, asks me how it’s going. It’s really nice when you feel such support. This is the structure in Tampa, they want to prepare players from the junior leagues through the AHL. Especially Steve Yzerman, he is a perfectionist, everything must fit as it has to be, which is good. The whole team is based on that rule. [Nikita] Kucherov, [Ondrej] Palat, [Tyler] Johnson, they all went through this process.

Bárta: Yzerman supported you regarding the U-20 team last year…

Hajek: It was very nice. Yzerman is a very nice guy and great person. He goes to every practice, tells us something. Such a big personality.

Bárta: How far are you from the NHL debut?

Hajek: Hard to say. There are a lot of young guys, especially defensive players. [Slater] Koekkoek, [Mikhail] Sergachev are good ones. Czech guys helped me a lot. I played at the first exhibition game with Palat, and he laughed at me, asked me why I looked so nervous. Then I was paired with [Andrej] Sustr. He is a great defenseman, it was nice. My agent Patrik Stefan often criticizes me. He was at the game against Russia and then told me what I did wrong (Libor laughs).

Bárta: How is your relationship with Dominik Masin, who is basically your competitor?

Hajek: We don’t take it as a competition. We lived in the same room at the training camp. We are friends. When I was at Syracuse we were having meals at his place or going to the cinema together. He is a nice guy, I hope he will make the team. He had a great season and could get a chance.

Bárta: Otherwise, you are playing for a junior team in Saskatoon. What’s life there like?

Hajek: It’s a little bit monotonous, it’s in the middle of Canada. It was -35ºC, as I checked yesterday. So, -15ºC here in Buffalo feels warmer (Libor laughs). It’s not Tampa, where you can put on your shorts and shirt and go out.

Bárta: Are you watching Kometa Brno games, as a former player?

Hajek: Yes, I’m in touch with guys from the team like Martin Necas and also with coach assistant Jirka Horacek, he’s kind of my uncle. I keep up with all the information from the team.