During late in free agency, Radim Vrbata signed a one year deal with the Arizona Coyotes. Why? Because it feels like home.
Radim Vrbata is currently leading the team in goals with six and is two points behind Max Domi for total points. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The talented 35 year old right winger has always been someone to look to for goals. Now that he is back with Martin Hanzal and Domi, Vrbata could boost the Coyotes’ need for scoring. He’s done it before, and will probably do it again.
When I sat down with him earlier this week, we talked about how to pronounce his name, learning English, a little about the Czech Republic and why he loves Arizona so much.
(Ed. Note: The syntax of the interview was transcribed verbatim. Please remember, as mentioned before, Radim is not a native English speaker.)
Five For Howling: There has been a lot of debate on how you pronounce your name...
Radim Vrbata: *laughs*
FFH: Because Sportsnet says it a completely different way, and when they interviewed you, you sort of had that ‘no’ look on your face. How do you say your name Americanized and how do you say it at home.
RV: Americanized is whatever works for the person saying it. How you feel comfortable saying it. In Czech it’s Radim Vrbata (audio clip found here). It’s a little harder for people to say the right way here.
FFH: I figured with all of the Czechs it’s just a little bit different. A bit of a strange question but what are we calling the Czech Republic now-
RV: It’s Czech Republic, it used to be Czechoslovakia.
FFH: We’ve heard that they’re trying to change the name to Czechia…
FFH: That seems to be the reaction to that.
RV: I think the government did it.
FFH: But no one else is calling it that?
RV: I think we’re all saying Czech (Republic).
FFH: And what city are you from?
RV: Mladá Boleslav, it’s about half an hour north from Prague. If you would watch Tour De France or world championships, you would have the logo Skoda, that car company is in my town.
FFH: Was it your goal, initially, to play in the NHL? Because it didn’t become the Czech Republic until 1991, and you were born when it was still under Soviet rule.
RV: I think early on people were just playing hockey. You had no idea what level you want to be you just want to play. And Then you said 91-92… well 88 actually there was the revolution (The Velvet Revolution), so it was more information on the NHL. 91-92 Pittsburgh won where Jagr was already on that time. I just kind of, you know… everybody-
FFH: It opened the doors...
RV: it opened the doors. You find out through hockey cards, more highlights on tv what the NHL is. Everybody Back then it was hoping to play in the NHL. When I look back now there were so many kids who wanted to play here in the NHL but only few can.
FFH: There were a lot of Czech players coming over, but it’s ebbed.
RV: It’s was better. The most we had was around when I was starting 15 years ago. 98 the Czechs won Nagano and we were winning World Championships and World Juniors and things like that. That’s when we had the most Czechs in the NHL now it’s going down.
FFH: I think people’s Marty’s age and under are starting to not. There’s a few in the mid range but...
RV: In Europe sometimes the Czechs are on top, the Sweden, Finland.
FFH: I think we’re in the Finn Cycle.
RV: We’re going down now, for sure.
FFH: Did you learn English when you were in the Q or the NHL, on the fly? Or did you know some before you came over?
RV: In Czech we had English and German classes in school. But you learn until you get to Canada or US and you start speaking the language. It took me half a season, in my first year of junior just to… I would understand but I was too shy to talk, and I didn’t want to make mistakes. After Christmas, after New Years, that’s when I felt comfortable talking.
FFH: When you came from Chicago to Arizona the first time. You’re going from a city the is cold and snowing on a lake, to a place that’s 75*F in the middle of the winter. Was that kind of a shock when you first-
RV: The funny thing is I never thought I could play in good weather. Every time we would go to Florida, even Phoenix. I thought it was nice but it’s like vacation. But you know, that first year, fell in love with it. And I would never ever change now.
FFH: You’ve consistently come back. Is it because it feels like home, you love the atmosphere, you love the team, is it that sort of thing?
RV: I like the atmosphere, the people around the team. Not just coaches or players but the trainers, the media people, the PR people. It’s a good feeling when you come to the rink.
FFH: It’s really nice to see that the organization is a big family.
RV: Especially those years with the ownership situation, and the move talk. Having it around everyday brought everyone that much closer. It’s a good atmosphere around the team.
FFH: You’ve moved around a lot, how difficult is it to travel with three children with three different places of birth?
RV: It’s challenging, it’s just the one day. You just need to get through the airport. It makes for a funny story but it’s easier now.
FFH: Finally, do you celebrate Name Day with your children?
RV: Yes we do. In the Czech everyone does. I can’t remember what theirs are...
FFH: It’s an interesting thing-
RV: On the Calendar each name is assigned a day, it’s like little birthdays. Good for kids, because they get one extra present.
FFH: Thank you so much, that’s all I have. Very nice to meet you.
RV: You’re welcome.
Vrbata was nothing but smiles and laughter during our interview. I can see why a lot of players love having him around. He’s a good soul and very calming. Even if this is his last season with the Coyotes, Vrbata is going to make an impact, and has with this hockey blogger.