Petr Sykora played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk this past season
By Lucas Aykroyd
Sometimes, success in your career is all about timing. Czech forward Petr Sykora has done nicely for himself in the NHL, racking up 461 career points with New Jersey and Anaheim and adding a 2000 Stanley Cup ring with the Devils. But the Plzen native's timing hasn't been quite as good in international hockey, at least not since he played for the squad that won the 1999 IIHF World Championship in Norway. He made the 2002 Czech Olympic team, but there was no repeat of the Nagano gold. When Robert Lang withdrew from the Czech roster for the 2004 World Cup, Sykora was named as his replacement and registered one assist in three games, as the Czechs lost to Canada in the semi-finals. In Austria, will Sykora display the kind of offensive potency that first bolstered his reputation in his New Jersey days? His campaign of 18 goals and 31 points with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Superleague in 2004-05 is a positive indication, as is the 2-0 goal he tallied in the Czech win over Germany on May 3. IHWC.NET's Lucas Aykroyd tracked Sykora down after Wednesday's Czech practice at the Wiener Stadthalle.
IHWC.NET: How did you feel about the way your team played against Germany last night?
Petr Sykora: Well, you know, it was very hard to play out there. The ice is not that good. I guess everybody knows that. And it's very hot out there. So you're not going to see a lot of nice goals. Germany always stays back and play a hard, tough game against us, just waiting for their breaks. I'm very happy with the way we played. We may not have scored a lot of goals, but we are playing very smart hockey, not giving up a lot of chances. I don't think we should worry about scoring, because we know we have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net. If you win 1-0 or 2-0, it doesn't matter. You've still got the two points.
IHWC.NET: What was your opinion of the slash on Jagr?
Sykora: [holding up bare, reddish-looking left hand] Look at my hands. I've got slashes all over them too. This is the way it is. This is modern hockey. I think they should call it a lot more, because guys are getting hurt. For hockey, you want to see the best players play. You don't want to see them get hurt. The fans come to the World Championships to see Jagr. To me, they should really watch it more.
IHWC.NET: Did your season prepare you well for this tournament?
Sykora: Well, I was pretty happy with where I played in Russia, and I had a pretty good season. I really wanted to play for the Czech team here in Austria. I went to training camp and made the team. I'm getting a lot of chances but not scoring that much yet. Hopefully the puck will start to go in for me.
IHWC.NET: Is your team using the loss on home ice last year as a big motivational factor?
Sykora: You know, for us everything is going to come down to the quarter-finals on May 12. It just takes one game. Last year, I didn't play, but I watched it, and it came down to penalty shots. So we have to make sure we're ready. Whoever we play, this is the game of the year for the whole country, and we have to make sure we win it.
IHWC.NET: What do you think about bringing young players like Ales Hemsky into the national team?
Sykora: I think we have a really good mixture of players here. We have young players like Hemsky, whom I watched in the Czech playoffs. He was playing great. This is all about teamwork. These young guys have a lot of skill and I'm sure they're going to score some big goals for us. Hemsky had some good chances last night.
IHWC.NET: Last year, the Czech team beat Kazakhstan 7-0. How do you avoid overconfidence heading into Thursday's game against the Kazakhs?
Sykora: [laughs] I think we pretty much learned our lesson against Switzerland and Germany. There is no "easy team" here. We have to go out there, stay back, play well defensively, and just wait for our breaks. I think the positive thing about our game is that our power play is working. It got us a huge first goal in both previous games. So let's make sure we continue doing that.