The one and only Peter Bondra
The debate – to the degree there ever was any except in Mike Milbury’s mind – is over. Alexander Ovechkin has established himself as one of the greatest NHL players of all time, and we here in DC are lucky to have a ring-side seat to history. Years, decades even, from now, people will speak about this moment in the same way old-timers now talk about Gordie Howe, Stan Mikita or Wayne Gretzky.
Bondra salutes Ovechkin (courtesy RMNB)
Yet not so long ago, in the days before Ovechkin, it was hard to imagine that anyone could ever surpass the sheer scoar-moar-goalsiness of Peter Bondra. Bonzai dazzled DC for more than a decade, although it was ultimately in Chicago as a Blackhawk that he scored his 500th career goal, joining former Hawks Bobby Hull, Michel Goulet and the great Stan Mikita.
Bondra and Mikita share something else: they’re both two of the many great Slovak players to earn their way in the NHL. It should surprise exactly no-one that hockey is the national game in the Slovak Republic, just as in the other great European hockey powers, which helps explain how such a small nation can turn out so many talented players.
Recently, as part of our conversations with Ambassadors from the great hockey nations serving in the U.S., we had the good fortune to spend some time with His Excellency Peter Kmec, the Slovak Ambassador to the U.S., as well as Marek Skovajsa, president of Metropolitan Engineering/Shapiro-O’Brien, a DC-based engineering services firm, to hear their thoughts about Slovak players, the importance of hockey in culture, and efforts underway to encourage more youth to join the sport.
What role does hockey play in Slovakia?
Hockey is our national tradition, part of our national identity. Central and northern Europe are into two types of sports: hockey and soccer. As you’ve noticed, we clearly excel when it comes to hockey; a number of the players are genuine national heroes.
Amb. Kmec meeting with President Obama (Slovak embassy)
How closely do they watch the NHL?
The NHL is the best league in the world, and of course any Slovak ice hockey fan watches the games very closely, especially those teams that have Slovak hockey players. It used to be much broader now that the number has diminished a little bit, but we’ve got new faces, especially on the Red Wings. We watch the games, we talk about them in the media, it’s very closely watched.
Do you follow any specific players or teams here?
We definitely very much focus on the teams where Slovak players perform. Marián Hossa with the Blackhawks, where Mikita played before him, and we watch Marián Gáborík with the the Kings pretty closely. Then there’s two rising stars with the Red Wings – Tomáš Tatar and Tomáš Jurčo, they’re great. Slovaks have a good combination of technical skills and strong determination, real physical play. It’s a combination of what’s sometimes called the Soviet school and the US style of ice hockey. Bondra had that, and so does the great Zdeno Chara.
Of course, Mr. Ambassador, while we still love Bondra here in DC, not so much Chara…
Ah, but you don’t hate him as much as the Canadiens do…