Of all the new faces on the Washington Capitals this season, none is more experienced — and perhaps none more under the microscope — than 35-year old netminder Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun has toiled his entire career 13-year NHL career for bottom-dwelling teams, first during the infancy of the Nashville Predators, then the last several lost seasons for the Florida Panthers. Yet, he has consistently been one of the better goalies in the league in terms of save percentage and goal against average yearly, despite playing for teams that have made the playoffs just twice during his tenure.
Vokoun famously signed a one-year deal for about one quarter of the market price for starting goalies to have a chance to play for the Capitals, citing the opportunity to play for the sport’s Holy Grail as the motivating factor.
After the Caps’ first training camp practice Saturday, Vokoun met the D.C. media for the first time and gave a really in-depth interview about all sorts of aspects about his transition, his relationship with countryman and fellow goalie Michal Neuvirth, his preparation for the season and what his expectations are for the upcoming season, both for the team and his own personal goals.
How did your first practice with your new teammates go?
“It felt good. I’d say it was a little bit harder than it usually is. I travelled [Friday] all day, but I felt good, it was a good up-tempo practice and thankfully for us — wasn’t overly hard so it felt good. Nice to kinda slowly break in and you don’t want to first day, you don’t want to pull something that’ll set you back longer. You want to go in and work hard, but it wasn’t too bad.”
What do you expect your workload to be this season?
“You know what, that’s coach’s decision and I never want to, in my career, include myself in those decisions. Coach always make the decision who’s gonna play and whoever that is that’s obviously his job. For me it’s to prepare for every game because quite frankly, you never know. You may not think you’re gonna play and end up playing and vice versa. But like I said, it was never made, those decisions myself, and I’m not expecting anything in that department to change this year.”
Have you had a chance to sit down with coaches Dave Prior and Olie Kolzig yet?
“I talked to Dave quite a bit when he was in Czech. We sit for a good three hours. Right before I left, last week when I was [in D.C.], we talked a little bit. It’s a long season. I think we’re gonna have lots of time we can spend together. I always enjoy working with people. For every goalie coach I play for there’s a little bit different mindsets on how things are supposed to be done. It’s good to learn and listen to other people on what they have to say. That’s how you learn new stuff and hopefully improve your game. For me, at my age I’m kind of on the baseline of what to do but you always need many hands and it’s good to have a guy that has so much experience and been around this team so long. He knows a lot of stuff. I’m just gonna kind of slowly find out.”
Does your preparation change at all going from a bad team to a favorite?
“Actually, not at all. I played in international competition when I play on teams where we’re considered favorites, and I played in the Olympics, things like that. So, for me, it doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter who is in front of you, my job is to stop the puck. That never changes. But obviously both are different things, there are different challenges you have to face. As a goalie in the NHL, you have to be able to deal with all of them. So for me [the preparation] doesn’t change. Definitely not in the preparation. My preparation doens’t change if it’s a pre-season game to playoff game. At least for myself, I play every game I want to win. Obviously, it’s not possible, but you prepare that way and and I say last ten years I’ve been preparing the same way for every game. So I don’t think anything will change for me.”
What’s your relationship with Michal Neuvirth? Is it difficult or a benefit that he’s a countryman and that he looked up to you growing up?
“People think it’s something but it’s not. It’s a little bit different because there’s always gonna be things people gonna say in the paper back home and stuff like that, something I’m not worried about. I have a great relationship with my teammates and I alyaws did, even with all the goalies I played with. I keep relationships going with basically every guy I played with as a goalie. We call each other and stuff like that. I’m really easy-going. Michal said a lot of nice things about me, and that’s totally appreciated. But everybody understands that it’s a performance-based business and a competition. But I’ve been around long enough to be able to deal with that. Hopefully I can learn something from him, he can learn something from me and we just try to make each other better. Every year, it sounds like a cliche, but it’s true, because if you stay the way you were a few years back you wouldn’t be in the league anymore. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Is the pressure different playing on a team that’s expected to go deep in the playoffs?
“It’s gonna be, for me, hopefully, I’m gonna have the chance, which I didn’t have the last few years, to sit in that crease some games and you know, that score is 4-1 or 5-1 and I don’t have to worry every minute of every game. If it’s 1-1 or 2-1, every mistake you make people tell you ‘Oh, [you] give up bad goal and we lost’. You know, it’s kinda hard when every game is like that. Once in a while you’re gonna give up bad goal. I think we have a great team we have a chance to have… hopefully we’re going into the season, these 82 games, to build a good foundation to do what we want to do and go far in the playoffs and I think nobody here is setting up goals in the regular season. The messages was pretty clear over the summer. Obviously, the games are played on the ice, but what happened in the summer I think makes a great team even a little [more] improved from that, so it’s up to us players to perform up to our abilities and hopefully it’s gonna be enough to do what we want to do.”
Does it help that there are players here alreayd that you’ve been teammates with?
“I played with Dennis, I play with Roman [Hamrlik] for long years on the national team. I played against Alex [Ovechkin] many times being in the same division and against Russia and he always makes it competitive.”
Why did you sign a one-year deal to come to Washington?
"For me, this is a chance I basically never had in my career. And you never know, you may not get another one. So I’m gonna do everything I can to take advantage and not to waste it. I’m glad I’ve got the chance to play for team like this. I’m at the point in my career that I didn’t even think it would be possible anymore. So hopefully it’s a refreshing thing for me and definitely through the summer I take the preparation real seriously and came here hopefully ready and start working to the goal to help this team. And whatever that means, that’s gonna be determined, but like I said, hockey’s a team sport and you need all kinds of different people with all kinds of different [roles] on the team. When they tell me to play, I’m gonna go on the ice and gonna play the best that I can.”