HC VÍTKOVICE RIDERA finished eighth last season and are now aiming even higher for the upcoming season. As proof of their conviction, the team’s leadership managed to acquire the Extraleague superstar Peter Mueller, an American striker whose statistical record was second-to-none last year. Roman Šimíček, sports director of HC VÍTKOVICE RIDERA, talked to us about upcoming changes in the club and revealed the elite team’s plan for the upcoming season.
Preparations for the new Extraleague season are in full swing. What changed in the Vítkovice team? Will last year’s lineup make a reappearance?
Our goal is to push our performance and results to a level higher than what we had last season. We began intensified training of our lineup in January, starting with our coaches. We elected to keep Miloš Holaň and Radek Philipp as our trainers. Havel and Horyl will also continue to serve the roles of video coach and conditioning trainer, respectively. The progressive, yet experienced, Martin Faltera will now be our goalkeeper coach. We knew that we had a couple players signed, while for others, it was about exercising the option. This made negotiation simple, whether it came to goalkeeper Stezka, Lukáš Krenželok, Koch, Lindberg or younger players.
Who will not be moving forward with the team?
Mainly players whose contracts have ended and we have elected not to extend them. This includes defenders Plášil and Pedan, strikers Bondra, Flick, and Hruška, and goalkeeper Dolejš. Unfortunately, defender Alexei Solovjev will also not be joining us for the next season as his visa application was rejected due to his Russian citizenship. On behalf of the team, I would like to thank everyone and wish them good luck in their personal lives and hockey careers.
Unfortunately, the current team captain, Roman Polák, will also not be part of this year’s lineup. He decided to retire from his successful hockey career. How hard was it to accept this decision?
Sadly, that is how life goes in the hockey world. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that making this kind of decision, to end one’s career, is terribly difficult, and requires serious reasons. Roman had these reasons. He played over nine hundred matches in the NHL and two seasons with us. He was a captain, a leader. His performance towards the end of last season, when he participated in key matches despite having a broken leg, only served to prove his bond with the Vítkovice team, and all of us greatly appreciate him.
How about new additions to the Vítkovice lineup? Which new faces can we look forward to seeing donning the team’s jerseys?
First of all, I would like to mention that these are not my decisions alone. Patrik Rimmel, Aleš Pavlík—the owner of the club—and I discuss roster updates. We consult and evaluate all of our options together. We managed to sign the experienced defender Mikuš from Pardubice and a pair of Americans, Krieger, a striker, and Raskob, a defender. Daniel Krenželok, from Třinec, will also return to us. We will also be giving Puček, a new talent from Vsetín, a shot. Finally, our goalkeeping duo will be completed with the addition of Klimeš, from Brno.
You dropped a bombshell on your fans in early June. You acquired the American striker Peter Mueller—the best foreign player in Czech hockey…
We are ecstatic that we pulled this trade off! Aleš Pavlík, the club’s owner, played a substantial role in this endeavor, as he increased our budget to allow for it. Peter Mueller is the player to have for any team right now, and we managed to sign him! He collected over sixty points—fifty Canadian points in the last two seasons alone. He is a born striker and now he will be playing under our banner, with the knight Vítek on his jersey. Personally, I am delighted by this, and I believe our fans, sponsors and partners, without which this would not be possible, will be, too.
Since you mentioned the importance of sponsors and partners, how difficult is it to maintain the cost of Extraleague hockey in current economically trying times?
Anyone even slightly in the know can see that sport has been underfinanced in Czechia for a long time now. Without help from our partners and sponsors, we would not be able to carry on. They continue to support us in spite of current difficulties, and we all genuinely appreciate that. For example, Ridera, our club’s general partner, announced an extension of our contract by another two seasons well in advance of renewal. Other key partners from a wide range of influential companies in our region also confirmed their participation in multiannual contracts. We want to maintain a stable list of long-term partners while looking for new ones, as well.
How is that going for you?
We want to offer each of our partners adequate services so that their connection to Vítkovice not only brings them sports entertainment but also added market value. Among other opportunities, we offer partners the chance to take part in club activities, such as the A-team’s recent trip to the Lower Tatra mountains. Essentially, we want each of our partners to feel like they are part of our team.
Mr Šimíček, thank you for the interview.