Radek Koblizek - "Be patient!"
"Bez frází" - "Ei fraaseja" on entisten jääkiekkoilijoiden, Radim Vrbatan ja Jakub Koreisin perustama sivusto, joka julkaisee urheilijoiden tosielämän tarinoita. Bez Frázín Jana Mensatorová puki sanoiksi Radek Koblizekin tarinan Kometa Brnon junioreista Suomen mestariksi. Kirjoituksen on kääntänyt englanniksi Jana Macháčová.
The contract had been on the table for almost a week. I just kept walking around it, scared to touch it and I wasn't even thinking about signing it.
I do not want to go to Finland!
One day, my father finally told me I had to sign it or I wouldn't be going anywhere.
"Ok, I won't sign it then." I answered.
My father acted insulted. I think the truth is, he was more surprised and didn't know how to react. Should he be making me do something that represents a real challenge? After a few uncomfortable situations and discussions, I took a pen and searched in the contract for the place to sign it.
I signed a contract with Kärpat Oulu, stating that I will be their player and also a part of their youth team.
Back then, when I was 15 years old, if I could decide by myself, I would have never left home. I couldn't find a reason why except that. I was just scared. We had a training camp in Finland for a week at the end of the season. It was so hard, that I couldn't even go to the bathroom, because my hands were shaking so much.
I'm not even exaggerating.
I wasn't very confident with my English even though I was able to have a simple conversation.
Most importantly, I didn't want to leave the place where I grew up. Leave my friends, teammates… girls. I liked Brno – and I still do. We had just won the youth title and I was picked as the best forward of the final tournament. The elite Kometa team was one of the strongest in the Czech republic at the time. We would go to see their games with my friends and dreamt about playing in front of such an amazing crowd as well.
Why the hell should I be going to Finland, where I don't know anyone.
My agent came up with this offer, Oulu scouted me at a game with national team and my parents, grandad, and coach Mr. Náprstek, who I really liked talked me into leaving. They told me it was a great chance, which doesn't happen often.
I'm not afraid to say they made me do it.
Today I can't thank them enough.
I was repeating the speech in my head more than a hundred times. Like a fool, I was imagining how I would react to different things and what exactly I had to say. At home we decided I would tell my coach I was leaving and I was really nervous about it.
Especially because I didn't want to leave.
I'd be lying, if I said I was crying, but I was really upset when it was actually about to happen. It was a Wednesday at the beginning of June, the only day we were training on the ice. We were doing some exercises, I wasn't playing well and my coach was very angry with me. I went to see him afterwards anyway. I closed his office door and told him the speech I prepared.
I am leaving.
He was looking at me and couldn't believe it. He told me I wasn't going anywhere.
Then my father went to see him, they talked about everything and I called the coach again in the evening asking whether I could come to practice the next day. I thought it was appropriate.
"I don't know, I'll let you know tomorrow.", he replied on the phone. He actually did let me know, that he was sorry, but I wasn't allowed to train with the team anymore. For a month I had to train on my own and I was asking my teammates, what they were doing. I tried to do the same, but in the end I wasn't able to train by myself properly anyway. As if this wasn't enough of a punishment, later on I read on my team's website, that I left like a guerilla. I was down, especially because I didn't want to leave, but also because if we wouldn't fair with Kometa, we wouldn't tell them anything until the end of the summer season. We wanted to let them know in advance, so that they could find a replacement for me.
On July 23rd 2013 I was at the airport with my bags and hockey sticks and I asked my brother to take a picture of me. I put the photo on Facebook before we took off, I got many likes and comments wishing me best of luck.
It touched me.
Me and my dad arrived at 1am and the coach gave us a lift to the house and told me to be at the stadium at 9am prepared for tests.
For the first time in my life I was throwing up from exertion. 6x20metres sprints, stop and go back. It doesn't sound so hard, but I didn't know we were about to do this three times and I did the first set all out. After a three minute break I was terrible. During the third set I was completely exhausted. I went straight to the toilet, where I saw my breakfast again very closely.
I was just thinking – oh my god, where am I? I just want to go home.
I started with the juniors, 18 year-old guys. Me – a kid, who wasn't even 16 years old and was only about 160cm tall. A little boy from the Czech republic. The boys weren't unwelcoming, but I felt being left out. I knew some of them from the spring try out, but when I first entered the changing rooms it went silent, I felt their eyes on me and heard their whispering.
I was scared of the other boys in the team. They were taller, stronger, faster. Everyone was. All my childhood I was being told how good skater I am, in Brno I was always one of the best even amongst the older guys. Here I wasn't even average, when the Finnish boys played I didn't even have time to look around.
Can I actually play here? What the hell am I supposed to do?
Then we went to the first practice tournament, in the first game I got around the defender, shot and…GOAL. Second game – GOAL. Third game – GOAL. Fourth one – at least a assist. In the end I was the statisticaly best player of the team. Not that this would make anything any easier, but at least I earned respect from my teammates. They saw I wasn't going to be as bad as they thought.
In addition, I was lucky to get a good coach. From the beginning, he was helping me to calm down, told me he understood how hard it was for me and not to worry, that I'd get into it. And if I had any problems, I should come to see him. Even at practices he would take me aside and explain everything. He didn't consider me as a foreigner.
But problems came anyway, as well as darkness.
You can be as tough as you want, but when you wake up at 8am in an empty apartment, it's almost always dark outside, plus it's about minus 30 degrees. You go on the practice – almost darkness. You go back – darkness. You're always tired and just want to sleep.
During my first year I had quite a few big crises, I was calling home saying I want to quit. I called dad, grandad, my agent, everyone. I wasn't doing well on the ice, I didn't feel as good as I used to and I missed my friends. On social media they were always talking about their adventures, posting photos from parties, jokes and videos. But I wasn't with them, I could just look at the stars and read.
However, anyone I called to complain that I wanted to go home told me to hang in there.
"Be patient.", I heard this sentence like a thousand times.
Or they would say that I should realize that I'm here to play hockey and all the boys from home that I'm jealous of would do anything to be in my place.
"Hey Kobla, I'd change with you straight away."
Hockey was my life. It was as if I was working at the age of 15. Morning training, lunch, rest, another training. Sleep. Over and over again. I didn't go to high school, just took exams whenever I came home at the end of the season. I went to a Finnish high school exactly once. I felt stupid and had so much training that I couldn't concentrate anyway.
But the education system in Finland for native guys is great. Hockey training is considered as a PE lesson and training only starts at 8am. When I told them that in Brno we used to train from 6am they couldn't believe it. They have a school ice ring, a gym, 3-4 hours of school and then another training. Everything is scheduled so that everyone can study as well as train. Yet at home teachers were always angry with athletes, when they missed their classes because of matches.
I remember how in the Czech Republic I thought the way from Brno to Karlovy Vary was never-ending. 4 hours on the bus, so long! In Finland every trip was about 7 hours, because Oulu is all the way up north. When I was younger, I'd always have someone sitting next to me. Two seats for yourself, that was only for older guys. Nevertheless, you get used to everything. The buses were really comfortable.
Kärpat is a great organisation and we'd usually come a day before the tournament and sleep in a hotel.
Great! It will be fun I thought, when we first went. From the Czech republic I was used to the fact that a trip like this would be an opportunity to have some fun. We would run through the corridors and pulling tricks on each other. Here we got our rooms and I thought we would go somewhere, but my roommate put his headphones on and went to bed. The rest of the team did the same. Everything was completely silent. We were meant to be asleep by 10pm and no one even thought about doing anything else.
This is typical for the Finns, they are people who respect what they're told to do. They are brought up this way. They respect the authorities and never argue. They take the morale seriously. One day we had a practise without a coach. He just wrote on the board, what we were meant to do. If this happened in Brno, no one would do anything.
We would make jokes, play some football and if someone thought about doing the training the others would convince him not to. In Oulu everyone read the board and did exactly what was written on it.
What the hell is this?
I couldn't understand it. The boys were like machines.
They wouldn't even think about cheating. They would always do everything properly, even when the coach wasn't watching. In the Czech republic you feel like if you're not being watched, you can do a bit less. You should be doing 20 repetitions of an exercise, so you stop at the 18th one. Why not? No one can see it. Then it just hurts too much… Especially if you're with friends, who you know well.
"I'm not doing it."
That's just normal. We all know it.
I wasn't any different, but I could see that if you are in an environment, where everyone is doing their best, you'll be doing it too. It changes you.
I definitely became more responsible in Finland. I train even when I don't have to and give it everything, how I should. I don't want to be mean towards Czech people. I'm Czech, I'll always be one and I'm proud of it. However, if it wasn't for Finland I wouldn't have changed. Not when I could see that those who are better usually do everything at 100%.
If we talk strictly about hockey, I could see why the Finns were such amazing skaters. The answer is simple. They spend much more time on the ice compared to us. They're training two times a day and play matches at the weekends. In Finland, I had my skates on my feet twice as much time compared to home. Then you can really tell the difference. In the morning we worked on skills, skating and in the afternoon we had tactical training. If you start with this type of training when you're 13 years old it has to make a difference. I enjoyed morning sessions the most. We did a lot of skills, which would imitate the real match and they were for me as an forward the best sessions. Setting of from the side and shooting. I would shoot around 200 times in one training. It made sense, we were skating at a high pace without breaks. We were always skating. Always. First ones on the ice are those who go to school and then we had our chance. During gym practises we were concentrating on leg strength. We did a lot of squats or one leg deadlifts.
From home I thought I was a good skater, but only here I progressed the most.
During the first season they sent me from the junior team to the youth one. To my category. I was actually a bit annoyed.
To be honest I was really angry. I was offended.
I was cocky, playing with the older guys and suddenly I should be playing with the youths? I thought it was going to be super easy. However, the younger guys were actually very strong. First game I played really badly and got injured. That's what it's like when you're not concentrating and just want to play easy.
Our coaches were watching and they obviously weren't happy with my performance. I got scolded numerous times because of my attitude. Just a bad pass would sometimes make me feel miserable. I got one, two and suddenly I had a block and couldn't play well. There were times where it was so obvious, my teammates would come and talk to me.
Yeah, the Finns would tell you even something like this. They want the team to work well. They all give it their best and expect the same from you. Thanks to that I was getting better. During my third season they choose me to second all star team of the league.
A year later I signed my first professional contract at the age of 19. However, suddenly I had a crisis. Especially because of my arrogance.
I thought I'd start in the A team. Training went well, but after the first games I wasn't so good. They sent me to the Mestis. After the first game the coach shouted at me – what the hell was that supposed to be? That it was awful. The next practice he made me exchange my jersey with another player and told me that I'm so bad that I shouldn't even play. As if this wasn't enough he invited me to his office and told me he has never seen a worse player and he doesn't understand how I could have a contract with Oulu. If I didn't want to change my attitude, he'll send me away. It was a shock for me, first time in my career someone shouted at me like this.
In November I went for a Czech national team U20 tournament and when I came back to Oulu they told me that the coach from Kajaani didn't want to see me again. I had no other option than to go back to the junior team.
In the end that was probably the best for me. I could play a lot again. As well as me, a lot of boys think that if they're 17 years old playing for the A team, it's the best for them. However, most important is the role they get. Three shifts in one period aren't too much for a young boy. Spending 5 minutes on the ice is nonsense. It's much better to play somewhere where you can play in a power play or short-handed. Simply be on the ice and get as much experience as they can.
In January I came back to Kajaani, but nothing changed. It was then I started to call home much more often, saying I can't do this. "I want to go home. No one likes me here."
"Be patient. Your chance will come.", my grandad and father would say.
It's the best advice anyone can be given. Today I can see how this season helped me immensely. It changed me mentally, I was tougher. I wouldn't give up even when everything wasn't going my way.
When I was about to enter the next season I was super motivated, but I broke a joint in my arm. Two months without hockey. It is still swollen now. When I came back after the injury I played for exactly five seconds.
First shift, a player was turning and I hit him in the head. Bye. I got a disciplinary penalty for seven games. Another three weeks out. After a warm up with the junior team I got back into the A team, but I'd rarely get on the ice. Plus I got another disciplinary penalty during the season, this time I deserved it. I smashed a guy who hit me hard on the boards. They sent me do Mestis again, but this time I took it as a chance to show off. Confirm that I was doing well in the A team.
And I did.
The year before I played 20 games and got 2 points. This time I scored 18 points in 23 games. Thinking positively was enough, didn't give up just because I wasn't in the A team. From then on it went pretty smoothly.
Play off with the junior team, silver, best shooter of the play-off, playing with the A team for the final series and…a title.
Even the day before they told me I will join the A team I felt really tired and I didn't even think I could play anymore. However, the next two weeks were filled with the best hockey experiences of my life.
The coach who was so hard on me in Kajaani was now a youth headcoach in Oulu. Full of emotions after winning the title I went to see him.
I wanted to thank him.
I told him I needed him to be harsh on me a year ago. I knew it was worth it and I wouldn't be where I was now without him.
He said he's happy to hear it from me.
For the first time I was in Oulu, I was there for the tryout camp with my teammate from Brno Rosťa Šnajnar. During one practice we were playing 3 on 3 and they put us against three guys our age.
Sebastian Aho, Vili Saarijärvi, Arttu Ruotsalainen. You'll probably know at least the first one. From the NHL. From the world championships. From videos of his amazing play.
It's surprising that back then we managed to beat them.
Especially with Sebastian I saw things I've never seen before. The way he was skating. He was strong and smart. Unbelievable. When you have played hockey since you were little you know how to act on the ice and what to do in different situations. How you can close opponnent's possibilities to pass the puck or get to your net. But Sebastian always knew what to do, even in situations everyone else would have already given up. He would do something unexpected, what no one else could.
He was like that as a teenager and he still is now. He can do it when playing the best hockey players in the world.
Growing up with him was an amazing experience for me. He was the first one who knew what he wanted even at such a young age. He is as old as me, but while I was a fresher in the junior team he was scoring 50 points in one season. My agent would always show him as an example. "You should be like Aho. Follow his footsteps."
And then there was Jesse Puljujärvi, the toughest athlete I've ever met. If you asked me who trained the hardest, I would say Jesse. He was on the ice at 8am and then went straight to a second workout, then to the gym and in the afternoon he was on the ice again. A fool. He didn't know anything else other than hard work. Despite the fact that he is naturally very strong and talented. Even when he was better than older guys, he would always work hard. He's also in the NHL now, which I never doubted he wouldn't.
I have very good memories from playing with Jesse and Sebastian.
Incidentally, there are things outside of hockey that I learned in Finland. Being patient, responsible, humble and confident.
When I left the Czech republic I felt like a hero and I thought everyone had to do what I wanted. That's not the case anymore. Now I'm training, because I know I can always improve. During my first week, when I took dad back to the airport I realized that now everything was up to me. And that Czech won't be very useful. There was another Czech guy living with me Vláďa Eminger, but he was 5 years older and playing in the A team already. I could only sometimes chat to him. My grandad and parents came a few times during the year, but in everyday life I had to sort things out myself. I quickly realized I had to cook, wash my clothes or do the dishes. At home I didn't have to do any of that, my mum would take care of everything. My only effort would be to move the pile of dirty clothes from my room to the wardrobe and close the door.
At the beginning, even my flat in Oulu was quite messy. Clothes everywhere, rubbish, dirty dishes, which I would only wash when I had no plates left.
I soon realized that this wasn't the way to go. A teammate living with me motivated me a lot. He had everything really clean and tidy. Often when I visited him and then came back to my apartment I started cleaning.
After some time it became a routine. So much that now when my flat isn't tidy it makes me nervous. If I see dirty dishes in my sink I feel bad.
My mum is happy when I come home in the summer.
No one checks our apartments in Oulu. In our free time we can do whatever we want. I can't imagine doing the same thing as a 15-year-old in Brno, living just with hockey players.
It would probably burn down.
It's probably a bit of a risk to send such a young boy away. It's really important how he handles the situation. Is he going to make a mess, go to bed late or will it make him grow up and be responsible.
I'm proud of what kind of a family I come from. My parents have never been mean to me, just strict, so that I don't grow up a brat. Especially my mum who was very uncompromising, which I'm now very grateful for.
Nevertheless, first year I was really enjoying going to bed whenever I wanted, playing on my PlayStation. I soon realized that I was going to training tired and needed to change something. I learned how to rest, eat well, which is very important especially for an athlete. We have a great restaurant at the stadium in Oulu. If a coach sees that you choose something unhealthy he comes to you and asks why. The Finns don't only care about training, but also about nutrition. Live and think like an athlete in every aspect of your life.
The Finnish food isn't amazing – meat, rice and a lot of vegetables with everything. They don't use much salt or spices and drink milk with their lunch.
I'm not joking. They're able to drink 0,5l of milk. I don't think it's that healthy, but apparently it works for them. I'd sometimes have it, but not every day.
In general when Finns get to know you they're very friendly. They really may seem quite cold and hard to talk to, but once they accept you they're great. Only their sense of humor isn't similar to the Czech one. They can't make fun of each other like we do.
However, I have more friends from Finland now then from home. In Brno I have two or three left. When you leave at such a young age to go to the other side of Europe you don't really have a choice. First you talk to everyone everyday, then every second day, then once a month and then you realize there's not much to say anymore. The conversation becomes plain – "Hey, how are you?"
Now I'm still friends with Petr Kratochvíl, he plays for Kometa and we have a great relationship. Then there's my older brother and that's basically it.
That was just a price I had to pay.
It was also one of the reasons I was often calling home saying I want to go back.
However, I got over it every time. To be honest, I'm not even sure if someone told me to come home whether I'd do it or not. I just always needed someone to be supportive. When I'm angry I let everyone know.
Nowadays, a young guy Zdeněk Sedlák is living with me in Oulu. He was born in 2000. We spend a lot of time together, just like Vláďa Eminger used to help me when I was younger. He is a bit different than me, very talented and he started with boys his age not older ones like me. However, he has already practised with the A team, even though he didn't get to go on the ice in any game. He felt like the team didn't give him a chance. He wanted to give up and go home.
"You're playing well, hang in there. Your time will come.", I told him. "Be patient."
Kuvat: Jana Mensatorová/bezfrazi.cz
Teksti: Radek Koblizek
Käännös: Jana Macháčová
Alkuperäinen julkaisu: https://www.bezfrazi.cz/vydrz/