Tony Ding/Icon SMI)
Forward Thomas Tatar is no stranger to putting on a big performance for his native Slovakia at international tournaments. He was one of the big stars for an upstart Slovakian team at the 2008 WJC in Canada. Thus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was right in the middle of things here in Helsinki for Slovakia’s huge quarterfinal victory over Canada.
The Detroit Red Wings prospect has now spent three years playing for the Red Wings' AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This past season, he collected 24 goals and 58 points in 75 games. In this tournament, he’s nonetheless found himself getting top six minutes for Team Slovakia, who also beat Team USA 4-2 on the way to finishing fourth in the preliminary round.
A jubilant Tomas Tatar spoke with Hockey’s Future after the team’s victory over Canada.
Hockey’s Future: I don’t speak much Slovakian, but I’ve just got to ask: Ako sa máš práve tento okamih?! (How are you doing at this very moment?)
Thomas Tatar: Absolutely AWESOME! Thank you.
HF: This must be one of the biggest games you’ve ever been a part of.
TT: I think so: That’s right. It’s just so unbelievable. We just beat one of the best teams in the world. We are such a little country, you know, so this is just huge.
HF: You yourself were one of the best players in the third period. You led the rush and made the drop pass that led to the tying goal. Boy, how did you feel when you saw that puck go in to tie it at three late in the third?
TT: Oh man, it was unreal. When I saw that Milan (Bartovic) had scored a goal, I felt new energy surge through me. I was a bit tired at the end, but when I saw that puck go in, I was like “Whoaaa, we are going to win this game, for sure!” I started to believe that we’ve got this thing. But I still couldn’t believe that we got this win when the game was actually over. It’s something amazing, you know.
HF: Thomas, you were very active all game long. You seemed to have your ‘mojo’ going. Was this just one of those games that you were extremely prepared for?
TT: No, well, I try to be my best every game. I try to give my team all I’ve got. We really focused. We knew that to beat Canada, we were going to have to be at our best. When we were down, it was kind of my time. I knew that I now needed to create something, because I’m the type of player who, and yes I know I have to work on my defensive game, but I can do some offensive stuff and I can play creatively, so I know I have that responsibility in situations like that.
HF: You’ve been to a couple of WC's for several years now. How has your role for Team Slovakia changed in that stretch of time?
TT: You know, when I went the first time, the team was bringing me along slowly and letting me taste that international game at the men’s level. They really gave me a shot to show what I could do and I’m really happy they’ve given me that honor to represent the country on this stage. They gave me that taste at the start and now, when we play big games like the one today, I’m kind of really confident, you know.
HF: How was your season back in Grand Rapids this year?
TT: I think I personally had a pretty good season. I mean, I think I can be way better, but like every hockey player, there were some tough parts in the season. I think without those, I could produce way more, but still, I finished off really well and…
HF: … You got to play with Detroit the year before.
TT: Well, I did, but it didn’t go as well as hoped. I was a bit disappointed with that. I hope that will change though.
HF: What do you hear from the Detroit organization?
TT: Um, not a lot. I haven’t spoken with anybody thus far, having come straight over here for this tournament. Now we’ve beaten the USA and Canada, so I’m really hoping they saw that. I’m now here concentrating on this and playing for a different team. I’m concentrating 100% on what’s going on here.
HF: Earlier this year I spoke to Richard Panik and Jaroslav Janus down in Norfolk, where they had an amazing year in the AHL. Do you think you’ll find some text messages on your phone when you go in the locker room after this amazing game?
TT: Ha, it could be that way, yes, probably. True, I am really good friends with both of them and they are examples of players who could easily have been playing here if they weren’t playing over there this spring. Richard has been developing really well and Jaroslav sure is a really good goalie too. I think both will one day be a really big part of Team Slovakia.