Juraj Valach ended his rookie WHL season with seven goals, 23 assists, 75 PIM and a +11 in 58 games. He was the highest scoring defenseman for the Tri-City Americans and seventh on the team. He played for Team Slovakia on the 2006 U-18 World Championship team and in the 2007 U-20 World Junior team. The 6’7, 216lbs defenseman is eligible for the upcoming draft. Ranked 135th among North American skaters by CSS in their mid-term rankings, he has a Feb. 1, 1989 birthday.
Note: This interview was conducted in Slovak and translated into English.
HF: What brings you to this league?
JV: I always wanted to play in the junior league here in North America. Your chance to be drafted is much better when you play in North America than if you stay in Slovakia.
HF: What are your playing conditions? How are the training opportunities?
JV: The hockey conditions are very good. We have two ice rinks for training, very well-equipped fitness center and a special coach.
HF: Why did you come to this team in particular?
JV: They selected me last year in the CHL import draft in the first round, 20th overall. And my agent helped me a lot. I can say that I had great offers from other clubs from the QMJHL and also from the OHL.
HF: Can you compare the level of the WHL with the Slovak senior league?
JV: It’s hard to say for me, but I think, that the Slovak extraleague is played with more sense and the players are more soft-handed. But this is about it, because in the WHL everybody plays at a high level for 60 minutes and very contact-minded hockey. But some players have only one assignment and it is to hurt you. And these players don’t even know how to play ice hockey.
HF: How do you like living in such a small city (Kennewick, Washington)?
JV: It’s nothing special, but I can imagine much worse places. The city is small, there is nothing to do. There are very few oportunities for fun, but when you give your full effort into hockey, it’s hard to find free time.
HF: Is hockey popular in Kennewick?
JV: There’s a huge interest in hockey, our matches are regularly broadcast on TV. We have aproximately 3,500 spectators, but in some cities it is even better. For example, in Spokane or in Everett they have from 8,000 to 10,000 spectators at every game.
HF: How were your beginnings in North America? Was it dificult to adjust?
JV: My beginnings were very hard, because I didn’t play much. The first 15 matches I was only on the bench, but later I had luck. Some defenders injured themselves and I got a chance. But unfortunately, in the second match some Spokane players kicked me and almost cut me. But the doctors here are very good and in the third period I was back on the ice. The next day in the match versus the Red Deer Rebels someone hit me along the boards from behind and I broke my hand. I didn’t know how, but I finished the match with a broken hand and I was selected as the third star of the game with three assists. And the next game I was the first star. In nine matches that I played with a special splint, I collected 11 points.
HF: What do you think about the idea that in the next season the Slovak junior team will play in the Slovak senior league?
JV: It’s hard to say, but my opinion is that this is humbug. How will they select the players for this team? Every player has a cold streak and a hot streak. So, if they want to choose some players at the beginning of the season and the players have a cold streak, what then? It’s stupidity, we want to reproduce North America, but we can’t make the simple things. What about accomodation, special trainings? Half of the players will never observe the regimen.
HF: Will you stay in North America or will you go back to Slovakia?
JV: I’m sure that in the next season I wouldn’t play on a such team. I want to return to North America.
HF: The NHL draft is coming near. Do you have a favorite club?
JV: You know, it’s not my choice. But if I can choose, I always wanted to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
HF: When somebody looks at you, he must think that you like to drop your gloves. Is it true?
JV: We have here three tough guys – [Aaron] Boogaard, [Travis] Gorman and [Chris] Inglis. So it’s mostly on them. But I never step back if someone wants to fight. Sometimes I challenged some guys, but they said me, that if I want to fight, I should go to their top fighters. But one fight is behind me. It was in the match against Everett with [5’10 Jonathon] Harty. We exchanged some knocks, I took him down, but he undressed me. It was a good experience.
HF: In the beginning of April is the U-18 Championships. Do you want to play for Slovakia in this tournament?
JV: It seems that this year I can’t play for Slovakia in this tournament, because [Tri-City] is in the playoffs. And we have a good team, so it’s very possible that we will go past the first round.
HF: Let’s return to the last U-20 WJC. As we know, the Slovak team has won only one match and without the help of the Swiss team, they would be relegated. What do you think was the problem?
JV: On this topic I want to say this. We have a good team, the head coach was ok, but the assistant coaches doesn’t fit into the team concept. And we cannot play at such level as do Canada or Russia, because they had all the neccesary conditions on much higher level. And our goaltenders weren’t for us the real support.
HF: What do you want to improve on in your game?
JV: My weakness is acceleration and I want to work on it this summer. I noticed improvement on my physical play, now I finish many more checks than before. I learned a lot from my trainer Nachbaure, who helped me in a lot of ways and I want to acknowledge him.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.