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Pavel Francouz: The Secret to my Success

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The Colorado Avalanche netminder hopes to make a big impact in the NHL next season

Olympics: Ice Hockey-Men Team Bronze medal match - CZE-CAN Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

On July 10, 2019, Czech reporter Marek Odstrčilík published an interview with Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz. We have translated it for you. Enjoy.

These days, yo don’t often see someone chasing their goal and patiently building towards success. A lot of people want to have the success right, as fast as possible. But that’s not the case for Czech National Team goaltender Pavel Francouz. He’s following his dream humbly. He spent last year in the minors with the Colorado Avalanche organization while appearing in two NHL games. This coming season he’ll be an NHL backup for announced by general manager Joe Sakic. This interview has happened before that was announced.

What was your path to hockey?

I guess it’s unusual as my parents are not athletes and have never played sports. Although I was very active child and did a lot of different sports. I was playing football, hockey, skated on a pond, played field hockey, floorball, did karate, gymnastics. I think that due to all these sports I have good movement and coordination - it still benefits me to this day. And with hockey it happened that I had a friend here in Pilsen who started playing it and I wanted to do so as well.

Your parents were up for it?

Yeah, yeah. My dad went there with me. I had my skates from the pond and winter gloves, others had real equipment already. So my dad went quickly to the store and bought me a pair of proper gloves and a helmet. That’s how I started, when I was seven years old.

Was that the time when you fell in love with hockey?

Not yet. I still did gymnastics, played football and field hockey. But ice hockey started to slowly take over.

Obviously the support from your parents side was essential.

I am extremely lucky to have such parents. They still live the hockey dream with me. They used to take me to all the games. Even my sister would join. I am incredibly thankful for that.

So your father helped you with getting into the goalie gear, right?

He’s been helping me with it for a long time. I think until like third or fourth grade. Then it started to be embarrassing and guys were laughing at me. (laugh) It’s quite a lot of gear though, just carrying it around as a little kid...

It shows that sport was a big part of your life as a kid. Did you read about it a lot?

Not really but we used to collect sports cards, I posters all over mu room, I was drawing hockey players or pretending to be one.

Do you still have any of them today?

Yeah, I still pretend to be a hockey player and I also keep on collecting cards but only the ones that I am on. (laugh)

Interesting. And how many of these do you have?

About twenty. I don’t have all of them because to get all of the ones that have been released in Russia is impossible. There’s no real control over it, anybody can do it. (laugh)

Did you have any sports role model as a kid?

My dad. To me he was always the man and I admire him to this day. Every time I need advice I go to him and I trust him. Yeah, and also my uncle. He was a sports enthusiast and he for example bought me my first goalie stick. He used to take me to hockey games in Pilsen.

How did you end up in a crease?

I started skating kindergarten of course. After some time we started playing various games and I kept roaming around the net and tried to prevent goals instead of rushing forward and scoring. So that’s how I gradually got to it.

Do you remember the moment when you’ve realized that you’re not bad at goalkeeping?

I always used to doubt myself. Not that I wouldn’t have self confidence but I always thought about not ruining it for the guys and that kept me going forward. I never thought that I am too good and it will all go smoothly and without hard work. Never. Although – I had one moment in life when I failed. It was when I was eighteen and I went to play in Extraliga (Czech’s top league) for the first time in Pilsen. First year went well and they had been counting on me for the next one. I subconsciously started thinking that I had secured the spot and Extraliga was mine. It started to go down from there and I ended up psychologically down. It was my worst season in professional hockey. I was sent down to the second league and I had a new challenge of climbing back up.

What has actually happened?

I believed that I belong to Extraliga and I took it for granted. Self satisfaction. I have to say that it was the best thing that could have happened. I always try to work hard on myself and not to rest on my laurels.

You’ve talked about this with your dad, I presume.

Yeah, yeah. My dad and mom have helped me a lot because I was leaving Pilsen for Usti but the club did not have enough money to buy me out from Pilsen. My price was 1.2m CZK (that’s about $53,000). My parents took this money from their pockets to buy me out of the Pilsen contract and that’s how they saved my career. I have to admit that I wasn’t too happy about it because at the time. I was afraid that I could quit hockey after a while and it would be wasted money.

Aren’t those moments awfully stressful? You don’t want to let down your team mates, your dad...

I felt that my parents did not hesitate for a minute about this decision. They completely trusted me and that was comforting for me. I have of course paid them back since then

What is it that you do better than other goalies?

I am not the tallest compared to other goaltenders so I compensate for it with my speed and my mind. I believe most of my skill lies in reading the game and ability to predict what might happen and what is coming.

Is that something a person has to be born with or can it be learned?

There are for sure some pre-depositions but you have to work on it. There’s a database of situations in your head – in hockey every situation is different but it has some predictable traces. I think that the whole goaltending is about reading those traces in the game and then automatically predict where could it all lead to. But of course even then it’s not a hundred percent. (laugh)

Do you have your special training methods?

Nope. When I was young I have spent hundreds maybe thousands of hours by throwing a ball on the wall and catching it. I pretended to be a goalie. My sister didn’t want to shoot on me so I had to do it by myself. Who knows maybe it gave me something as well. Otherwise I try to watch other goaltenders a lot. To see what do they do and how do they react to the game. When I see something that is working for someone I try to replicate it. Simply to be open to new things. Hockey is constantly evolving and goaltending has changed significantly in last ten years. There are different techniques, different scenarios. It used to be about jumping on your head and doing all sorts of (from today perspective) funny saves but that’s how everybody played at that time. If a hockey player gets lucky his career can be twenty years long and during that time a lot of things change, therefore you need to keep your eyes open.

Alfa and omega of success is also psychics. How do you work on that?

I have a mental coach, doctor Přemysl Wolf. I remember that once I was playing in juniors and going through a rough patch, our coach mister Hovora recommended someone in Prague who could help me. And that was mister Wolf. I consult things with him to this day, he was even at my wedding last year. He taught me, and is still teaching me, that hockey is simply fun and it’s not the centerpiece of the universe. I used to think that if I fail one game then it’s going to be a topic for the whole city of Pilsen. It’s not like that and now I can cut loose and enjoy hockey.

Didn’t you ever regret not leaving to play abroad earlier?

Not really. I was thinking about leaving for America when I was fifteen but I couldn’t manage to combine studies and hockey. There was no team at that time that would allow me to do it.

You have played three years in Russia. Was it a good choice?

I think so. I’ve always tried to go step by step and this was one of the steps. From Usti (second Czech league) to extraliga (first Czech league) then KHL. And then the NHL. Last season it was two games in NHL and the rest in minors. I hope to start the new season in NHL. I will have to show everything I’ve got.

What if it doesn’t work out?

I will fight for it and if it doesn’t work out then I can go back to Russia, Europe or home. But I will be satisfied because I have tried.

You are 29 years old, how long do you see yourself playing on professional level?

That’s hard to tell. It‘s true that I am a bit older and I’ve been through couple of surgeries and so on. I know that I don’t want to push it to fourty just because of money and then sit home with my legs hurting.

Is a goalie beaten up a lot after a season?

This year I played a lot more games than before. It is harder on the body but after all those years I know how to regenerate the best. After a game I go on a bike ride then I do quality stretching, and eat some food. This works the best for me. Some guys uses ice cold bath but I don’t, I’ve spent a whole game on ice. (laugh) I use for example lymphatic drainage pants which help you regenerate acidic muscles. Back in the day guys used to just go for a beer and then home. Today it’s a completely different procedure.

So nobody drinks beer these days?

Oh but they do. And they work well. (laugh)

To most people the moment when there’s a puck flying incredibly fast towards your head is quite scary. Does it hurt?

It’s not so bad if it hits you in the mask. You’re a bit shaken and disoriented but it’s fine. You need to stop the puck at any cost and this is part of that. If it happens to be saved by the mask then I’m simply happy it wasn’t a goal.

You need to be really agile in the crease. I suppose you’re focusing on your nutrition a lot to keep the agility, right?

I have to admit that I didn’t use to think about it before because I was never gaining much weight after meals but I have been careful about it for the last three years. I don’t drink sugary drinks, I try to avoid fast foods. I can feel that my metabolism works differently the older I get. I could eat anything after season before and I wouldn’t gain weight, now it was four kilos up. Before the game I like to eat chicken, pasta and risotto.

What’s the life of a hockey player in Colorado like?

Denver is a big city but it’s not insane. I like that. There are big mountains in the area, climate is as good, they have over three hundred sunny days a year which I like as well. You have to understand that after three years in Chelyabinsk where I’ve seen the sun for sixty days a year, this is a total beauty. Otherwise Russia was nice I’m not complaining.

Do you mind in America that the fans are not as loud and creative as opposed to ours?

I’ve seen games where people just sit there and eat hot dogs, chat a bit and don’t really watch the hockey game. It is all a big show. For example if there’s a game on Veterans day then there are soldiers on ropes going down from the top of the arena. When Colorado played in playoffs I have never seen such atmosphere anywhere else. When the success comes whole city is living it. It works the same way with other sports as well.

Do you like to read?

Yes. I’m not a big fan of thrillers and novels but I like non-fiction literature. I read about economics, biographies and so on.

You have Masaryk and Havel on your mask – that’s a well known thing. Jakub Voracek and Radek Smolenak have recently talked about political situation publically. I’d expect you to join?

I have those that I admire and who have meaning to me on my mask. When I had my mask made I was hearing about it from everyone. It is my helmet and if somebody has a problem with it then he or she can start playing hockey get onto national team and make his or her own helmet. I follow politics and I care about my country but I don’t feel the need to publicly comment on it. Definitely not now when I play hockey. But Jakub for sure thought it through and knows why he said what he said.

At the end I have to ask one thing. When somebody reads about about you then they discover that you’re a hero of last seconds. You have scored in last seconds of a game. Then you had a fight in AHL with another goalie also in last seconds of a game. Interesting, isn’t it?

Well I don’t know. (laughs) Regarding that fight it was mostly comical. In this case it was clear that it will happen in the end. We were up 6-0, our opponents were frustrated so they sent just fighters in the last minutes and so we did as well. It started right after the faceoff. Their goalie started beating our teammate with a glove from behind. I saw it from my crease and from the bench everyone was yelling at me to go there. So I thought: “Alright man, so be it, go for it.” I began to skate there and realized I don’t actually have any plan of what to do. I came to him, slowed down and bumped him. He bounced, I held him and told him to stay calm. He was from Europe as well, from Finland and it was visible that he’s also shocked by the situation as I was.

What did your teammates say?

They were excited. Apparently they didn’t expect me to listen to them and go there.

(laughs)

Read the complete, untranslated article here.