Bringing Slovakia back on track

Miroslav Satan looks on after a game during the 2011 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on home ice in Bratislava. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

Miroslav Satan wants to help his country as new GM

Last week the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation signed one of its greatest players, Miroslav Satan, as new General Manager of the national team.

With a legend as GM and as head of the national team program, the federation hopes to stop battles behind the scenes that have accelerated the downward performance of the national team since the glory years around the World Championship gold medal in 2002.

For this position Satan return from North America to his native country and lives in Limbach, about 20 kilometres outside of Bratislava.

As a player the 42-year-old represented Slovakia in four Olympic Games and in 14 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships (12 in the top division where Slovakia has played since 1996), was part of the team that won the only world title for Slovakia in 2002 when he was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament and also won two silver medals (2000, 2012) and a bronze (2003). He was twice on the World Championship All-Star Team, in 2000 and 2002 when he led the tournament in points both times.

Satan spent 14 seasons in the NHL for the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. With the Pens he won the Stanley Cup in 2009. In 2010 he moved back to Europe, played for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL and for Slovan Bratislava that played first in the Slovak Extraliga and then two years with Satan in the Russian KHL.

After tough years – Slovakia hasn’t reached a top-8 position in World Championship or Olympic play since 2013 and had a 14th-place finish at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship – Satan aims at the turnaround next season and in time for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on home ice in Bratislava and Kosice. With IIHF.com he talked about his new challenges.

How did it happen that you became the GM? Was it a long process?

It was a discussion that took several months. I know that there was interest from the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation for me to come here and work and build the national team programs and be the General Manager for the Olympic team. It’s quite a big job, it’s two positions combined, but it’s something that I’ll now try to do and help my own country, the team I used to play for a lot and care for a lot. It’s interesting new times and a big challenge to stabilize our hockey and hopefully improve it in a short time.

The last one, two years were a bit turbulent for the Slovak national team and ice hockey on and off the ice. With you in this position, will you calm things down and bring people back together?

I followed what happened and the problems are not only what happened the last one or two years. It goes back many more years. What happened recently is just the results of some decisions and maybe not taking a pro-active role in certain areas like youth development. I think it’s a good time that everybody realizes that we need a new approach, some change. I think people are ready to come and work for Slovak hockey and make it better and I’m part of that.

One result was that not all players wanted to play for the national team anymore. Is this something that can change with you as a Slovak hockey legend being the team’s General Manager?

We will see what will happen. We will see who will be the new coach. That will play a role in the players’ decision. It’s also an Olympic year. I hope after some tough years for the national team that players will take it as a challenge and will be patriotic and come back to help the national team to succeed.

The day you were presented as GM there was a photo with you but also with Ralph Krueger as a suggested coach in a newspaper. Is he a candidate?

I will start discussions with potential coaches. Obviously I have a good working relationship with Ralph in the World Cup but I think he’s tied up with the Southampton Football Club. I think it’s a very nice and safe position to have and I’m sure he has a lot of fun there. But we stay in contact.

Do you tend to go rather with a Slovak or Czech coach like in the last few years or somebody from outside your system?

We will try to get the best coach possible and I think we will not look at the nationality. We just try to get the best one we can.

It’s not the first time you’re GM of a team, you were the GM of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. How was that experience?

It was a very good experience for me and it turned out better than I thought. We turned out to play in the final against Canada, which nobody expected. I’d say people expected us to fail before the tournament, that’s what I read from all the experts. Our coaching staff and our scouting during the year did a great job picking the team and Ralph coaching them. The players did a great job coming together from different nationalities without having previous experience of playing together. They gelled together very quickly. They wanted to succeed. They wanted to show that even if they’re a team of different nations, they wanted to play hard and show that even in the small hockey nations there’s good hockey and good players and I think they proved that.

What place can Slovakia realistically reach next season at the Olympic Winter Games and the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship?

Obviously we’re going to try to get as far as we can. We’ll see what kind of team we will have. I don’t want to say numbers but I definitely see us play in the playoffs in every tournament. If you don’t do that, then it’s hard to consider it a successful tournament. I’d like to see us in the top-8 every time.

In less than two years the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship will be played here in Bratislava and in Kosice. That’s probably also something already on the horizon for you.

Next year is an Olympic year and also a preparation for the season after with the World Championship on home ice. So that’s a goal in the longer term already during the next season. We want to have a team in 2019 that can excite the fans and play well at home here in Bratislava. We will be working on that goal, to be a good contender for the championship here.

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