Pavel Palát was on the ice in Frýdek-Místek at Ondřej’s first steps, and for a few years he led him as a youth hockey coach. And early this morning, he saw his son, a 29-year-old Tampa striker, rise the Stanley Cup over his head. “My wife and I had a big kiss, we couldn’t have champagne,” he describes in a still-moving voice.
What were the first emotions after winning the Stanley Cup for your son?
I must say that those first feelings were relaxing. I was nervous, it wasn’t the euphoria I expected. Ondra immediately sent us videos and photos from the locker room, and then one realizes how the boys have to enjoy it.
You said during the playoffs that you were more of a pessimist, and you didn’t want to talk about the title for Tampa prematurely. So you believed in the sixth match of the final series only after the final whistle?
Not this time, I started believing when I saw the boys playing the third period. I knew it would work out. Not like in the fifth match, when they wanted to keep attacking in the lead, but this time they were already playing such ugly hockey and they knew well what they were all about. They defended, they played from behind, and I was slowly preparing to make it work.
What were the first moments after the end of the match?
My wife and I had a big kiss, and then there were phone calls and celebrations over the phone. With Ondra’s wife Barča, with Ondra from the dressing room. We wished it was beautiful.
The match ended in the morning of Czech time, so you didn’t even go to bed? Did you work in that mode during the NHL playoffs?
We didn’t go to bed, my wife was a teacher, so she went to school for things, and I went to the stadium in the morning, where I did skating kindergartens. If the boys had won it over the weekend, we would probably have done something with the champagne, but we weren’t able to. (laughter) We both had to go to work. But at least it was with a big cigar and a jump into the pool. I fulfilled what I promised in Tampa.
What was it about?
When Tampa played in the NHL final against Chicago five years ago, we promised to celebrate winning in Tampa by the pool. It didn’t work out this year, we weren’t in America, so I jumped out at home. (laughter) Twelve degrees, but success warmed me and I was not cold at all.
Pavel Palát recently received a commemorative jersey for his 60th birthday:
How was the phone call with Ondra from the locker room?
He also talked about it being terrible relaxation and great emotions. It erupted from them and the boys were happy to experience it together. He sent us what the collective celebrations in the locker room looked like, then called us together with Tyler Johnson, who is his and our good friend. They bought the same dogs, we visit each other. We immediately greeted him from the locker room and it was clear that it would be stormy there.
Do you remember different moments from that trip to the top?
Yes, my wife and I realize how it went gradually. We celebrated the title of Vítkovice in the youth extra league, then the victory in the junior extra league, the final of the junior in Canada, where Ondra and the team won two matches at home, but then lost three times. The next step was the aforementioned final of 2015 against Chicago, when we experienced the celebrations of the winning final match in Tampa. Unfortunately, the boys lost the lead 2: 1, but even so, the celebrations of the winning match were excellent. Just like Stodolní Street in Ostrava, this is what a quarter of the city looked like. Insanely.
You must be sorry now that you won’t experience the Stanley Cup celebrations in Tampa because of the global coronavirus pandemic, see?
That’s right, everyone feels that way. We could have been there. My flight at the end of the season was canceled in March, my next date is booked sometime before Christmas. Fortunately, at least Ondra’s wife got to Tampa, landing just at the time when the boys leveled the series to 1: 1. But like the wives of the other players, Barca only got there at the personal invitation of President Donald Trump. Otherwise, foreigners have no chance.
So they’re meeting in Tampa now?
The boys celebrate it in Edmonton, board a plane and fly to Tampa. It should be celebrated there by Saturday, after which Ondra should fly home.
In the series of the second round against Boston, you said that you woke up almost half of the village where you live with the joy of the night. What did it look like now?
So the people around me in the Old Town near Frýdek-Místek know what’s going on, no one has pointed it out. Every year in autumn and winter we move from a cottage in the Old Town to an apartment in Frýdek-Místek, my wife already wanted to go that it would be cold, but I wanted to try to endure. I wanted to jump into that pool. (laughter) It worked out for me, we can move now.
After Ondra’s arrival, it will definitely be celebrated in Frýdek-Místek, right?
Sure, everyone is already wondering what it will be like. Right today I had to go buy the coaches a snack at the stadium. They have a stuffing and smoked ham, for example, so that they don’t say that Palát is a starch and can’t celebrate properly. On the other hand, they have a problem with me drinking little. But we will definitely do a celebration after Ondra’s arrival, everyone knows him here, there are also coaches who coached him in his youth.
Do you believe you will see the Stanley Cup in the city?
I have been planning for five years how beautiful it will all be. I have in my head how sometimes on Saturday we will buy a stadium with music, with draft beer. But now someone came to tell me that the NHL may not want to play the cup in Europe this year. It would be very sad if it was not a great motivation for the children here. Maybe it will turn out well.
Ondřej Palát traditionally prepares in Frýdek-Místek in the summer:
Radek Faksa (from left), Ondřej Palát, Roman Polák, Marek Hrbas and Lukáš Jašek. | Photo: Lukáš Filipec
As a youth coach, you can best judge for yourself how much this success should help hockey in the city.
So much. I can already see it in the little boys talking about it and having fun with me. They say: Mr. Palát, did you see Palát score? And I answer: Don’t talk, and how did the goal fall? (laughter) I’ll let them tell me. They looked at the haircut in the morning and always came to tell me if I knew about it.
Eleven goals scored by your son in the playoffs are the second best Czech performance after David Krejčí from 2011. How do you evaluate Ondra’s performances in the hunt for a trophy?
It was very important that he scored in overtime in the second game against Boston and Tampa equalized to 1: 1 in that series of the second round. In the first series with Columbus, Ondra’s task was black work, to win the puck, throw him into the middle zone and stay behind. For example, Victor Hedman, who attacked with Nikita Kučerov and Brayden Point. But after that goal, as if they had taken him to their level, suddenly they were three of them. Since then, they’ve been passing more and Ondra has shot himself. Kučer’s percentage dropped a bit in the end, but he is such a brilliant player that he suddenly became a recorder. Ondra benefited from this, their cooperation worked great.
In 2011, Tampa did not draft your son until the last round. He has taken a path in her organization from the very beginning and is now celebrating the Stanley Cup. The story closed nicely, what do you say?
Exactly. We went from the fourth line, so I remember the first match for Tampa. They always give their parents a ticket for the first match, we flew there with my parents from Radek Gudas for a week. Nate Thompson shot Ondra in a skate and he scored his first goal in the NHL. Such was the beginning…