On Friday, at Prague’s Tipsport Arena, headquarters of KHL new boys HC Lev, the entire playing roster gathered together for the first time, a day before they head off to Liberec to begin their preseason preparations. Lev’s head coach Josef Jandac, who a year ago guided Sparta Prague to victory in the Czech regular season, put his team through a full training session and then gave an interview to the KHL press service.

“Josef, you almost found yourself in the KHL two years ago, when they tried to create a hockey team in Kiev…”
“Yes, after the 2010 World Championships I received an invitation from Kiev. I thought for a long time about whether to accept it, and I consulted with my family. I have three children and I was concerned about them having to move to another country. But then I made up my mind: Kiev is not far from Prague, it is a big, modern city where they have English schools, so for my family it would have been fine. I got together with sporting manager Oleg Kupriyanov and we put together a plan to put a team together, got a number of players to agree to join up, but at the beginning of June Oleg called me to say that problems with the arena meant there would be no HC Budivelnik of Kiev in the KHL.”

“Was it easy to leave Sparta after you led them to success in the Czech regular championship last season?”
“A year ago I signed a two-year contract with Sparta, with a clause allowing me to leave after one year if I received a good enough offer, so I merely exercised this right. Lev is an interesting new project, and I want to get to know a new league and what is for me a new kind of hockey. But I haven’t had to make too many changes to my life, since I’ll still be working in Prague, not far from where I live, and going to an arena I know well, only now I’ll be going to the home team’s changing room.”

“Are you happy with the team you have?”
“Yes. The team was put together by me, Normunds Sejejs and Rashid Khabibulin. We’re building around a nucleus of Czech players, since in the KHL Lev will be representing the whole nation. It’s true that many of the best Czech players are tied to contracts with other clubs, but I think we’ve assembled a decent outfit. Obviously, we had to focus mostly on free agents.”

“Do you know yet how your offensive line will look?”
“It’s still too early to say. My assistants and I need to get to know the guys better. We’ve lined up ten friendly matches, and then we’ll start to think about our starting five. But don’t forget that everything can change after the first game.”

“Which of your current players did you know already?”
“I know all our Czechs very well, apart from maybe young (Jiri) Sekac and (Michal) Birner, who’s just had a spell playing in Finland. Of the Slovaks, defenseman (Michal) Sersen played for me at Sparta last season. As for the Swedish guy, (Mathias) Porseland, and our Canadians, we’ll get to know each other on our preseason tours.”

“Do you have a concrete target for the coming season?”
“I’m sure there’s not a single team who would say before the start of the season that they don’t have to reach the play-offs, and that it’s enough just to be playing in the KHL. Everyone wants to make it to the play-offs and battle for the main trophy.”

“What is your biggest worry at the moment?”
“I have a new team and I have seven weeks to get it ready for a tough season. With Sparta last year I also had a completely new team, but we didn’t do too badly, only losing seven matches in regulation time throughout the whole regular season. Of course, to repeat that in the KHL is not realistic, but we’ll try to produce the kind of hockey which pleases the fans.”

“Why are you starting your preseason preparations later than other KHL teams?”
“We have a lot of players who took part in the World Championships, so after that they needed a rest. Apart from that, not everything in our arena was ready for the team, plus we had to find accommodation in Prague for our foreign signings. And the ice in Liberec, where we’re heading for our first preseason tour, was not ready until the end of this week. But in the time we have left until the start of the Championship we’ll put in a lot of work.”

Vladimir Samokhin, special for khl.ru

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