In this KHL.ru interview, Barys and Team Slovakia’s forward Tomas Jurco talked about his move to the KHL, Pavel Datsyuk, his fame on YouTube, the necessary break in his career, and his expectations for the Beijing Olympics.

Barys strengthened its roster in early November with the addition of Slovak forward Tomas Jurco, who decided to make a drastic change in his career after many years of playing in North America. So far, Jurco played 17 games and scored 11 (3+8) points for the team led by Yury Mikhailis. Tomas is the only Barys representative who will play at the Olympics. He is now with his national team, with which he will soon fly to Beijing.

Jurco is in the KHL for three months now – he’s not new anymore. “Everything is going well so far,” he confirms. “I like the way hockey is played in the KHL: more play with the puck, and fewer physical battles. And I like playing the puck, creating scoring chances, thinking out of the box, and using my abilities and skills. I’m still adapting to something, after all I’ve been playing North American hockey my whole career, but I like these changes.”

After twelve seasons in North America, Jurco felt the need for a change. Enjoying is key for the forward. “I think the time to move arrived when I stopped enjoying hockey in North America,” Jurco explains. “I wasn’t satisfied with the opportunities that were available, nor with the way I was used in the game. I thought about it and decided that that it was enough, I needed to change something drastically and try new things. I don’t just want to make money playing hockey; above all I want to enjoy playing and feel that the team needs me, to play more and play more important roles. Here, in Barys, I got what I needed. And you know, I’m enjoying again!”

However, moving from North America to Kazakhstan may be not the easiest path. But Jurco has his family behind as a support. “They are very happy for me and support any decision I make, plus now I’m much closer to them, just a couple of hours away by plane,” the forward says. “Yes, they were surprised, in particular my girlfriend, who lived with me in North America for seven years, where she loved it and was used to life there. So far, unfortunately, she hasn’t been able to fly to me in Kazakhstan because of pandemic restrictions, but hopefully everything will work out. All my relatives are happy about how well I’m doing in my new place now, that’s the most important thing for them. Besides, now it’s much more convenient for them to watch my games, there’s not such a significant time difference and they don’t have to get up too early or go to bed very late – everyone is on the plus side.”

The fact that Jurco needed a break is furtherly confirmed by how long he needed to sign in the KHL. About six months passed from his last game in North America and his debut with Barys. “I just didn’t want to play and decided to take a little break,” Jurco explains. “I wanted to reset my head, rethink everything, and disconnect from hockey for a while, I felt I needed it. I spent time at home with my family and my dog – clearing my mind of unnecessary thoughts. I think that was one of my best decisions. When I came back to hockey and signed with Barys, I felt great and easy, I felt the hunger for hockey again – I hadn’t done that for a long time. I’m glad that such a feeling is back. Sometimes you have to stop a little bit and catch your breath to keep running. But by saying that I took a break doesn’t mean that I just laid back and did nothing. I kept myself in shape, and for the last two months before I moved to the KHL, I practiced a lot. When I started playing for Barys, it took me some ten games to get back in shape and feel good and confident on the ice, although I didn’t feel any problems with my stamina from the very first game.”

The forward has now 17 games with Barys, and he knows what was the best one so far. “I’ll first say that I try not to think about who we’re playing against and how the opponent plays; I always think about my team and me. But I remember one game very well – against Metallurg in Magnitogorsk. It was like in the movies: we couldn’t take a flight because of the weather, and in the end we arrived just an hour and a half before the game, as if we were straight off the plane onto the ice. Our uniforms from the last workout didn’t have time to dry, which is not very pleasant, and we had to play against one of the strongest teams in the league. And we still won, despite all the difficulties and obstacles. It was really cool!”

After the Beijing Olympics, Barys will have to keep on its playoff push. The Kazakh franchise is currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, with Amur and Avtomobilist also trying to get on the right side of the playoff line. “If we continue to play like we did in the last four games, beating one of the leaders in the East twice, we’ll be fine and we'll be able to not only keep our place in the top eight, but also perform well in the playoffs,” he says. “And, of course, as always, before the playoffs we have to improve our team play on defense, because our offense is just fine.”

Earlier in his career, Tomas Jurco spent three seasons with Dynamo Moscow’s forward Stanislav Galiyev. They still keep on touch despite playing together for the last time in the 2011-2012 season – ten years ago – when they were with the St. John’s Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. “We sometimes text each other on messenger,” Jurco says. “Maybe he didn’t know that I was also in the KHL now, so when I posted the story on Instagram, he responded. And then we played against each other when Dynamo came to Nur-Sultan in early December; we talked after the game. It was very nice to see him, it’s amazing how things work out in hockey sometimes. We were good friends when we played in St. John’s, we have a lot of fun memories and events that you can’t talk about in an interview.”

Later in his career, Jurco lined up for the Detroit Red Wings, whose star was Pavel Datsyuk. “He’s one of the best hockey players ever,” he doesn’t hesitate. “It’s a shame that I couldn’t play with him when he was younger, although even as he got older, he always stayed at the top. I can’t even imagine at what level he was playing at the peak of his career. I didn’t talk much with Pavel, but that’s because he was a calm, quiet man and didn’t speak English very well, but I still got a few tips from him. And when I scored my first goal in the NHL, Pavel congratulated me personally, it was a special moment. So, when he decided to leave, I can imagine how upset the team’s fans were. Pavel is a true icon and everyone’s favorite there.”

Initially, Jurco found his fame after a few YouTube clips showing off his skills before he hit pro hockey. “I haven’t done anything like that in a long time,” he almost excuses himself. “Frankly, I never made a YouTube video on purpose, I just practiced with a stick and puck for about 20 minutes. But when I was much younger, I really liked doing it all and making it up, and I did it daily when I came home from school or practice. When I didn’t have time to come home after the classes, I would drop everything, pick up my stick, and I couldn’t tear myself away. I think if you go back to that now, it will take some time, but I don’t have that much spare time now, there are other things to do.” One of his signature moves was the spin-o-rama shootout. “I didn’t think particularly long about that move,” Jurco explains. “I came up with it myself. I probably had a couple of attempts while practicing, I tried it once in a game, and then had a chance to show it to the fans. But such tricks come out mainly in practices and all-star games. You concentrate on something else entirely when you’re playing, so there’s no time left for tricks. But overall, such tricks helped me improve my puck control during the game, as well as my concentration, agility, and coordination.”

Jurco comes from a hockey family, and that is what gave him his love for the game. His sister Petra had seventeen seasons as a player in Slovakia and Czechia, and has represented her country in several international competitions. “Hockey in our family started with my sister, who adored it and always wanted to play,” the forward recalls. “So, when she was about nine years old, we came to the rink to sign her up for training. But there was no women’s team in our hometown of Kosice at the time, and the coach couldn’t take her, but noticing me, he said: ‘If this guy wants, he can come, the practice is tomorrow morning.’ So we decided to give it a try, my parents bought me some inexpensive equipment, and I came to practice. That’s how, thanks to my sister, I got into hockey. And two years later she also began to practice and play, though in another city. And it wasn’t just a hobby for her, she was seriously practicing and had a good career, becoming the best hockey player of the Slovak women’s championship and even played in the Olympics. Just last season she decided to end her career, because playing women’s hockey you hardly get any money.”

The 2022 Beijing Olympics won’t be the first for Jurco – he has already represented Slovakia at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. “It was great, with a lot of emotions – for me it was both the first Olympics and my first experience playing for the Slovak senior team,” he says. “I was 21 or 22 at the time. We didn’t play very well, got out pretty quickly, but the whole atmosphere, the opening ceremony – it was unforgettable.”

Naturally, the 2022 Olympics will be much different as the pandemic dictates most of the rules. “I will try to enjoy it as much as possible,” Jurco comments on the current situation. “This Olympics will be very different from my first. But it’s still an important tournament for me and my country, where all athletes are watching and dreaming of playing. It’s another reason for my parents and family to be proud, so I will try to show my best game. Also, the situation with the Slovak national team is slowly beginning to improve, although things aren’t ideal, but I think now the development is going in the right direction. There are a lot of young talented players with a bright future ahead of them.”

Moreover, after the Olympics, the season won’t be over yet for Jurco. Quite the opposite – Barys is the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, and it needs to win games to qualify for postseason. “As I said, after a short break in my career, I miss hockey and I want to play it, and I have enough energy and emotions for that,” the forward explains. “Therefore, I am looking forward to both the start of the Olympics, and to return to Barys after it, to finish the season well, so I’m not even worried about it.”

KHL.ru dossier

Tomas Jurco

Born on Dec 28, 1992, in Kosice (Slovakia)

Playing career: 2009-2012, St. John’s Sea Dogs (QMJHL); 2012-2017, Grand Rapid Griffins (AHL); 2013-2017, Detroit Red Wings (NHL); 2016-2018, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL); 2017-2018; 2017-2018, Rockford Ice Hogs (AHL); 2018-2019, Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL), Charlotte Checkers (AHL); 2019-2020, Edmonton Oilers (NHL), Bakersfield Condors (AHL); 2020-2021, Vegas Golden Knights (NHL), Henderson Silver Knights (AHL); 2021-today, Barys.

Achievements: QMJHL champion (2011, 2012), Calder Cup champion (2013, 2019).

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