The decision to leave on recovery wasn’t easy, neither for the great Steve Montador nor for Medvescak. In his interview Medvescak’s number Four shared his thoughts with us...
''The short road isn’t always the fastest'', as Peregrin Took would say. Steve Montador is aware of that, and Medvescak’s defenseman has drawn the curtains for a little while, retreated from the frozen stage and turned over the ‘closed’ sign. The reason for this difficult decision was the injury he suffered in one of Medvescak’s recent home games.
''This injury...'', he paused for a second, took a deep breath... and in that breath the weight of the decision he had to make was felt,
''... reminded me of how important it is to think of your health in the long term, and not just for the time being. I’ve been in this situation before, so I’ve tasted it all. I know that I have to be careful and that this step is necessary. That said, I knew that because of the injury I wouldn’t be able to offer as much on the ice as I would want to, and that I’m not at a hundred percent. But despite that, the decision wasn’t easy. Actually, there were mixed feelings. On the one hand it was easy because I would like to completely heal the injury, and if I look at it that way, then this was the right decision, but on the other hand it was damn hard to take that step - to leave the team.''
Will Montador’s show on the ice come to a complete halt with the last game he played with Medvescak on 28 September against Barys, or will he continue after some time, nobody knows for sure right now; neither the doctors, nor him. Everything depends on how his recovery goes and how he is going to feel. But there’s one thing he knows for sure: he’s going to miss hockey in every sense of the word, regardless of how versatile and preoccupied he is doing other things he enjoys.
''I'm going to miss it, absolutely! I don't think there's a hockey player out there that would say any different. I'm going to miss hanging out with the team the most, that feeling that you're part of a team, the locker room, the game hall, travelling, competing, and the game itself in the end. I'm going to miss that way of life.''
Hokey isn't the only thing he's going to miss. In just a short period of time the 33-year-old Canadian has really taken a liking to Medvescak, the fans in Dom sportova, Zagreb...
''This has been an incredible experience, the most exciting time in my career for a whole lot of reasons. Where do I even begin?! We have some amazing players on the team, and the coaching staff as well, which functions really well. Everyone understands each other, enjoys practices and games, and works hard every day. Then there are the fans that you don't see anywhere else. They're unbelievable. I think that my claim here has weight to it because I've played in a lot of clubs in different places. What they give us at home games, that support, and also the respect toward other fans, is something I've never experienced. And you know what else is sad? I told the guys in the locker room that there's something special happening here, something big. You can feel it in the locker room, on the ice, inside the game hall, across the city. That's what made this one of the hardest decisions of my life'', he took a moment to pause, gather his thoughts, and continued to share everything that won him over in the Croatian metropolis:
''Zagreb is a beautiful city. It's a pleasure to live here. The people are nice and full of respect, and the food is incredible. I was particularly surprised by how big Zagreb is, but at the same time so small, where you can feel like you're living in a small town, a small community where everyone is connected. It has a special energy. And then the connection of the old and the new parts of the city, you have huge malls and tiny streets all in one package. You don't really have those kinds of things in Canada.''
Montador is going to bring all of those details about life in Zagreb back to Canada with him, where he is going to get the proper recovery he needs. Some of them will fade with time, but that's a normal process for every individual, but there is a special moment that will forever remain in his memory and his heart...
''When we played against Dinamo Riga, there were technical problems during the playback of the Latvian anthem. When it wasn't coming on after a few seconds, some of the Latvian fans that came down for the game started to sing the anthem. In that moment, as soon as our fans noticed them, everyone went quiet and all you could hear was the anthem coming from their mouths. It's hard to find fans that would react in that same moment the way Medvescak's did, ones that support fans of the other team. That was one of the best sports moments that I've ever witnessed in my life. To show that kind of respect to your opponent and toward the game made me proud to be part of a team that has fans like that.''
The Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks (all NHL), the Saint John Flames, Rockford IceHogs (both AHL), Mulhouse (French premier league) and Medvescak (KHL) are teams on which Steve left his mark. Of course, there's also the Calder Cup win in 2000-01 with the Saint John Flames, as well as the finale of Stanley Cup. Enough to say 'I've had a successful career'?
''When I look back, I ran a good race, eh? I'd like to have another championship win on my resume, either in the NHL or the KHL. (smile) But all in all, I'm happy with what I've done so far: I played professional hockey for a long time, I enjoyed every moment of it and went to a lot of different places.''
As he waits for his life to unfold to make the decision about whether he's going to continue his career or not, Medvescak's number Four is going to spend more time doing humanitarian work.
''I started a non-profit with some of my friends. It's called HOPE (Help Others Participate Equally), and I'm going to put more time and energy into it now, and am also going to be actively involved with other humanitarian organizations along the way.''
If you don't come back to Medvescak one day...
''That door isn't closed, but I told Aaron Fox that I can't come to a decision right now. If the team needs me, and I'm ready to get back in the game, I'm going to think about it and it won't be hard for me to come back. But, I can't commit to anything I might not be able to do. I'm going to follow Medvescak from Canada. I want to follow and experience the end of this chapter in Medvescak's first KHL season which I was a part of!''