By Ian Oland
Jakub Vrana is involved in some World Championship drama similar to an ordeal Evgeny Kuznetsov endured involving Hockey Night In Canada analyst Don Cherry during the regular season. Cherry called Kuzy a “jerk” for his bird celebration.
Marek Sykora, an expert for iSport.cz, said in an interview after the World Championship preliminary round ended that Jakub Vrana “doesn’t work enough.” He added, “I can see [his] celebrity manners.” Vrana had 5 points in 7 group stage games, including 4 goals.
Thursday, in the World Championship quarterfinals, Vrana was inexplicably scratched ahead of the Czech Republic’s game against Germany. An anonymous member of the Czech media explained the benching saying that Vrana is a “dick” – a personal insult that may leave many Caps fans scratching their heads.
Vrana, of course, has shown class during the spat.
The drama all started on Tuesday. The 70-year-old Sykora, a famous former Czech head coach (sound familiar?), singled out Jakub Vrana’s play – despite V being one of the top goalscorers on the team. Sykora was the head coach of the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk from 2003-2005 and then was the bench boss of the Czech U18 and U20 teams after that.
“I am very disappointed by Jakub Vrána,” Sykora said as translated by RMNB’s Alexandra Petáková. “He doesn’t battle [for the puck], he’s invisible. A few moments were enough to assure me that he has celebrity manners. I don’t know if he learned that from someone in Washington but he should quickly forget it. I remember the evaluation of his presentation in junior national teams, he was unwilling to work for it. He basically just waits for a pass on a break where he can use his shot. He’s not active on his own. Even though he’s a successful young player, he’s getting recognition in the NHL. But to me his performance in the national team is a big disappointment.”
Sykora was then asked what he would do about Vrana in the locker room.
“I would put a different player on the roster in his place,” Sykora said. “He cannot repeat this type of performance. I don’t know, maybe Miloš Říha [the Czech national team’s coach] has a different opinion than me, but I would take action in his place. I’m just sharing my opinion. Miloš can be hard on players, he should have a proper talk with [Vrána] if he sees it the same way I do. It’s strange, Vrána works hard in the NHL, he has to, but he doesn’t do the same here and that can’t happen. He can score a goal, but he must add to that. Not expect that someone will do the work for him and he’ll just get the goalscorer cream.”
The next day, the Czech national team held practice in Slovakia and Vrana was asked about the comments. According to a sport.cz article, Vrana had avoided Czech coverage of the team in order to focus on his own performance. He was very surprised to hear the criticism Sykora levied towards him after the Switzerland game.
“I don’t know that person, I’ve never talked to him,” Vrana said. “I don’t want to judge him the same way he judged me. He might see it that way, but there’s no point in letting someone’s opinion get too much in my head. I want to focus on my own performance. Maybe it’s expected that I’ll start some sort of scandal now, but I’m a positive person and I have no interest in some media gunfight with a former coach. If this is how Mr. Sýkora sees me, that’s how it is.”
During practice, Vrana was replaced on the second line by Ondřej Palát and skated as the team’s 13th forward. He expected to play against Germany on Thursday.
“I want to keep getting better, but I also sense how the coach probably feels about it,” Vrana said. “If I get a chance, I will go here and try to play my best. I don’t know if it’s going to be 3 shifts or 17 minutes.
“I can’t influence these things as a player,” Vrana added. “All I can do is focus on my own game and not look around. The rest is in the coach’s hands. Of course, I feel like someone who can score goals. I’m a player who likes to score, even though the important thing in the quarterfinal will be to succeed and not who puts [the puck] in.
“When I played in the Stanley Cup final last June, there was also great pressure,” Vrana said. “But we are all professional hockey players here and we need to know how to deal with it. It’s incredibly important to enter a (big) game like that with a clear head. Hearing what they write about me, I’m definitely not going to read a newspaper. More likely I’ll get something tasty to eat and see what movie will be on Markíza [a Slovak TV station] in the evening.”
Thursday, Derek O’Brien, a sportswriter and editor of IIHF.com, ChampionsHockeyLeague.com, and EuroHockeyClubs.com, reported this in a tweet.
Jakub Vrána is a healthy scratch for the Czechs. An anonymous Czech journalist explained why: "He didn't play well. And he's a dick." #IIHFWorlds
— Derek O'Brien (@Derek_J_OBrien) May 23, 2019
O’Brien later deleted his message after it started getting traction on social media.
Vrana has faced harsh criticism before for his play away from the puck. Former Caps head coach Barry Trotz once said the talented young forward was in “participation mode” and benched the former first round pick during a stretch of games in 2017.
“He’s not going to play tonight by the way. Just to let you know that,” Trotz said then. “I’m going to pull him out tonight. He’s a good young player and I think he’s going to have a real good career. Just like all young players, there’s a difference between being involved and just participating. Right now, I feel, as a young player it’s a grind in this league, he’s in that participation mode rather than involvement mode.”
Vrana had a breakout year in 2018-19, scoring a career-high 24 goals. The Czech forward was routinely the last player on the ice after practice and is gracious to fans and media alike.
Well that sounds nothing like the Jakub Vrana I covered this season. https://t.co/01c0bJoooN
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 23, 2019
Last regular on the ice at almost every Caps practice. Had a disappointing playoffs. But this is weird. https://t.co/bLUMDG2HnX
— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) May 23, 2019
Vrana is a restricted free agent this summer.
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