A Croatian Building Block of a Golden Olympic Team

Photo by Bridget Samuels Photo by Bridget Samuels

After nine months of shutting down the NHL's top lines, and winning the Olympic gold medal, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the cornerstone of the San Jose Sharks' defense, looks back at a season for which he said had gone very well. Vlasic, who turned 27 in March, carries Croatian roots, yet he doesn't know much about the country his grandfather came from. The past season was his eight in the National Hockey League, after being drafted 35th overall in the 2005 Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks, but the Montreal native made a name for himself on the ice. Taking over the role of the skipper of the Sharks' defense, Vlasic worked his way into Canada's Olympic elite, after two World Championships. 

Q: The past eight-nine months have been all but relaxed for you with you taking leadership in the Sharks' defense and representing Canada in Sochi, how much does that contribute to your process of moving forward?

A: Well, I think even before this year I got a lot more responsibility as well, I think, I've been with the Sharks for eight years now, so I'm one of the guys that have been the longest with the Sharks. It's been a while and now with the younger guys coming up, myself and these couple other guys will take more responsibility and I know that and we've done that this year and we'll continue to grow.

Q: Speaking of moving forward, the Sharks suffered a collapse in the Postseason after a promising regular season, something that has been happening over and over for the past few years. How does that happen, what has to go wrong?

A: Well the first three games went really well, and the next four games we didn't really stick to the system, penalty kill was good, powerplay was 0 for 20, we allowed many goals. If it first goes good for the first three games it's on the players, it has nothing to do with the coaching staff; all the players are accountable for the loss. In 2010 it happened to the Boston Bruins and the year after they won the Stanley Cup.

Q: The Sharks have been legitimate Cup contenders in recent history.  Most people praise the depth of the team you have in San Jose. What do you believe are the keys to a team that will go all the way? Is it experience; is it age, or a well-balanced hybrid of the both?

A: A little bit of both, I mean, we got Marleau and Thornton that are signed for three more years, and then the younger leadership group and myself that are signed for five more years, so I think we had a good mix this year, a couple guys were injured for the game of the year, and we didn't stick to the system, but I mean, I'm sure if we would have done that we would still be playing today, that's not the case, we learned from what we've done, I guess we'll have to wait till the playoffs next year to prove everybody wrong

Q: After losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs for two consecutive years now, it is obvious that some changes have to be made. Without pointing fingers, what are the necessary, and what are the unnecessary steps to take in order to avoid that next year?

A: Well, Doug has already started to do that; he's gotten rid of Havlat and Boyle. Obviously Doug wants to win, too, you know, his job might be on the line as well, so he's making the necessary steps in order to improve the team and make sure this doesn't happen again 

Q: Looking back at this season, aside from the Postseason, the past nine months have been quite remarkable for you. You went on to represent Canada in Sochi. How much of a learning process has that been for you?

A: Personally, I'm very pleased with how this season went, me personally I think it went very well from the beginning to the end, got the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics and that went super well, it kind of gave me a name for myself, people started to recognize me, it's kind of nice after eight years of being in the NHL to get recognized. When I got back from the Olympics I fell my game really grew at that point moving on, I feel from actually when I played at the Olympics to my last game in the playoffs, I think that's when my game grew the most this year, I had a lot of confidence coming back, I felt confident going into the Olympics as well. Overall, I'm really satisfied with my season, but next year it has to be even better.   

Q: Drew Doughty, who was your defensive partner in Sochi, said you were more of the defensive guy than he was, that you communicated very well. Has being a stay-at-home defenseman always been your style of play?

A: My defensive game has always been, I guess my area of expertise when I play, always shutting down the top players in the other team. (I've been) top two, top three in plus/minus this year, I like to contribute offensively as well, when the opportunity is there I will create some offense, but then again I'm not the type of guy who will risk anything defensively. For me, it's to have a good all-around game, you know, be good in all three zones, be good offensively, defensively, on the powerplay and on the penalty kill as well.

Q: Winning an Olympic gold medal is definitely not something everyone can write home about, what was going through your head during the gold medal game, what crossed your mind first when the final buzzer rang?

A: When you're about to play the finals you really want to win, but anything can happen in one game, but we got that first goal, we played well as a team, but then we got that third goal and that third goal was with six minutes left, and you're sitting on the bench, going “Okay, we have six minutes left“ and you kind of know the way we were playing that we had it in the bag, at that point I had a couple of shifts left and I kind of knew that they weren't going to win now, when it got to two minutes left we knew for sure. It finally sunk in when you're standing in the line with the team and they go one by one giving you the medals, that's when it really hit me “Okay, I'm holding an Olympic gold medal“, it was something that was awesome, something that I'll remember forever.

Q: Let's talk a bit about hockey over here. Have you heard of Medveščak Zagreb? 

A: I heard they have a KHL team over there; there are a couple of NHL players I played with, Murray and Cheechoo I think are playing on that team.

Q: Five years ago, hockey here as if it didn't even exist, and now Zagreb is a member of the KHL. Would you think there is something the NHL can learn from this?

A:  I'm sure the NHL can learn, I mean, they want to expand hockey as well, the . KHL has done that, I heard that the team in Croatia is pretty good, that there are a bunch of ex-NHL players, I'm sure the NHL wants to expand

Q: Medveščak has brought in some big names for their debut KHL season, including your former teammate Jonathan Cheechoo. Would you ever see yourself taking the same road?

A: It's tough to say now, the only reason I would go now if I get bought out or traded or nobody wants me anymore but I hope I still get to play as long as I can in the NHL and after that we'll see. For example, Croatia and the KHL, I've never been there, so it's maybe a nice place to play for the experience, but for now I haven't thought about it.

Q: You're of Croatian ancestry; do you possibly know anything about your family history, anything about Croatia itself? 

A: I know my grandpa is from there, I know Zagreb is the capital and other than that I don't know anything.

Q: For a small country, Croatia is very successful sports-wise; have you heard of any famous Croatian athletes? 

A: Croatian athletes... I think the only one I know is that Blanka woman in the summer Olympics, I can't remember what sport she was doing; I think she was doing some athletics.

- Possibly the one by the last name of Vlasic, like yours?

A: Yeah, that's her, Blanka, that's her, Blanka Vlasic. I just remembered her because she had the same last name as me.


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