The 31-year-old Slovenian will battle for titles with Yunost Minsk tonight at the 2018 IIHF Continental Cup Final and later this season in the Belarusian Extraliga where the team is leading with a 26-1-3 record. And later he could be called to play for the Slovenian national team at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
After our story earlier this week on Yunost’s league scoring leader Maxim Parfeyevets, we had a chat with the man from Bled about the Continental Cup, life in Minsk and the Slovenian national team.
Prednar moved to Minsk in 2016. He has played in six IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship events (including four in the top division) and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“After the World Championship [Division I Group A] in Poland I got a call and we started talking about moving from the Austrian league to somewhere else. I knew their reputation in Belarus so when they asked I didn’t have to think twice about it and said let’s give it a chance. I think in these two years I have learned a lot. It’s a different hockey and we also played great hockey in the Champions Hockey League and now in the Continental Cup. We have a great team and great organization and I’m happy to be here,” Pretnar looks back since signing with Yunost in May 2016.
Pretnar moved to Minsk with his family. It’s a different lifestyle in another country, more up in the north, more in the east and in a bigger city than the small-town clubs in Slovenia he had played most of his hockey.
“It is a little different but we got used to the life with the family and learned the language and alphabet so it suits us for now. The biggest difference is you’re far away from home and it’s a different culture and language. You have to get used to it but people are nice and helpful. It’s easy to go around the city. I’m not from a big city but I like it. And in summer I go back home and have mountains and villages,” Pretnar said.
When friends visit him, he shows them the historic monuments in the city, museums or the lakes outside the city. “It’s a beautiful country also outside Minsk and it’s different than our life in Slovenia,” he said.
The seven seasons before he had played in the Austrian-based EBEL. First for Acroni Jesenice not far from his hometown of Bled, then across the border in Villach and Vienna.
“In the Belarusian league we have great teams, it’s tough against Gomel, Grodno, Soligorsk and other teams. In the top-6 everybody can win, everybody can beat one other and the playoffs are gonna be very tough,” he said.
Playing at the Continental Cup is a different experience for him with opponents from other countries. “You only have three games in three days, you have to go in 100 per cent every game. Of course it’s a different strategy how to go into them.
“We’re getting better as the games go on. We started the first game a little nervous but I think as a team we feel better every game and I hope [today] will be our best game of the tournament,” he added.
Yunost against Nomad Astana. That’s the game of the top-seeded teams who also ended up being the two only undefeated teams after two days in the final tournament. A true final for the winners’ plate.
“We concentrated more on the other two games but we now prepare for Nomad. They play a Russian style of hockey and I hope it suits as. They are a fast team and can score on power plays so we have to be careful there. Our coaching staff will prepare us properly,” he said.
Yunost Minsk’s veteran head coach Mikhail Zakharov is ready for the battle between the current league leaders from Belarus and Kazakhstan.
“We have to start with our own tactics and attitude because in both games so far I wasn’t satisfied with our first period but then it got better,” Zakharov said. “The opponent has some good players who have developed at the Russian schools of CSKA and Dynamo, so they’re quite tough opposition and I will warn my players from them.”
Pretnar can potentially have a busy season since Slovenia has high goals. In the last Olympic season four years ago the national team historically reached the top-8 at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, with Pretnar on the roster, and two months later earned promotion to the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Doing the same in 2018 will be the goal and a dream at the same time.
“For us the biggest thing is to do my job here but then I hope for the Olympics, I’m still waiting for [the roster announcement]. The Olympics is a big goal for us this year and then the next goal is in April to get back up to the top division. We are kind of in between and need more consistency to stay up and I hope we can make it. It will be a tough group,” said Pretnar.
At the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament the Slovenes, who are again the lowest-ranked qualifier to make it to the event, will play Russia, the United States and Slovakia in the group stage. After the three games they will likely play in the qualification playoff to get a chance to reach the quarter-finals again.
“We hope for the best. We gonna prepare ourselves really well. We have a good coaching staff. We will give everything like always. We give all we got for the national team. All nation and the president are behind us so for us it’s a big thing,” Pretnar said.
At the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A, Slovenia will play Italy, Kazakhstan, Poland, host Hungary and Great Britain for promotion to the top division in Budapest from 22 to 28 April. It will be a reunion with some of the players from the other club teams here in Minsk, just in the national team dress. Since 2001 Slovenia has earned promotion every time (except 2010) it played a Division I tournament so the goal there will be simple to guess.