I have to admit I spent some time wondering if my today’s Portrayee can be interesting to a wider range of my readers. After careful consideration, I decided that I shouldn’t turn my interview too much into the specifics of the branch in my beloved country. However, it is the best if I try to do it in a way I’m probably the best at – presenting my Portrayee as a human being.
Now, I consider myself as a man with a wide view on the world. I probably easily accept the otherness of all varieties. So at least I thought. However, interviewing the star of my today’s little talk I caught myself in the middle of prejudice. Featured star’s hairdo – which in itself is nothing special – quickly catches the eye of the petty bourgeois in the town in which the writer of these verses resides. A grey old town from former socialist country with a long industrial and sports tradition in which my today’s Portrayee is so good at is not exactly big. Having in mind post-transition stories and misery that came in recent years some another Slovenian famous sports name marked it with a derogatory name – Kazakhstan. But let us return to the protagonist’s haircuts. If I was somewhat poetic, I could say that his long hair is blowing in the wind during his performances. A man with some imagination could connect it with the biblical story of Samson, who lost all of his powers after his hair was cut off by Dalila. Man with less imagination, some dumb hillbilly – and our little nation never runs out of those, who, sadly, rise their heads so proudly in these turbulent times – would probably be able to connect long hair with some satanic genre of music (eg heavy metal, brrrr), a dangerous sect, or simply negligence of its owner. Having a long conversation with the star of this article, I can emerge that … that my sentences in the introduction of this article contain like seven branches, eight thoughts and nine possible senses. Anyway, my today’s Portrayee is the very first in a tab I named Foreigners in Slovenia, and goes by the name
Shane’s name is for now known to a narrow circle of hockey fans in a country which achieved so extraordinary and phenomenal success in hockey in recent years. At club level, the base I should say, it is sadly the other way around. Hockey had fallen as low as probably not yet in its history. Shane’s path to one of the Slovenian team’s jersey was quite interesting, but let me leave the talk about it – among many other interesting things – to Shane himself. Conversation was, of course, conducted in English. I couldn’t help noticing that my English became a bit rusty during recent years. That’s probably a direct consequence of not using it on a daily basis. Anyway, it turned out that it didn’t really bother Mr. Heffernan as he proved himself as really a simple and honest guy. As for the readers – please accept my apologies for the broken English style, but I’m sure you’ll be able to understand what the talk was all about.
Well, hello Shane. Tell me – how did it happen for you to turn out to play your game in Slovenia?
Hello. My agent sent a message one day asking me how do I feel about playing in Slovenia. I was with the Romanian club HSC Csikszereda which participates in Hungarian based MOL league. Experience from there is really … to put it kindly … bad. The league itself actually offers quite good hockey, but the overall environment in Csikszereda is completelly unprofessional. It almost feels like I’m in NHL now that I’m playing for Slovenian team. And as I said before – everything is very unprofessional in Csikszereda. It is also corrupt. I would not have recommended such an experience to any hockey player. Me and my brother played there together and they tried to get rid of us in a mean way. They also owe us thousands of euros.
But how did you end up playing for Jesenice and not for Olimpija Ljubljana, which competes in higher ranked EBEL league?
Well, I have to admit I was in contact for quite a while with Mr. Marko Popovic, president of Olimpija …
I am sorry to interrupt you, but … do you recognize the situation at Olimpija? Have you ever heard about their money related problems?
Mr. Popovic was quite frank about the situation. He said that there are certain delays at payments, but also assured me I would be paid according to our possible agreement. What I really thought about was the fact that Olimpija had only few games left to play in EBEL league and I’d love to be more active, I’d love to play some more hockey. Besides, it did not seem fair to the other players in the team who are waiting for months to get paid; my arrival would probably have shaken the balance and relationships established in the team. Mr. Popović otherwise made a good impression I have to be honest on this. It seems that he only wants what’s the best for his team. Anyway, I’m still pretty convinced I can play on EBEL level.
You were asking about me ending up playing for Jesenice – let me tell you this: after arriving from Romania, I spent a few days playing for Slavija in Zalog. That’s in suburbs of Ljubljana, Slovenian capital. That was the agreement. In a way, I came to introduce myself to the hockey related people of Ljubljana. It turns out that Jesenice managemet was also closely looking at my game. So, on the day when it was necessary to decide on the signing of a new contract (with Olimpija), the offer from Jesenice’s president Mr. Anze Pogacar also arrived. I made my decision within 30 minutes time. Conditions offered from Jesenice were simply better. In addition to that quite a lot of games were left to be played upon potential signing of the contract. I think I chose well, so far I’m happy with everything. There are also some prospects for the team to participate in EBEL league for next season, but – we’ll have to wait and see about all this.
I’ve checked on some facts about your playing career in Europe. You’ve played in many countries, including Norway, Germany, Latvia, Slovakia, Belarus, Poland, Romania and now you are in Slovenia. It seems you love to change your hockey environment. Is that perhaps only the urge of a young man to explore the world, travel around Europe?
Oh no, I wouldn’t put it that way. I take my hockey very seriously. Anyway, the life of a professional athlete sometimes turns in an unexpected direction. I have very good experiences from the north of Europe. The organization is at the highest level, payments are good. In Eastern Europe the situation is worse, of course, teams are often in financial difficulties. I have experienced many things, but life goes on. The worst things usually happened when I consented to the offer, which was at that time pretty much the only available. However, I’m not thinking about such things all that much. I’m focused on my current team. I want to help the team to achieve the best possible results.
You are coming from Canadian city of Kitchener. Call me stupid, but I’m not even sure I’ve heard of Kitchener before. After searching for more infos about the place online, I learned that there are approximately 507 000 inhabitants living in the metropolitan area of the city. Furthermore, it says on Wikipedia that the city is placed some 100 kilometers from Toronto. Is it a fact that in Canada a half-million city is so small that it is neccessary toa add the distance to the closest real city? How big is this place in the Canadian environment?
Haha, that’s a good question. Of course there are larger cities in Canada, but I would also say that Kitchener is slightly above average in terms of the size and population. I would say that Kitchener is just right – neither too big, nor too small. I love to visit people in Toronto, but that’s it. I don’t really like big cities all that much.
Well, how do you deal with Jesenice then? It’s a place populated with approximately 15,000 souls only …
First let me say this – Slovenia is, as much as I’ve seen it by now, one of the nicest places I’ve played in. Jesenice, of course is a little place. I cannot really compare it to the Canadian places, but it would be considered as a slightly larger village. Anyway, I know that there are only two millions of people in your entire country. Those facts are not important for me.
Well, as probably every Canadian hockey player, I have of course wanted to play in the NHL myself . I’m probably on the ice ever since I was one year old and the same goes for my younger brother. Our dad used to have a jewelry store back in Kitchener. Me and my brother always spent a lot of time playing hockey and dad provided the support needed. I think I was a part of organized training process since I was five years old. As a kid I practiced together with Mike Hoffman, who currently plays for Ottawa Senators at the National Hockey League. Me and Nick Spalding of San Jose Sharks were also team-mates as kids. But let me be clear about one thing – in my younger years I always tried to learn from Ahren Spylo, who plays in Switzerland right now. He is slightly older than me. I would say he is better than any NHL player, but that’s just my opinion. My favorite player was always Pavel Bure, hockey player of exceptional qualities. He had speed, technique, he could score … i really admired him!
Shane, you are in Slovenia for about a month right now. How do you feel about Slovenian food?
Well, Jesenice organization pays my lunches at the restaurant … I’m not sure … can we advertise it here? I take care of my own breakfast and dinner. So far I have eaten … you know … just the regular food. I don’t know if I even have tried any typical Slovenian food by now. I’m not too familiar with these things. However, I’m very happy with the arrangements that are done for me from team’s management. That includes food, too.
How about any random Slovenian brand? Can you name it?
Uhm, no. I really can not, unfortunately.
Are you telling me you cannot name even a Slovenian beer brand?
I do not drink alcohol, so – unfortunately not. I’m sorry.
How about the differences between cars over in Canada and here in Slovenia? And how about the winters here and there?
In Canada, of course, cars are mainly equipped with automatic transmissions. I wouldn’t say that there are no cars with manual gearboxes though. Maybe one in ten is such with manual transmission. Those are mostly German cars.
Can You drive a car with manual gearbox?
Yes, I can. When I played in Germany several years ago we once already finished our season. I had my flight for Canada already booked for a week later and I decided to visit my friend who played in Czech Republic at the time. The Germans provided one of their cars, and I quickly learned. As for the winter, Kitchener area is not known for huge amounts of snow. But it’s very cold there. Occasionally there can be a lot of snow as well, but I wouldn’t call it regularly. Anyway, it’s nothing like this winter here – you virtually don’t have any winter in Slovenia. I remember snow waist high when I played in Norway though.
You mention your brother a lot. I read somewhere that people who know you call you the Heffies. Is that your brand? Moreover, I wanted to ask you about trouble in Csiksereda – I found some forum where somebody said that you and your brother created some problems in Romania and then simply dissapeared …
Ironic smile passes Shane’s face at that particular moment, but he stays cool and calmly explains:
As I said earlier, everything is very unprofessional in Romania. Once they replaced head coach and brought somebody from Eastern Europe, me and my brother were first on the shooting list, if I may say so. We were provoked in any possible way you can imagine, but we had contracts. We didn’t wanna leave. Some people actually attacked us physically one day. In a hostile environment like this, no player wants to stay. I told you my side, but it is normal that each party presents one of its own. I know what I am talking about.
As of Heffies – we’ve been called Heffies since we were kids. You know … Heffernan, Heff … it’s just a nickname.
Once again Shane’s face lightens in a smile, his eyes get really bright …
We are both capable of scoring points, that’s for sure. I don’t wanna decide on which one is better. However, we’re better together than individually, I can tell you that much. In fact, we are really great together. We play together since we were kids and we understand each other on the ice very well. We probably complement each other. He makes me better and I believe I make him better hockey player as well.
I’ve watched you on the ice. It seems – despite the fact that you’re not the talles guy in the league – you’re not afraid of anyone. You get in physical contact with taller and bigger players a lot …
The way I see it, height doesn’t play such a big role at all. I am very strong. I’ve always worked on my physical preparation, even during my youth hockey times. I love being in a gym every day even in present times. Physical hockey is anyway typical for Canadian players. I am confident in myself, in my strength. I’m not afraid of anyone. I would say that it is good to be a Canadian hockey player. Anyway, the refferees in Europe are calling many penalties that wouldn’t be called in Canada. They would be treated as plain body-checks. Therefore, I have to be cautious here, I have to think about that during the games.
How about the family? Are You having one yet? Are you planning to start it?
I have a girlfriend over in Canada, Her name is Jill and she is a nurse. That’s very respectable profession in Canada. It is also quite well paid.
Well, why don’t You bring her over to Europe?
Oh, I would very much love to do it, of course. In fact, I just might – if I get back to Jesenice. But it is of course too early to tell. It depends on many factors, including considering how Jill would fill up her time here. She likes her job very much.
Let’s get back to your Canadian hockey style for a minute. At what age you are taught to deliver body-checks over in Canada?
Each province organizes their competitions separately and independently in Canada. It is interesting that the rules in all the provinces are not the same, so I can not answer your general question. If I remember it correctly, they allow us to deliver body-checks since we are twelve. Anyway, I remember that we were first taught how to protect ourselves, not how to hit the opposition. Hockey player must know how to protect himself from puck, against hard hits, needs to learn how to fall properly and many more. Those are very important things everyone needs to learn!
You said earlier that your favorite player was Pavel Bure. Is there anyone else you admired? And how about nowadays players? Furthermore, who do you think is the best at Jesenice team?
I’ve always loved Jeremy Roenick, who is of course retired from playing hockey. I also like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. I admire players who are fast and they play very physical. Otherwise, I’m not all that much focused on individual players. I can enjoy watching a good game and I respect all players that put their best efforts to play fast and agressive game including a lot of hard hits.
There are some good players at Jesenice team. It is evident that the team is a mixture of young players and some experienced ones. The results are currently dependant on the older part of the team. Those guys are currently indispensable for the team. However, the youngbloods are learning quickly and can get a lot of help from the experienced players.
How do you feel about Canadian teams not winning the Stanley Cup in decades?
New smile appears on my today’s portrayee’s face. This time it stays there a bit longer; it seems that the reaction is spontaneous …
I don’t think that National Hockey League actually needs a winning team from Canada. Everything is simply designed to make as much money as it possibly can. The Arenas in Canada are sold out in any case, even if the teams are not achieving according to their and their fan’s wishes. In addition to that – it is very hard to win Lord Stanley’s Trophy if there are only seven Canadian teams in the league. Simple probability calculation shows that the 23 US based teams will easily and more often win the Cup. Also, Americans are investing much more money. Anyway, it would be nice to welcome the Cup back in Canada.
Which team do you keep your fingers crossed for at the NHL?
I have no favorite team. It may have something to do with me being dissapointed for being overlooked in younger years, haha. But – everything is good for something. I don’t want to complain about it.
Every kid in Canada probably wants and tries to play hockey, if I exaggerate a bit. Prior to every season camps are organized with child’s skills and abilities being checked. Kids are competing at so called Host League at the age of five (or six). At approximately eight years of age children are then classified into three categories. Kids that show the highest level of skills are of course in the top one. Those are followed by kids with somewhat lame knowledge. In the last category are those who do not take hockey very seriously and play just for fun. Special competition for each of those categories is organized. However, kids can be promoted or relegated to higher (or lower) category during the season. That depends on the circumstances, the needs of the teams and many more facts. Unfortunately, engagement of parents is also often an important factor. Hockey in fact became big business and, of course, every parent wants to make his kid as successfull as it can be. Often not in appropriate manner, I have to say this. Otherwise competitions are organized for each age category by years of birth. Youth hockey is very popular in Canada.
How many people usually attend at youth hockey games?
We have a youth team called Kitchener Rangers over there and they compete in Junior League. Arena has a capacity of about 7500 places and is always sold out.
Shane Heffernan looks through the window of press cabin in which we sat during the interview and says:
Yeah, right. Rangers Arena is slightly larger than this one we’re sitting in right now. London Knights are positioned some 60 kilometres from Kitchener and their Arena has capacities for 10,000 people. It is also regularly sold-out. Knights compete in the same league with Kitchener Rangers.
C’mon Shane, are you kidding me? Parents and several teenage girls are watching youth hockey teams in Slovenia …
I’m serious. Young players need support and appreciation for their efforts. How else can a junior player otherwise develop into a top hockey player without feeling that he has support of the local community? Packed arena is the best thing a young player can experience.
What do You think about the girls in Slovenia?
I do not know, I was not paying attention. Actually, I didn’t met many by now. I’m not looking to meet any neither. I just miss my girlfriend. I miss her a lot. But since you are already asking me – Slovenian girls look nice at first impression. That’s pretty much all I can really say.
Can You tell more about your hockey plans in Slovenia? What goals did they present at Jesenice management? How real are those goals?
I’ve heard about the plans prior the season start. But at the moment the season is in its final stage, and I was not here from the beginning. Therefore it is difficult to speak about the goals they had at Jesenice before my arrival. However, I see that the team conquered third place in the regular part of the competition; I believe that is some good base for a good result at the end of the season. Each Playoffs is of course competition of its own and you get quickly eliminated if all pieces in the team are not in the exact place. We had a difficult series with Kitzbühel and it wouldn’t be appropriate to look at the finish line at the first meters of the run. As for me, I want to play my best hockey and help the team to win. That’s my thinking. I have, of course, personal goals, but I always I keep those for myself or share it only with the people closest to me.
There’s one more thing – I come to Podmezakla Arena every day and I watch large billboard photo of guys winning last season’s Slovenian League trophy. You know, I too would like to go home with a gold medal around my neck. It’s been quite some time since I last won anything and I believe I came to the right place to do it again. How realistic is it? I know Olimpija Ljubljana competes in better league, so it’s not an easy task. To repeat the winning we’ll need to put in some serious effort. Well, I’m ready.
Do You take your hockey more as fun or more as serious job?
I bought me a house in Canada by playing hockey, what do you think? Shane laughs.
I work hard to stay fit. I work a lot with weights. Anyway, if you do a job that you love and you are good at it, well – there’s sure fun in it. I love doing my job and I wanna do it as professional as I can. Besides, I take part in the Summer League in Canada for pure fun. Professionals, amateur players, NHL stars – everyone takes part of it and we play together for fun. I’ve played as goalie in the Summer League for fun. It is very nice to be on the ice without any stress and demands.
Right, tell me more about Jesenice management demands towards You.
I don’t want to talk about the details. The contract for the next season is still questionable, but it was of course discussed. Management wants me to be among the five most efficient players, that’s all I want to reveal by now. I believe I am capable of this.
How are you satisfied with the accommodation and the rest of what they offer in Jesenice?
So far, I have no complains. Everything is fine.
Can You name any Jesenice born player that made it big in a hockey world?
Anze Kopitar of Los Angeles Kings, of course.
Are You aware of the fact that Slovenian National team at Sochi Olympics was mostly composed of the guys who first learned their hockey at Podmezakla Hall, or they at least established their senior carreers at Jesenice? They also played in Quarter-Finals of Sochi Olympic Hockey Tournament …
Seriously? I did not know that. That is fantastic! It feels really good to be here, that’s all I can say about that. I know there’s been some serious financial collapse several years ago and that now things are only starting to get better again. I am happy if I can be of any help to this rising again.
Let’s end our conversation with your hairstyle. Are you telling anything to the World with it?
I would not say there’s any specific message. I grow my hair longer quite often. I cut it then and donate it to the various cancer-help relating organizations. Cancer treatment – as you probably know – includes radiation treatment. People experience hair-loss and similar. Donating hair is my little way of helping people suffering from cancer to feel better.
Our conversation with Shane ended at that point. Mr. Heffernan and I would probably be able to chat for several hours more as it turned out that Shane is very pleasant and simple guy. Hockey player from the other side of the Ocean stands with his feets firmly on the ground, is respectful to everyone and doesn’t project any sense of superiority. That in fact is a memory of local hockey fans on some Canadian hockey players that played in narrow valley inbetween Mount Mezakla and Karavanke Mountain-Chain. In the past they had to deal with arrogant players who acted as if they came to the end of the world to teach natives about the fastest team sport on the face of the Earth. Their acting, however, remains in collective memory of hockey-related people in very negative sense. As much as I got to know my today’s portrayee – Shane is not a bit similar to those people. Quite the contrary – Shane is a nice guy, interesting interlocutor, and especially a good hockey player.
Last, but not least – I would like to thank Sara Ros and Domen Jančič for photos contributed.
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