For Robert Picard, Washington Capital defenseman, a month at the World Hockey Championships in Prague was a remarkable educational experience, like cramming for a master's degree. As a vacation, he would really rather spend his time in Acapulco.
Picard returned to Montreal Monday night, carrying a bronze medal, respect for the speedy skaters of the Soviets' championship team and a set of dishes for his suburban Maryland apartment.
"It was hard at the beginning getting use to the ice," said Picard, who turns 21 next week. "The corners were different and behind the net was twice as big as usual. The rink was 15 or 20 feet longer and 15 or 20 feet wider. It looks like a square, it's so big.
"Those guys are all good skaters. You have to be very mobile and think ahead. That was one of our big mistakes, the reason the Finns outplayed us in our first game. After that, we got used to it."
Canada finished with a 5-5 record, losing twice to the Soviets and twice to the runner-up Czechs besides that opening loss that shook up the folks back home. The results included two positive accomplishments the team failed to take out of Vienna last year, however - goodwill and the bronze medal.
"In the beginning, the Czechs were kind of reserved, because of what happened last year," Picard said. "Then they warmed up to us and every day there would be 200 or 300 people waiting for autographs, and saying "Hi,' and everything was really very nice.
"They took us to see castles and things, but for us most of it was connected with the hockey side. They showed us how hockey started there and some of their big players in the early days.
"Besides visiting places, I did some shopping, a lot with Guy (Charron) and his wife. I bought a lot of crystal and a set of dishes to take back to D.C.
"We could go pretty much where we wanted, but it's a brutal country. If you have your choice of vacation spots, don't go there. There were spies always around, I guess with the black market they have they wanted to watch us.
"I spent a lot of time playing cards with Guy and Marcel Dionne. It was a little lonesome once in a while, but we didn't complain. The food was outstanding, the same as here, although a little greasy."
The best part, though, was the hockey,the chance to skate against some of the world's best players.
"For me the best hockey player there was (Russia's) Sergei Kapustin," Picard said. "(Aleksandr) Maltsev is a great hockey player, too, and I was sorry he broke his leg in the last game. He has speed, he's strong, he's got a good shot, he's a good skater and a team man."
Asked to compare Kapustin with Montreal's Guy Lafleur, Picard said, "It's a completely different style. I'd like to see Kapustin in the NHL and I'd like to see Lafleur in this thing. I think Lafleur would be great there, with so much room to skate."
Picard said the officials left much to be desired, especially the bane of Canadians, West German Josef Kompalla.
"He called that first game, that's why we lost to the Finns," Picard said, "We got two five-minute penalties for high sticking and a couple of double minors. There were a few brutal ones, but the American raferee (Kenneth Pierce), he was the best. He was outstanding the whole tournament, that's why they picked him to ref both games the final day. He should get a job in the NHL off that."
If it had not been for his service with Team Canada, Picard would have spent the last two weeks in Acapulco, enjoying a free vacation he was awarded last year as the outstanding junior player in Quebec. But Picard has no regrets.
"I realize now that there are some great hockey players around the world besides Canada," Picard said. "I also know that I still have a few things to learn. If they ask me next year, if we don't make the playoffs, if I want to play for Canada in Moscow, I'll definitely say yes. I really loved it in Prague. It was an outstanding experience."