LAKE PLACID, N.Y., SEPT. 17 -- In this brave new world, with borders of formerly totalitarian governments opening like a flower in a Prague spring, there are aspects of life that take a while to be translated from one culture to another.
Golf, for example.
"Peter hit it like a slap shot, instead of a golf shot," said Paul Pechacek, the University of Maryland student who has served as a translator for Peter Bondra and Jiri Vykoukal -- the Czechoslovakian hockey players who joined the Washington Capitals this season.
But both are good athletes. Pechacek, who took them on their first golf outing here one afternoon, said with an embarrassed grin, "I had 68 and they did better than I did."
Almost a year has passed since a revolution swept one of the more hardline Communist governments from power in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet army did not interfere and has since begun heading east.
"Before the whole thing happened, they didn't get along with the Russians that came into Czechoslovakia," Vykoukal, 19, said through Pechacek. "They made a mess of things. The Russians were treated a lot better than anybody else. When we saw they were leaving peacefully, without any bloodshed, it was exciting. We're happy to see them go and get back our sovereignty."
Vykoukal's father, Matous, worked in a government office and his mother, Jaroslava, worked at an ice rink. They hope to open their own business, possibly a hotel or restaurant.
"My family was not in the Communist Party and they didn't get the better jobs, as the Communists did," Vykoukal said. "The Communists always came first with apartments, food and cars. We were always at a disadvantage because we were not part of it. We tried to have as great a distance between the party and our family as we could. Another thing I'm excited about now is that everyone can start on an equal level. You can prove yourself to be on a better level."
Vykoukal is just 5 feet 11 and 176 pounds. He will need to grow and add some bulk to be an NHL defenseman.
"In Czechoslovakia," Vykoukals said today with his expanding English vocabulary, "we are playing more clever, more passing. Here more . . . "
Searching for the word, he feigned checking teammate Victor Gervais, who was standing next to him.
Vykoukal has not appeared in any exhibition games. He was to play in tonight's rookie game against Montreal, but he certainly will be playing in the minors this season. Rob Laird, who will coach the Baltimore Skipjacks, said the language barrier was not as much of a problem as he expected. Vykoukal, like Bondra, will watch another player in a drill and follow suit, even if the oral directions were not understood.
"He skates well, moves the puck well and seems to have good hockey sense," Laird said. "But he's not big and strong yet."
Bondra was born in the Ukraine to a Slovak father (now deceased) and Polish mother, Nadia. When Peter was 3, the family moved to the town of Poprad, in Slovakia. Though Bondra has grown up in Czechoslovakia, he does not have citizenship. He said he could have earned citizenship in another year or so. In the meantime, he remains a Soviet citizen and still carries a Soviet passport.
"He catches your eye," General Manager David Poile said. Bondra, 22, is fast and carries the puck with flair, but with defensive skills to learn, he might start the season in Baltimore no matter how his contract situation is resolved.
The NHL office rejected his Capitals' contract, citing vague, often unwritten agreements to respect hockey contracts of other countries. Bondra has a contract, which runs through 1999, with the Czech team Kosice.
"Because of the changes in the government, I feel the definition of the contract has changed," Bondra said. "Obviously, you don't sign 10-year contracts."
Poile said he can sign Bondra to an AHL contract and might speak with NHL officials later this week in another attempt to have Bondra's NHL contract approved.
Bondra is not the only player in this situation. Jergus Baca, a defenseman who scored a goal for Hartford in Sunday's 4-4 tie with the Capitals, was Bondra's teammate and has one year left on his contract.
"We're looking at the same thing," Hartford General Manager Eddie Johnston said, although he will have Baca return to Kosice if he is not allowed to play in the NHL.
"I think Peter Bondra has a lot of talent and skill," Coach Terry Murray said after seeing the 6-foot, 190-pound Bondra play two exhibitions . "He just has to put it all together in the North American style. There is no question about his work ethic and intensity. He very much wants to do all of the right things."
Bondra's wife, Luba, and 1-year-old daughter, Petra, will join him in October. He has found an apartment in Crofton, not far from teammate Michal Pivonka. Pivonka and his wife, Renata, defected from Czechosolovakia in 1986. Michal can often be seen translating on the ice for Bondra, and he said Renata will be assisting with assimilation.
"I saw when I came over that it will take a few months to pick things up," Michal Pivonka said. "The first time they go to the grocery store, my wife will probably go with them."