A Quirky Interview with Jan Bulis

This is a translation courtesy Andrey Osadchenko. The original interview was conducted by Vasilyi Trunov.

Vasilyi Trunov: Is it true that your hometown of Pardubice is all factories and industrial stuff?

Jan Bulis: There are some industrial buildings but they aren’t as big as in Chelyabinsk. Have you ever heard of Semtex explosives? They make it in my hometown!

I have a house in Pardubice, but I built it far away from the factories – in the suburbs. By the way, we haven’t had any ecological issues in the past 20 years – ever since the government took over the factories. This is the reason my town is different from Chelyabinsk.

When I first landed in Chelyabinsk after spending some time in Switzerland, I could tell the difference right away. After the first inhale, because of the smoke in the air, you just go like ‘Oh my God!’. You get used to it in a couple of days, however.

VT: They make famous cakes in your hometown. What other local food can you think of?

Bulis: Usually, where I’m from they cook typical Czech meals. They use a lot of fat, pork, poultry and beef. I’d say the most popular meals are duck with red cabbage and knedlicks that go well with beer. There’s a chef, who works close to Traktor Arena. His name is Vladimir and his speciality is Czech cuisine. I have lunch there every now and then. I usually get the beef tartar and potato salad. Unfortunately, I can’t eat there every day because Czech cuisine is rich and you can’t play hockey with a heavy belly (laughs).

Traditional knedlicks, a popular Czech dish.

VT: You left Pardubice for Canada when you were 16. Did you live with a billet-family?

Bulis: I did. They usually accommodate you with a hockey-obsessed elderly couple. Your team pays them and gives them free tickets to the games just because you live with them.

At first, I lived in British Columbia – not far away from Vancouver – with a very rich family. They had a big house with a pool and a giant billiards table in the basement. They treated me well. They told me right away that I should make myself comfortable, take the food out of the fridge if I like and stuff like that. On one Christmas they gave me a golden chain, jeans, t-shirt and jacket. Even my family never gave me expensive stuff like that!

I lived with other billet-families after that and they were all good people. My wife Eva, by the way, is planning to take us on a trip to Canada one day. We would rent a car and visit every family that I lived with in the early days of my career.

VT: You played both – in Canada and USA. Is there a difference between Canadians and Americans?

Bulis: Americans think there’s only one country – America. Canadians travel more often and they know more about the world.

When I was with the Capitals I had a funny incident at a gas station. One American asked me where was I from. ‘Czechoslovakia,’ I said. ‘Do you know where it is?’ He thought about it for a while and then answered ‘In Africa!’

VT: Could you tell me about your Rookie Party in the NHL?

Bulis: There was nothing special about it. My teammates asked me and Richard Zednik to sing the Czecoslovakian national anthem, we paid the whole bill and that was it.

There was quite a story in the junior league, though. We were on a bus with the team and some older guys decided to pull a prank on me and 5 other rockies. They stripped us down to our underwear and put us in a toilet stall. It was like a square meter big. They took our clothes, put them in a bag and duct-taped it. But that wasn’t everything! Then they threw some change on the floor. Everybody had to pick up a certain amount of change – 60 cents, $1.25 and so on. Then we had to find our clothes in a bag and finally exit the stall. It took me 3 hours to get it done. It was kind of stuffy in there too. I lost 3 kilos!

VT: You were a pretty succesfull player in the NHL. Why did you decide to move to Russia?

Bulis: I had a good season in Montreal. I played 70 games, scored 20 goals and had 20 assists. I was 27, it was the pinnacle of my career. Even though my contract was going to expire, I knew I’d get some other offers. I was right. When the market opened on the 1st of July, I received 15 offers. Nevertheless, my agent at that time – he’s not my agent anymore – decided to wait for whatever reason. 2 weeks went by. Then a whole month. Yet I still had no contract.

In the end, I had to sign a 1-year deal with the Canucks, which wasn’t as good as the others. I learned afterwards that some other teams were interested in signing me for 3-4 years. Although, my former agent never told me about it. I don’t know why.

After playing with the Canucks I had an offer from the Rangers. However, in New York if you want to live in downtown you have to make good money. The Rangers didn’t offer me that kind of money. So I left for Russia.

Jan Bulis’ Canucks tenure wasn’t particularly memorable, but he became the patron saint of a well read local blog.

VT: When you moved to Mytischi in 2007, did you feel like you sort of moved to the Wild West?

Bulis: The first couple of weeks I was absolutely terrified. For 4 years I lived in Montreal, where I had my own house, then I moved from Montreal into a 1-bedroom condo in Mytischi. Everywhere you look it’s just greyness and dirt. But after a month I got used to it.

VT: Did the police find the thieves who robbed your appartment in Mytischi?

Bulis: I lived in a house by the time it happened. It was a cleaner place but the roads there were just terrible. I couldn’t take a stroller out to take a walk with my son. One time when I was out having dinner with my family, we got robbed. They stole a few good jackets, watches and a laptop. They turned the place upside down. The police inspected the house, took fingerprints but didn’t catch the guys. I understand it’s not easy. I mean, hot stuff gets probably gets fenced really quick.

VT: It has been reported your wife and son were attacked by stray dogs.

Bulis: That’s right. Eva was having a walk with our son and they got attacked by 7 dogs. Luckily, some guy helped my family to fight them off and they hid in one of the stores. Moscow suburbs are full of dogs because there’s a lot of trash. It’s something unthinkable in Czech Republic. They have special services for things like that. Same in Canada and the US.

Feral dogs are an epidemic in Russia. There were an estimated 35,000 stray dogs in Moscow in March 2010.

VT: Some athletes open their own business so they would have a stable income once they retired.

Bulis: I’m not one of them. If you start a business, you either have to take care of it yourself, or it’s going to be your family’s responsibility. My parents are retired and my wife is a housewife. So… I chose another option. I built 2 houses in Pardubice, bought an apartment in Dubai and I’m also going to buy a place in the Alps because I like the mountains. Real estate is a safe way to protect your funds.

VT: Your son plays hockey. Have you ever considered bringing him to Russia.

Bulis: I’m an import player and I’m 34. In a couple of years I’m going to have to move back to my country to finish my career there. My son just started school and I don’t want to take him away from his friends and force him to move here. He visits me a couple of times during the season. We spent about 4-6 weeks together. Of course, it’s not enough. But there’s nothing you can do – that’s life.

VT: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Bulis: I think, I’m going to be sitting in a cafe; chewing tobacco, drinking coffee just letting the time pass by (smiles). I will spend holidays with my family in countries with a warm climate where we will chill at the beach. However, I have to work hard so this dream would come true.