Peter Sivak was the first player signed by the San Francisco Bulls. A quick google search for “Peter Sivak” will turn up several mentions of one of the fastest goals in professional hockey history. Whether it was 5 seconds from the faceoff, 4.8 seconds, or 3.23 seconds isn’t important. It was very fast. It isn’t entirely surprising that he did that. Sivak takes a lot of shots, from every angle, very quickly. This is one of the reasons he is the Bulls’ leading goal-scorer.
His North American career did not start so auspiciously. In his first month with the team, he had only one goal, three points, and 22 shots in eight games.
After that slow start, Sivak’s production picked up with a statistical jolt. In 24 games through November and December, he scored 10 goals, had 25 points, and took 92 shots. In January and February, he had 16 goals, 20 points, 109 shots in 23 games. During his first two months in the league, he took a paltry 12 penalty minutes, not bad for a player expected to score and stay out of the box. Since then, his penalty minutes have gone down even more, to just twelve minutes in 37 games, including a penalty-free February.
A few factors played into this abrupt shift. First of all, Sivak explained, he had to adjust to the North American game, the smaller ice, the increased contact, and a reduced reliance on passing plays. Secondly, he didn’t speak enough English when he arrived to communicate easily with his coach or teammates. No one on the team spoke Slovakian, until Marek Viedensky was sent down from the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. Viedensky’s arrival was the catalyst behind a steep uptick in Sivak’s points production.
Sivak explained that he and Viedensky had a symbiotic relationship that went beyond being able to talk to each other. Viedensky hadn’t been getting much ice time in the AHL during the NHL lockout, and Sivak was having trouble playing well with a team he couldn’t talk to. Viedensky helped Sivak understand the language between games, and during games they were able to react immediately to the play, they could communicate on the fly.
Sivak was emphatic in his praise of Viedensky as a hockey player, saying that he is very focused. Even when he was having a bad game, he was still able to stick to game the plan. Their synergy wasn’t exclusively a matter of language:
He played [a] European system, so we played well together. It was good for him because [in the] AHL he didn’t play. Here, he played more, and after, he played more in the AHL. It helped him, helped [the] team, helped me.
Sivak ‘s numbers were improving even before Viedensky arrived. Viedensky joined the Bulls on November 15, 2012, and played until he was injured on December 21. Once he recovered, he played four games at the start of February before being recalled to Worcester.
Sivak was making the adjustment to a new language and a new system on his own, but it does appear that having someone join the team who spoke the same language and had played the same kind of hockey accelerated the process.
Before coming to San Francisco, Sivak played almost exclusively in Slovakia. The exception was two seasons with PSG Zlin of the Czech Extraliga, from 2009 to 2011. Sivak’s highest points totals in the Czech and Slovak leagues came in 2011-12 when he finished with 51 points in 55 games, and 2007-08 when he had 48 points in 52 games. Right now, despite the slow start, he has 51 points in 61 games, including 29 goals.
His stat sheet lists the Czech town of Cheb as his birthplace. That is accurate, but misleading. His family moved to Slovakia when he was still an infant, maybe as young as a month old. He is a Slovakian citizen and always has been one. Among the differences he noticed between Slovakia and California are the much higher population, a lot more traffic, and warm weather during hockey season.
What would Sivak do if he wasn’t a hockey player? He didn’t know, but it would be something in the area of sports.
This is Sivak’s first stay in North America, his first visit was last year:
Last year, my wife worked in New York state, Ithaca. Last year I came [to the US] for maybe seven weeks, two months. I went back and played in the Slovak league. We closed the season on March 23, and I came here. I stayed here all summer. I had a meeting with Pat, signed a contract.
Sivak’s wife came to the United States from Slovakia for school and stayed. (She graciously assisted us with some translation after last Wednesday’s game.) He said that she is why he’s playing on the West Coast specifically:
I preferred [to] play here, [in] North America, because I wanted to be with my wife [who works] in Vallejo. If my wife worked [on the] East Coast, in New York, I would play there.
In light of his comments about preferring to be in the Bay Area, I had to ask if Sivak would consider playing in the East next season, if he were invited to a training camp. He answered that he was not thinking past this season, he could only think about getting into the playoffs with the Bulls. That is his only focus right now.
The Bulls will be depending on him and the other leaders in the coming month. Last week, after a very close loss, Head Coach and GM Pat Curcio said:
Our core guys are still the guys that need to produce, and that’s Jordan Morrison, Peter Sivak, Dean Ouellet, Rob Kwiet, Simon Danis-Pepin. There’s only a few bodies that are supposed to help those guys be better.
Despite all the moves Curcio has made recently, trading for scoring leaders from other teams, Peter Sivak and Dean Ouellet continue to be the team’s top point-getters. The Bulls need them to keep that up. Saturday and Sunday, Sivak scored in back-to-back games. In Sunday’s win, he scored a particularly pretty goal off a feed from Yanni Gourde. It shows up at just after the 50 second mark of the game highlights:*
Of that goal, Curcio said:
That was unbelievable. That’s the kind of stuff we expect him to do. He’s got that speed, he’s got that strength, if he can take guys wide and drive them, that’s a good hockey play.
This week, the Bulls released a new player brand video, amusing clips they have been doing all season. Sivak’s is called “The Most Interesting Bull in the World.” It is definitely worth a look.
*The video has the wrong cover notes, it is the game played March 10, 2013.
(This post was originally published at Kukla’s Korner on March 11, 2013)