At the rink, Jaroslav Halak is a serious competitor. He brings a laser focus from the dressing room to the ice, whether it’s in practice or a game. He’s guarded in his answers with the media, never revealing too much about himself, or his thought process. He comes off as even keeled, barely cracking a smile after a win (he has 25 this season), but also not slouching or throwing in the towel after a loss.
Halak’s quirks are subtle too. He’s not stepping over blue lines, talking to his posts or squirting water into the air and watching it fall after every whistle, but he does prefer the visitor’s net at practice and morning skate.
“He’s a goalie. He’s different,” defenseman and fellow Slovakian Lubomir Visnovsky said. “He’s focusing on the game. Jaro wants to be better every day. Just look at practice. If someone scores a goal on him, he gets pissed off. Everybody is different. Some guys listen to music [to focus]. He’s just doing what’s best for him.”
Aside from his intense pregame focus and practicing in the more distant crease, Halak has done a good job at hiding any other quirks. Head Coach Jack Capuano likes Halak’s business-like mentality around the rink.
“That’s what you need, especially from your goaltender, the last line of defense,” Capuano said. “But at the same time he’s a good teammate and likes to have fun around the guys. He’s loose and relaxed when he needs to be – you can’t put too much pressure on yourself – but he’s focused and determined at the same time.”
Tuesday afternoon was one of those times Halak let his guard down, laughing and smiling with a pocket of media outside the Islanders’ lockerroom. He was being questioned about the upcoming all-star weekend in Columbus, his first all-star nod in his nine-year career.
“I just want to see what it’s like and be with all the best players from the league,” Halak said. “The game probably isn’t the best for goalies, but you have to enjoy it because you never know if you’ll ever get there again. You have to make the most of it.”
Halak said the all-star selection has been one of the best moments of the season for him. He’s made some big-time saves – his desperation goalline stop on Claude Giroux in a 1-0 shootout win is part of the Islanders entrance video – but stands firm that the wins and his all-star selection are team efforts.
“It’s obviously great to be recognized and go there, but it’s a team effort,” Halak said. “My teammates have been able to do it the last three games when I haven’t been my best. I know I have to be better for them after the break.”
A few days away from strapping on the pads in Columbus, Halak opened up a bit more about his life away from the rink. The Islanders stoic goaltender is a dedicated family man, heading home in his free time to help take care of his 17-month-old daughter Inna.
“I just want to spend time with her and see how she grows,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun being around her. She’s still only 17 months old and it’s a lot of fun at this age. It’s a long season and we travel a lot and spend a lot of time on the road. At home, our families deserve to be with us.”
Halak said the move to Long Island has been good for his family. It’s also been good for his career. He’ll enjoy the time in Columbus with the league’s elite; he might even crack a smile. But when he comes back to Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 27, the guard will go back up and Halak will get back to business.