Friday, July 29, 2011

KHL's Lev Poprad will have large Czech presence

The first KHL team outside the territory of the former Soviet Union was almost placed in the Czech Republic. In 2009, there was an attempt to place a franchise in Karlovy Vary that fell through due to the World Economic Crisis. A year later, HC Lev Hradec Králové was born, but was unable to get the necessary sanctioning from the Czech Ice Hockey Association, leading to their move eastward to the town of Poprad, in the Slovak Tatra Mountains.

Though they are no longer a Czech team, the club will have a familiar look to Czech hockey fans. Ten of the 24 players they currently have under contract are Czechs, along with nine Slovaks, three Swedes, a Canadian and an American. Additionally, three of the Slovaks played in the Czech Extraliga last season.

Of the ten Czechs, three are coming to Poprad from other KHL teams, while four are moving over from the Czech Extraliga. Two players, goaltender Tomáš Duba and forward Stanislav Balán, are joining the team from PSG Zlín, while Jiří Hunkes comes from Bílí Tygři Liberec and Bohumil Jank from Mountfield České Budějovice. Jank played last season with Drummondville of the QMJHL before returning home to Budějovice following his team's playoff exit. Another player coming from the CHL is Štěpan Novotný of the WHL's Swift Current Broncos.

But those aren't the only players that will be familiar to Czech fans. Some of the Slovaks on the roster have made names for themselves in the Czech Republic as well. Branislav Mazei and Rostislav Špirko both played in Pardubice last season and Rudolf Huna played for Vítkovice.

Defenceman Jakub Jeřábek of Plzeň was taken by Lev in this summer's KHL draft, but it appears he will remain in the Extraliga for at least another season.

Radim Rulík (far left) runs practice at Lev Poprad's inagural training camp. Photo: Jan Molnar,
Head coach Radim Rulík is also Czech, hailing from Ostrov nad Ohří. Rulík has a long history coaching in the Czech Republic, particularly in Plžen and Karlovy Vary. He spent most of last season as an assistant coach with Sparta Praha. Back in June, Rulík foreshadowed the make-up of the team when he told World News--Russian Opinion, "My wish is that the team has only Czech and Slovak players. Then we will have a family atmosphere." Of course, there are a handful of other players on the team, but for the most part, Lev's roster is Czech and Slovak dominated. 

In addition to coaching in the Czech Republic, though, Rulík has also coached in the KHL, and knows the work he has ahead of him. The primary difference between the KHL and Czech Extraliga is the maturity of the players and the travel, he says. "The level of the KHL increases with each passing year. I would like to rely on core of veteran players aged 25 to 28. We want this main core to be more than than 12 players because we have a long flights. Believe me, I could see this when I worked for Avangard." 

That desire for a veteran presence may explain the club's foray into foreign talent. The five non-Czech or -Slovak players are all between the ages of 24 and 29.

In preparation for their initial KHL season, Lev will face a couple of the Czech Extraliga's best teams. Last year's finalists, champion Oceláři Třinec and runner-up Vítkovice Steel, will each host Slovakia's KHL entry on home ice, and once more in Slovakia. On August 9, Rudolf Hana will get a chance to face his former mates when Lev pays a visit to Ostrava's ČEZ Arena. The following day, they make the short journey to Třinec to take on Oceláři. Later, Vítkovice will play Lev again on August 20 when they face each other in the Tatranský Pohár (Tatran Cup) in Poprad. On August 28, Třinec and Lev renew acquaintances at the Cassovia Hockey Cup in Košice.

After their nine-game pre-season schedule has finished, Lev will open up the KHL regular season at home on September 10 against Roman Červenka and Avangard Omsk.

From the club's website,, here is Lev Poprad's inagural pre-season schedule:

1Thu, Aug 4 HK Spišská Nová Ves (Slovak 1.L) ZŠ Spišská Nová Ves18:00
2Tue, Aug 9 HC Vítkovice Steel (Czech EL) ČEZ Aréna, Ostrava18:00
3Wed, Aug 10 HC Oceláři Třinec (Czech EL) Werk Aréna, Třinec17:00
4Thu, Aug 18 Graz 99ers (EBEL) Aréna Poprad16:00
5Sat, Aug 20 HC Vítkovice Steel (Czech EL) Aréna Poprad19:00
6Sun, Aug 21 TBD Aréna PopradTBD
7Fri, Aug 26 HC Košice (Slovak EL) Steel Aréna, Košice 18:30
8Sat, Aug 27 HC CSKA Moscow (KHL) Steel Aréna, Košice15:00
9Sun, Aug 28 HC Oceláři Třinec (Czech EL) Steel Aréna, Košice 15:00

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Extraliga pre-season begins Thursday

After a seemingly short time off, the 14 teams that will compete in the Czech Extraliga will soon take to the ice in preparation for the 2011-12 season. Things kick off on Thursday night, with three Extraliga clubs in action. Bílí Tygři Liberec and Benzína Litvinov will face off against each other in Litvínov. Meanwhile, defending-champion Oceláři Třinec travels 120 kilometres to Olomouc, where they will take on the local 1st League club.

Next up, Kometa Brno will host KHL club SKA St. Petersburg on Monday, August 1, followed by six more teams hitting the ice the following day. For the visiting Russian club, Brno will be the second stop on a three-game Czech tour. They play against First-League club Hradec Králové on Thursday and then against Třinec on August 3 in Přerov, the hometown of SKA coach Miloš Riha. Slavia Praha will be the last team to get into the mix, opening their pre-season schedule on Thursday, August 4 against Liberec at Zimní stadion Eden in Prague's Vršovice district.

A good portion of the pre-season schedule will include games from the European Trophy, with seven Extraliga clubs playing eight games each. The 24-team, six-nation tournament begins on August 11, with Sparta Praha and ČSOB Pojišťovna Pardubice playing at home and Liberec and Slavia playing abroad.

The European Trophy isn't the only international tourament that Extraliga clubs will compete in this August, however. The same day the European Trophy begins, Třinec and PSG Zlín will begin play in the Rona Cup, a three-day event in Trenčín, Slovakia that will also include three Slovak clubs. Other tournaments that will happen in Slovakia include the Tatran Cup in Poprad, in which Vítkovice Steel will compete, and the Cassovia Cup in Košice, which will be Třinec's second tournament. Extraliga clubs will also compete in tournaments and series in Switzerland, Germany, and Croatia.

The final day of pre-season action will be September 9, with the Extraliga regular season beginning a week later, on September 16.

From, here is the pre-season schedule for 2011-12 Extraliga clubs:

HC Oceláři Třinec

28.7. at Olomouc (1st League)
3.8. St. Petersburg (KHL) at Přerov
10.8. Lev Poprad (KHL)
11.8. Trenčín (Slovak EL) Rona Cup at Trenčín, Slovakia
12.8. Košice (Slovak EL) Rona Cup at Trenčín, Slovakia
13.8. Nitra (Slovak EL) Rona Cup at Trenčín, Slovakia
18.8. Skalica (Slovak EL)
26.8. CSKA Moscow (KHL) Cassovia Hockey Cup at Košice, Slovakia 
27.8. Košice (Slovak EL) Cassovia Hockey Cup at Košice, Slovakia 
28.8. Lev Poprad (KHL) Cassovia Hockey Cup at Košice, Slovakia 
30.8. Zlín 
6.9. Trenčín (Slovak EL)
8.9. at Pardubice

HC Vítkovice Steel

2.8. at Olomouc (1st League)
4.8. France U23
5.8. Skalica (Slovak EL)
9.8. Lev Poprad (KHL)
11.8. Acroni Jesenice (EBEL)
16.8. Trenčín (Slovak EL)
19.8. Graz (EBEL) Tatranský pohár at Poprad, Slovakia
20.8. Lev Poprad (KHL) Tatranský pohár at Poprad, Slovakia
21.8. Placement game Tatranský pohár at Poprad, Slovakia
24.8. Davos (Swiss NLA) Industrie Cup at Lyss, Switzerland
26.8. Langnau (Swiss NLA) Industrie Cup at Lyss, Switzerland
27.8. Rapperswil-Jona (Swiss NLA) Industrie Cup at Lyss, Switzerland
2.9. Medveščak Zagreb (EBEL) Memoriál Ferdo Spajiče at Zagreb, Croatia
3.9. Munich (DEL) Memoriál Ferdo Spajiče at Zagreb, Croatia
4.9. Zug (Swiss NLA) Memoriál Ferdo Spajiče at Zagreb, Croatia
6.9. at Zlín
8.9. Zlín

HC ČSOB Pojišťovna Pardubice

4.8. at Hradec Králové (1st League)
11.8. Linköping (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
13.8. HV´71 Jönköping (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
18.8. at Liberec European Trophy
20.8. at Mannheim (German DEL) European Trophy
22.8. at Tappara Tampere (Finnish SML) European Trophy
27.8. Kometa Brno European Trophy
28.8. IFK Helsinki (Finnish SML) European Trophy
6.9. at Plzeň European Trophy
8.9. Třinec

HC Slavia Praha

4.8. Liberec 
11.8. at Djurgaarden (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
13.8. at Lulea (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
14.8. at TPS Turku (Finnish SML) European Trophy
19.8. Sparta Praha European Trophy 
25.8. Jokerit Helsinki (Finnish SML) European Trophy
27.8. IFK Helsinki (Finnish SML) European Trophy
31.8. Plzeň European Trophy
4.9. at Mannheim (German DEL) European Trophy
9.9. Most (1st League)

Bílí Tygři Liberec

28.7. at Litvínov
2.8. at Sparta Praha
4.8. at Slavia Praha
6.8. Kometa Brno European Trophy
18.8. Pardubice European Trophy
25.8. at HV´71 Jönköping (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
27.8. at Linköping (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
28.8. at Kärpät Oulu (Finnish SML) European Trophy
1.9. Mannheim (German DEL) European Trophy
3.9. Lulea (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
4.9. Eisbären Berlin (German DEL) European Trophy
9.9. at Sparta Praha European Trophy

PSG Zlín

11.8. Košice (Slovak EL) Rona Cup at Trenčín, Slovakia
12.8. Nitra (Slovak EL) Rona Cup at Trenčín, Slovakia
13.8. Trenčín (Slovak EL) Rona Cup at Trenčín, Slovakia
17.8. Karlovy Vary
23.8. Skalica (Slovak EL)
25.8. Nitra (Slovak EL)
30.8. at Třinec
1.9. at Skalica (Slovak EL)
6.9. Vítkovice
8.9. at Vítkovice

HC Mountfield České Budějovice

2.8. at Kladno
4.8. Třebíč (Slovak EL)
9.8. Kladno
12.8. Plzeň European Trophy
18.8. at Kuopio (Finnish SML) European Trophy
20.8. at Kärpät Oulu (Finnish SML) European Trophy
25.8. Slovan Bratislava (Slovak EL) European Trophy
27.8. Vienna Capitals (EBEL) European Trophy
1.9. at Salzburg (EBEL) European Trophy
3.9. at Kometa Brno European Trophy
6.9. Sparta Praha European Trophy
8.9. Martin (Slovak EL)

HC Benzina Litvínov

28.7. Liberec
4.8. Kladno
9.8. at Langnau (Swiss NLA)
10.8. Servette Geneva (Swiss NLA) Hockeyades at Le Sentier, Switzerland
11.8. Lugano (Swiss NLA) Hockeyades, Le Sentier at Switzerland
13.8. Placement game Hockeyades at Le Sentier, Switzerland
16.8. at Chomutov (1st League)
18.8. Mladá Boleslav
19.8. at Kladno
23.8. at Ústí nad Labem (1st League)
25.8. at Karlovy Vary
30.8. Ústí nad Labem (1st League)
1.9. at Mladá Boleslav
6.9. Benátky nad Jizerou (1st League)
8.9. Chomutov (1st League)

HC Plzeň 1929

3.8. at Mladá Boleslav
9.8. at Karlovy Vary
12.8. at České Budějovice European Trophy
18.8. at Kärpät Oulu (Finnish SML) European Trophy
20.8. at Kuopio (Finnish SML) European Trophy
25.8. Vienna Capitals (EBEL) European Trophy
27.8. Slovan Bratislava (Slovak EL) European Trophy
28.8. Tappara Tampere (Finnish SML) European Trophy
31.8. at Slavia Praha European Trophy
6.9. Pardubice European Trophy
8.9. Karlovy Vary

HC Energie Karlovy Vary

2.8. at Chomutov (1st League)
4.8. Kadaň (1st League)
9.8. Plzeň
11.8. Ústí nad Labem  (1st League)
14.8. Ufa (KHL)
16.8. at Skalica (Slovak EL)
17.8. at Zlín
18.8. at Nitra (Slovak EL)
19.8. at Linz (EBEL)
23.8. Chomutov (1st League)
25.8. Litvínov
1.9. at Davos (Swiss NLA)
3.9. at Lugano (Swiss NLA)
4.9. at Ambri-Piotta (Swiss NLA)
8.9. at Plzeň

HC Kometa Brno

1.8. St. Petersburg (KHL)
2.8. at Havlíčkův Brod (1st League)
4.8. at Slovan Bratislava (Slovak EL)
13.8. Linköping (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
14.8. HV´71 Jönköping (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
16.8. at Liberec (European Trophy)
19.8. Mannheim (German DEL) European Trophy at Innsbruck, Austria
21.8. at Salzburg (EBEL) European Trophy
27.8. at Pardubice European Trophy
28.8. Jokerit Helsinki (Finnish SML) European Trophy
3.9. České Budějovice European Trophy
6.9. Skalica (Slovak EL)
8.9. Slovan Bratislava (Slovak EL)

HC Sparta Praha

2.8. Liberec
5.8. Mladá Boleslav
11.8.  HV´71 Jönköping (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
13.8. at Djurgaarden (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
14.8. at Lulea (Swedish SEL) European Trophy
20.8. at Slavia Praha European Trophy
25.8. IFK Helsinki (Finnish SML) European Trophy
27.8. Jokerit Helsinki (Finnish SML) European Trophy
3.9. Eisbären Berlin (German DEL) European Trophy
4.9. at České Budějovice European Trophy
9.9. at Liberec

HC Vagnerplast Kladno

2.8. České Budějovice
4.8. at Litvínov
9.8. at České Budějovice
15.8. Ufa (KHL)
16.8. Ústí nad Labem (1st League)
18.8. Wolfsburg (German DEL)
19.8. Litvínov
23.8. at Crimmitschau (German 2nd BL)
25.8. Mladá Boleslav
30.8. at Landshut (German 2nd BL)
1.9. at Ústí nad Labem (1st League)
8.9. at Mladá Boleslav

BK Mladá Boleslav

3.8. Plzeň
5.8. at Sparta Praha
9.8. Litoměřice (1st League)
11.8. at Hradec Králové
18.8. at Litvínov
23.8. Benátky nad Jizerou (1st League)
25.8. at Kladno
30.8. at Benátky nad Jizerou (1st League)
1.9. Litvínov
8.9. Kladno

Saturday, July 16, 2011

2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament

Only a couple of weeks have passed since the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but we are now less than a month away for the first international event that will showcase a good portion of the draft class of 2012 together. The annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the first of two major U18 tournaments on the international hockey calendar, runs August 8 to 13 in Břeclav, Czech Republic and Piešťany, Slovakia. It is the ninth straight year that the two cities, located 90 kilometres apart, have co-hosted the event.

What originally began in 1991 as the Pacific Cup, hosted by Japan, the summer U18 tournament evolved into the "Junior World Cup" and was given its current name in 2007, following the death of Czech hockey legend Ivan Hlinka.

The tournament is viewed differently in different countries.

To many of the European teams, it is just the first of a series of tournaments that their national U18 teams will partake in over the course of the season, in preparation of the much-more important IIHF U18 World Championship, which takes place in April. This is particuarly for countries like Sweden and Finland, who have relatively few of their top prospects playing in North America. Sweden's Filip Forsberg is on Sweden's roster for this year's Ivan Hlinka Tournament, while Finland's Olli Määttä will miss it, instead taking part in a U20 tournament in Lake Placid, USA.

Czech fans could get their only chance this season
to see Petr Šidlík (#4) in Břeclav this August.
For other countries, such as the host Czechs and Slovaks, a large number of their top prospects play in the CHL, North America's top tier of junior hockey, whose playoffs run concurrent to the World Championship in April. For many of these players, this will be their only appearance with their national teams at the U18 level. In 2010, this was the case for Czech twin brothers Richard and Ondřej Zehnal, who now ply their trades in the USHL and WHL, respectively. This year, there are five players who were chosen in the recent CHL Import Draft who might represent the Czechs and could head overseas for the coming season. Some people think that that these players, who might not be around in April, shouldn't take roster spots away from domestic players who are more likely to compete in the World Championships, which the Czech Republic will host in April 2012. Petr Šidlík, Radek Faksa, Patrik Machač, Dominik Volek and Michal Plutnar were all chosen by CHL clubs and, though they might not be available in April, they are expected to be seen in August.

"We have invited the five (drafted players) to (the summer selection camp in) Třemošná, from which we will select the squad for the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka in August," said Czech U18 coach Jiří Veber. "From that, I don't want to say that the selection of the U18 team is final. There are a lot of games to be played this season, and if some of the other players earn it, they'll get a chance."

Canada and USA battle in the 2010 final in Piešťany.
In the United States, their National Team Development Program is geared entirely toward April's U18 World Championship tournament, where they perennially dominate, whereas they have won gold only once at the August tournament, which is given less attention. Despite winning silver in 2010, only one player, defenceman Connor Murphy, came from the previous year's U17 team. He was also the only member to eventually play in the 2011 U18 Championships in Germany, where he scored the overtime-winning goal in the gold-medal game. The only member of last year's U17 team that will be on the Ivan Hlinka roster this year will be Brendan Silk.

In Canada, the tournament represents the biggest international event on the U18 calendar, and it shows in the results. In the 20 tournaments from 1991 to 2010, Canada has won 15 of them. Meanwhile, at the IIHF U18 World Championships in April, they have won gold only twice in 12 years.

Canada's top prospect in the 2012 draft, third-ranked Ryan Murray, is a late-93 birth, and is therefore ineligible to play. However, top-20 participants should include Griffin Reinhart, Slater Koekkoek, Morgan Reilly, Matia Marcuontoni, Matt Dumba, and Brendan Gaunce.

Of course, the biggest attraction of this year's tournament will probably be top-ranked Russian Mikhail Grigorenko. Nail Yakupov, who's ranked second, is ineligible, like Murray, but ninth-ranked Alexander Galchenyuk is eligible.

Canada and the US will play exhibition games against the two host teams on Saturday, August 6, before the tournament begins Monday. The Czech Republic hosts the group in
Břeclav, which also includes Canada, Sweden and Switzerland. in Piešťany, Slovakia hosts Finland, Russia and the USA. All teams play three games in a row and finish the group stage Wednesday, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semifinals on Friday. The medal games will be played on Saturday, August 13. 

Which teams play in which locations on Friday and Saturday will depend on the placing of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Each of these teams will play at home on these days, unless they play each other. In that case, the designated "home" team will host the game.  

Czech Hockey Report will be live on location at group games in Břeclav, and at semifinal and final games in either Břeclav or Piešťany.

Pre-tournament exhibition games:

Saturday, August 6:
 17:30 Slovakia - Canada (Piešťany)
 18:30 Czech Republic - USA (Břeclav)

2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament schedule:

Monday, August 8:
 14:00 Finland - USA (Piešťany)
 15:30 Canada - Sweden (Břeclav)
 17:30 Slovakia - Russia (Piešťany)
 19:00 Czech Republic - Switzerland (Břeclav)

Tuesday, August 9:
 14:00 USA - Russia (Piešťany)
 15:30 Switzerland - Canada (Břeclav)
 17:30 Slovakia - Finland (Piešťany)
 19:00 Czech Republic - Sweden (Břeclav)

Wednesday, August 10:
 14:00 Russia - Finland (Piešťany)
 15:30 Sweden - Switzerland (Břeclav)
 17:30 Slovakia - USA (Piešťany)
 19:00 Czech Republic - Canada (Břeclav)

Friday, August 12:
 14:00 A4 - B4 or A3 - B3 (Piešťany)
 15:30 A4 - B4 or A3 - B3 (Břeclav)
 17:30 Semifinal B1 - A2 (Piešťany)
 19:00 Semifinal A1 - B2 (Břeclav)

Saturday, August 13:
 15:00 Final or bronze-medal game (Piešťany)
 17:00 Final or bronze-medal game (Břeclav)

Monday, July 11, 2011

First Czech NHLer dies

Jaroslav Jiřík, the first Czech player and the first player trained in an Eastern Bloc country to play in the NHL, died in a plane crash on Monday at the age of 71.

A star winger in the 1960s with Sokol Kladno and ZKL Brno, as well as with the Czechoslovakian national team, Jiřík was given permission to sign with the St. Louis Blues of the NHL in 1969, at the age of 30. He played only one season in North America, playing most of the season with the Blues' Central Hockey League affiliate in Kansas City. Though he played only three games in the NHL, he earned the distinction of being the first product of an Eastern Bloc hockey program to do so.

Jiřík was born in Vojnův Městec, near Brno, and played in the Moravian capital for most of his hockey career, including five more years after he returned home from the United States. In Czechoslovakia's top league, he played 17 seasons, scoring 300 goals in 450 games. With the national team, he played in 10 World Championships, three of which were also Olympic tournaments, scoring 83 goals in 143 games. He won three silver medals and four bronzes.

After his playing career ended in 1975, he embarked on a lengthy coaching career. He headed several clubs in Czechoslovakia, as well as the Swiss national team and EV Stuttgart in West Germany. The last team he coached was Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga, stepping down in 1996.

Besides hockey, flying was a passion of Jiřík's. He was a licensed pilot and flew planes throughout his playing and coaching career; a hobby that continued after retirement. On Monday, he crashed his plane outside of Brno and died.

For more details of Jaroslav Jiřík's life and playing career, read his biography at

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stanley visits the Czech Republic

When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup on June 15 with two Czechs on their roster, it became nearly certain that the trophy would visit the Czech Republic at some point this summer. We now know the dates. Website is reporting that the Cup will be in the country from July 20 to 22.

Tomáš Kaberle
The Stanley Cup will be flown into Prague's Ruzyně Airport on Wednesday, July 20 and then be taken on a short drive to Kladno, the hometown of defenceman Tomáš Kaberle.
"We know the date of arrival and other details are planned," said Tomáš's father, former Czechoslovakian national team defenceman František Kaberle. "The Stanley Cup should first be seen on the athletic field in (nearby village) Velká Dobrá, then an event will definitely take place at Kladno's Sletišti Stadium. In the evening, it will then be at a private party."

This isn't the first time the Cup has been at a private party in the Kaberle family. Tomáš's elder brother, František Jr., won the Cup as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Coincidentally, Carolina is Tomáš's new team, as he signed a free-agent contract with them on Tuesday. Of course, Kladno's most famous native son, Jaromír Jágr, won the Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

David Krejčí
The following day, the Cup will travel east to Šternberk, home of playoff scoring-leader David Krejčí.

"We are negotiating with city management to use the main square in Šternberk for a celebration for local residents and supporters," informed František Tausch of Global Management Group, the agency that represents Krejčí. "In the evening, David will have his private celebration. The boys have a deal that they will participate in all events together. David will be at Tomáš's party, and the second day they reverse roles." 

On Friday, July 22, the Cup will travel to Trenčín, Slovakia, hometown of Bruins captain Zdeno Chára.

Following is a list of all Czech-born players who have been members of Stanley Cup-winning teams.  

1984 - Jaroslav Pouzar (Edmonton)
1985 - Jaroslav Pouzar (Edmonton)
1986 - Petr Svoboda (Montréal)
1987 - Jaroslav Pouzar (Edmonton)
1989 - Jiří Hrdina (Calgary)
1990 - Petr Klíma (Edmonton)
1991 - Jiří Hrdina, Jaromír Jágr (Pittsburgh)
1992 - Jiří Hrdina, Jaromír Jágr (Pittsburgh)
1995 - Robert Holík (New Jersey)
1999 - Roman Turek (Dallas)
2000 - Patrik Eliáš, Robert Holík, Petr Sýkora (New Jersey)
2001 - Milan Hejduk, Martin Škoula (Colorado)
2002 - Jiří Fischer, Dominik Hašek, Jiří Šlégr (Detroit)
2003 - Patrik Eliáš, Richard Šmehlík (New Jersey)
2004 - Pavel Kubina, Stanislav Neckář (Tampa Bay)
2006 - František Kaberle, Josef Vašíček (Carolina)
2008 - Dominik Hašek, Jiří Hudler (Detroit)
2009 - Petr Sýkora (Pittsburgh)
2011 - Tomáš Kaberle, David Krejčí (Boston)

How did Jágr end up in Philadelphia?

by Petr Polák

Many people were really surprised by Jaromír Jágr’s recent decision to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers. There seemed to several more likely destinations for arguably the world’s greatest hockey player over the past 20 years, but in retrospect it makes sense. Let's take a look at how Jágr's signature ended up under the Flyers’ letterhead.

Earlier this summer, Jágr was already showing signs that he wasn’t going to be rushed into making a decision when he was in negotiations with a few KHL clubs. He had several suitors, including Atlant, Kazan, and the hottest candidate was SKA St. Petersburg. The negotiations dragged on for a long time until SKA finally said, "Enough!" and withdrew the offer.

Although it was late June and Jágr still had no contract for the coming season, he stayed cool: "I have always had faith and I believe that whatever happens, it will be the best possible thing for me."

Finally, it reached a point where there were no more opportunities to stay in the KHL other than re-signing in Omsk, which wasn't Jágr's preferred choice. So he took a look across the sea. "I don't know if there will be any interest for my services in NHL, but I'll wait and we'll see," Jágr said.

The fairytale started again. Two big favourites put forth their offers: the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. Both are prestigious organizations and most players would take real pleasure in donning the jersey of either. But these two clubs, naturally, also keep their eyes on the bottom line. They put relatively low offers on the table and, particularly in the case of the Penguins, emphasized reasons why Jágr should play there instead of releasing statements that the club really needs Jágr.

Jágr got the feeling, especially with Pittsburgh, that he wasn’t their first priority, just as he wasn’t number one with St. Petersburg. They gave him ultimatums. But Jágr's philosophy says that "If you go into anything head-first, with no patience, it'll cause you grief." And so Jágr decided to back away; he would rather become Pittsburgh's number-one enemy than just an item among their, or Detroit’s, list of stars.

So, as Jágr said earlier, he kept waiting. But in true butterfly effect, the Penguins and Red Wings didn't. Pittsburgh and Detroit withdrew their offers, just as SKA St. Petersburg did two weeks earlier, and left Jágr to meet his fate.

Jágr's destiny was fulfilled a short time later. The Flyers announced that Jágr signed a one-year deal for $3.3 million.

Yes, you can be pretty sure that it could have worked perfectly: Jágr on a line with Yevgeni Malkin and/or Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh . . . Jágr with Pavel Datsyuk and/or Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit . . . But on the other hand, the next headlines sound like the cliches:

"Jaromír Jágr came back to Pittsburgh to end the career with the team he started (to win his third Stanley Cup)." This sounds more like a B-class Hollywood scenario than a real-life chapter.

"Jaromír Jágr took his place for the end of his career on the roster of the Detroit Red Wings (to win his third Stanley Cup)." Do you remember the others? Todd Bertuzzi, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fyodorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Dominik Hašek, Brett Hull, Uwe Krupp, Igor Larionov, Mike Modano, Brian Rafalski  . . . You can call it "evergreen", but Jágr? I would call it "cliche". Yes, the Red Wings are a famous team where young players are mixed with veterans in a great cocktail of amazing hockey, but Jágr is a special person.

A person who prefers to play over 20 minutes per game, all the power plays and all the important situations; on a club that will be proud to have him on the roster. On a team where he will be the leader. The Philadelphia Flyers are that team.