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

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