Volume 95, Issue 1
Thursday, May 24, 2001
Czech invasion of the NHL
It's a time honoured tradition for players from the Stanley Cup winning team to each have a day with the trophy to take to their hometown and proudly display the spoils of their sweat. No matter what team claims the big prize this spring, Stanley will no doubt be going home.
The Stanley Cup represents hockey supremacy, so it only makes sense the place that rules hockey would be home for Lord Stanley. That said, home this year is not the Canadian prairies or North York. The treasured mug will also not be home when the victorious team makes the annual trip to the White House so George Bush Jr. can congratulate them on winning the World Series.
Only when the Stanley Cup touches down in the Czech Republic will it truly be where it belongs because that is where hockey's hottest stars reside.
I can already hear all Don Cherry cult followers slamming down their brews, ready to declare the only good thing about 'Jammy Jaga' is he finally cut his hair and can at least see what a corner looks like now.
Guess what folks, the scope of Czech dominance extends well beyond one superstar. 'Jammy' has many Czech mates who now compose the ideal outline of what a National Hockey League player should be.
Skill and stamina, grit and goals – these are commonly accepted buzzwords in the hockey world used to describe what it takes to win in the play-offs. The Czechs appear to have the market cornered on the ingredients that form the winning recipe.
The rule of thumb has long been that while European players boast loads of skill, they disappear when the rough stuff starts in the playoffs. For a first-hand account of this, see the Ottawa Senators. In the regular season the Euro-laden Sens cruised, but in the playoffs, they pulled a disappearing act that would make David Copperfield envious.
Conversely, the knock against the good 'ol Canadian boys is they suffer from Gary Valk syndrome. Without getting into too much specific medical jargon it goes something like: heart as big as the Rocky Mountains with hands just as stone.
Enter Bobby Holik, Patrik Elias and Milan Hejduk. Skill? You betcha. Grit? Bucketloads. In the absence of Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic at different times this spring, Hejduk has become Colorado's go-to-guy and he has responded by leading the playoffs in scoring.
Elias and Holik – along with fellow Czech, Petr Sykora – have the Devils primed for a repeat. Those three players epitomize what New Jersey's success has been built around: solid two-way play with a timely touch around the net.
The Czech Republic has claimed the last three World Hockey Championships and every Canadian hockey fan recalls what Domminik Hasek and the Czech national team put Canada's best hockey team through at the last Winter Olympic games in Nagano.
If the legacy of those triumphs isn't enough, consider this frightening thought – the Czech Republic is a country that ten years ago had half of its talent pool ripped away when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The Czechs with Jagr, Hasek and Holik, have to be considered favourites to win gold in Sault Lake City at the next Olympics games in February, but imagine if they could still draw on Slovak sensations like Ziggy Palffy, Peter Bondra and Marian Hossa. If Canada lost skill players of that magnitude, we'd have to start dressing pylons.
The source of hockey bragging rights is ever evolving, but for now the
fusion of talent and temper has got one nation keeping the hockey world
Copyright © The Gazette 2000