The Rise of Czech Hockey in the NHL: A Story of Jágr and Hašek

The Rise of Czech Hockey in the NHL: A Story of Jágr and Hašek

Back in the 1988-89 season, only two Czech hockey players who went there legally played in the NHL – Jiří Hrdina and Miloslav Hořava. In addition, a handful of players who had to emigrate in order to fulfill this dream. Two seasons later, when the communist rule over our country collapsed, 19 Czechs played in the world’s most famous league at once, and many others were preparing for an adventurous mission.

In the record-breaking 2001-02 season, an incredible 78 Czech hockey players played in the NHL! There were more only domestic Canadians and Americans. Looking for some other proof of how Czech hockey has literally charmed the NHL is probably not necessary. Even so, two very strong arguments must be mentioned, and they are called Jágr and Hašek.

Last episode of Ice Bearers

What can be said about Jaromír Jágr so that it is not carrying firewood into the forest? It’s hard to think of anything, but it’s clear that we’ve had an absolutely unique more than three decades with this phenomenal player. He played his first game in the Czechoslovak league at the age of 16 years and 211 days and waited six games for his first goal, on October 4, 1988 he hit the Pardubice net and who do you think was in the goal? Symbolically, the best goalkeeper in our history – Dominik Hašek!

Photo: Pavel Vondra, Seznam Zpravy

Dominik Hašek filming the second episode of Ice Bearers.

And do you know in which city Jaromír Jágr played against an NHL team for the first time? You probably wouldn’t guess it. It was September 11, 1989 in Prague when coach Pavel Wohl made his national team debut together with other youngsters Roberta Holík and Reichel in a match against the Stanley Cup winner, the Calgary Flames.

Only then directly in the NHL did his career take on dizzying proportions. In his first two years in the Pittsburgh jersey, he rejoiced in winning the Stanley Cup, was the most productive player of the competition five times, won countless other awards and broke a huge number of records.

When he said goodbye to the most famous competition in 2018 at the age of 46 after 24 seasons, he was by a huge margin the most successful European in the history of the NHL. And it will probably be for a long time. He played a total of 1,941 games in the NHL and the Stanley Cup, scoring 844 goals and 2,122 points.

Dominik Hasek vs. Jaromír Jágr in the NHL (no other player gave Hašek as many goals in the NHL as Jágr – 15, but that does not mean that he came out victorious in all the duels, e.g. just here the goalkeeper had the upper hand):

And Dominik Hasek? He had to wait a long time for his NHL career, he would have had to emigrate under communism, and he didn’t plan to do that. When the borders opened, he made the most of his chance. Although he had already been named the best goalkeeper of the world championship twice before, he actually started from scratch in the NHL. First on the farm, then as a substitute.

Only after moving to Buffalo did he gradually become an immortal goalkeeper legend. He won the trophy for the best NHL goaltender six times, in which he has no competitor. He won the trophy for the best player in the NHL twice, and no goalie in history can match him.

And we can’t forget the team trophies, which are the most important in the life of a hockey player – he first caught the Stanley Cup final back in 1992, when he was still a substitute. In 1999, he carried the Buffalo Sabers to the finals on his shoulders, but even then the trophy eluded him after a controversial decisive goal by Brett Hull. In 2002, with Detroit, he definitely etched his name on the most famous hockey trophy. And he succeeded once again in 2008, when he was already a respectable 43 years old!

Official NHL tribute to Hašek’s goaltending skills:

In the second episode of the Nosiči ledu podcast series, the best Czech goalkeeper looks back not only at his highly successful career, but also at how he has developed and transformed his unmistakable goalkeeping style.

“If I were starting today, my style would probably be different. I fell to my knees more, but again I tried to quickly jump up or throw myself somewhere. Today, the boys fall on only one knee a lot, but they can slide fantastically on the ice,” he says.

Both Hašek and Jágr are unmissable characters, but next to them there are hundreds of other Czech names inscribed in the history of the world’s best hockey competition. Some have their jerseys hung from the ceilings of the arenas, others won trophies, collected goals, assists and clean sheets, and some only played a single game in the competition.

It is certain that the Czech footprint in the NHL has long since been indelible, and many others follow in the footsteps of Jágr or Hašek today, such as today’s shooting phenomenon David Pastrňák. It’s not just the Canadian-American NHL anymore, it’s also a little Czech.

Ice Bearers

Sound design: David Kaiser

The Seznam Zpráv podcast series, in which Tomáš Kučera describes the most interesting moments of our rich hockey history and interviews those who were personally present at the greatest successes.

Every Thursday – from 21.3. – to be listened to as a bonus episode of the related podcast Nosiči vody on Podcasty.cz, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast apps.

Feedback is welcome at the e-mail address [email protected].

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