Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas Gift (To Me)

I don't know how I missed this for so long, but the ČTK -- the Czech press agency -- has a nice big chunk of its photo archive up on the web, going back to the earliest parts of the 20th century. So if you're like me, you're going to want to do a search on "hockey," go straight to page 5197, and start browsing backward. This is really fantastic stuff, if you're a giant nerd about old Czechoslovakian hockey. The photos are all watermarked, so I won't be wallpapering with them, but they're still great -- lots of pictures of ATK Praha and Tankista and Tatra Smichov and all those myth-shrouded clubs. There's even a shot with my main man Victor Lonsmin. Seriously, this will keep me entertained for weeks. Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vacation Reading

Struck me today: this will be the first year since I started tracking that I won't hit 50 books read. I'll trade that for having read "Infinite Jest," sure, but still: end of an era.

#39 -- "Bloodlands" by Timothy Snyder

#40 -- "Czechoslovakia Since World War II" by Tad Szulc

Snyder was a friend of Tony Judt, so of course I was all over this. I'm happy to say that "Bloodlands" lives up to that connection -- it's absolutely shattering and up there with "Postwar" and "Nixonland" in the pantheon of great history books I've read in the last few years. Snyder's subject is the unhappy fate of the lands trapped between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union (roughly Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltics) and parts of it were enough to (seriously) give me nightmares. That shouldn't put you off, though. It's excellent.

Szulc's book is an old used bookstore find. There is a surprising lack of good works on the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion -- this is one of the best, and it's pretty flawed. Some of that is unavoidable; it was published in 1971 and lacked a lot of material that came out later. But much could have been better; despite the title, you'd be forgiven for thinking not much happened between about 1950 and 1965. (There are also some basic errors, including (gasp) a hockey error.) It picks up considerably once it gets to the events of 1968, at which point it discovers the urgency the rest of the book lacks. In the absence of a "Twelve Days"-style retelling of the invasion, this may be about as good as it gets.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Colorado State of Mind

Back in the homeland for a few days. I don't think the temperatures have crept above 40 since I arrived, so much of my oohing and ahhing over the state's natural beauty comes from the vantage point of my parents' couch rather than outdoors. My brain's a bit mushy, and I've already aborted two would-be posts (you missed out on what I think about Tim Tebow, so devote some time today to thinking about bullets you've dodged). In lieu of that, check this: footage from a 1959 World Championships match between Czechoslovakia and Canada. My guys are in dark and doing well here, though they ended up third behind Canada and the Soviets. Whoever posted this is some kind of hero of the universe.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Know Your Hockey History Redux

In connection with a long-term project I'm working on -- a (very partial) list of hockey players who fled Czechoslovakia during the Communist era. No NHLers or WHAers here, not because I'm not interested but because their stories are generally pretty well documented.

Jiří Bastl -- Fringe player for Sparta Praha and Kladno in the 1960s. Defected late that decade, apparently to West Germany at first (though details are sketchy). Made his way to North America where he attended a Blackhawks training camp and played in the IHL, then went back to Germany. Coached for a while. Now lives in Switzerland, and is (I think, again) the father of tennis player George Bastl.

Kristián Cee -- Sparta defenseman of the 1940s and 1950s. Became a doctor during his playing days. Post-career, traveled to Western Europe through Yugoslavia in 1966, settling in West Germany. Returned to the Czech Republic after the fall of Communism, and died last year.

Jaroslav Drobný -- Now here's a guy worth looking into: a forward for I. ČLTK Praha, he was also a tennis star and defected at a 1949 tournament. He got Egyptian (sure, why not?) citizenship, won the 1954 Wimbledon men's singles tournament, and eventually settled in Britain. He died there in 2001.

Jiří Hanzl -- uncertain on this one, but I think that post-career, the Sparta goalie defected to West Germany. He definitely ended up coaching there for a while.

Petr Hejma -- 1968 Olympian, forward for Sparta Praha. Defected to West Germany following a Sparta exhibition match in September 1968. Played many years for Düsseldorf and Krefeld, still lives in Germany.

Zdeněk Hlásek -- Sparta forward during the 1950s. Not sure of the date but defected in the 1960s. Still lives in Switzerland, and like Bastl his son ended up a professional tennis player.

Jiří Kren -- Sparta forward, defected during the 1963 Spengler Cup. Played in the Canadian minor leagues for a season then back to Germany and Switzerland. I exchanged letters with him a few years ago; he was making wine in northern Italy, which does not sound half bad.

Oldřich Kučera -- 1936 Olympian, longtime LTC Praha forward. Post-career details are scant, but by 1949 he was coaching in Switzerland, and reportedly eventually ended up in Australia.

Viktor Lonsmín -- covered at length here.

Martin Maglay -- 1970s junior goalie, fled along with or around the same time as Jiří Crha. Ended up in the Maple Leafs system but it's unclear if he ever played; he was beaten up during a mugging and that effectively ended his career. Runs hockey school programs in Ontario.

Zdeněk Marek -- forward for ATK Praha and Sparta, defected at 1949 World Championships. Played at least one season for the University of North Dakota; I don't know if he played any organized hockey after that. Lived in New York for a long time. Reportedly passed away in 2009, though that's strangely hard to confirm.

Stanislav Nepomucký -- Sparta defenseman in the 1950s. Defected during an exhibition tour in 1958. Played at least one season for HIJS Den Haag in the Netherlands; eventually ended up in the United States and changed his last name to "Nielsen." Passed away in 2006.

Jiří Petrnoušek -- Sparta youngster, defected to the Netherlands in 1968 at age 21. Played for Tilburg for a very long time and represented the Dutch in the 1980 Olympics. Think he still lives there.

Jiří Pokorný -- defected late 1960s, date unclear, not clear if he was currently active when it happened. Wound up as player-coach for Tilburg in Netherlands in 1969-70, then coached in Netherlands and West Germany through the 1970s. I'm still looking for more information on him, by the way.

Miloslav Pospíšil -- Forward for ATK Praha, Tatra Smichov, and Sparta. Wound down his career in the early 1960s, fled to Austria in 1968. Eventually wound up in North America, and lived in New York until his death in 2000.

Rudolf Šindelář -- Sparta forward from the late '50s through the '70s. Escaped to Austria (I think) at some point post-career. Now lives back in the Czech Republic.

Miroslav Sláma -- Fellow I don't know much about -- I. ČLTK Praha defenseman, 1948 Olympian. According to notes on the Society for International Hockey Research website, he defected during the 1948 Spengler Cup tournament and spent several years playing and coaching in Switzerland. Ended up in the U.S., died in California in 2008.

Zdeněk Tikal -- Brother of Czech legend František. Not sure what level Zdeněk played at in Czechoslovakia -- I haven't turned up any records with major teams. Went to Australia with his father in 1948, played on the Australian national team in the 1960 Olympics. Died in 1991.

Jaroslav Tůma -- Like Petrnoušek, another Sparta youngster, may have defected at the same time. Ended up with Tilburg (along with Petrnoušek and Pokorný), where he put up frankly ridiculous numbers. Went to West Germany after a few years and still did well; eventually wound up in Switzerland, I think.

Ivo Veselý -- Like Zdeněk Tikal, I know nothing about his Czechoslovak career -- like ZT, went to Australia and ended up on the 1960 team. Died 2002.

Oldřich Zabrodský -- Brother of Vladimír (see below). Forward for LTC Praha, fled to Switzerland in 1948, where he played for Davos and Lausanne for a few years. Lived in Belgium last I knew.

Vladimír Zábrodský -- Legendary forward for LTC Praha and Sparta, subject of much controversy. Escaped to Sweden at some point. Still lives there.

This is far from a complete list -- look for updates at some point.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Clearing the Pipes

One thing about this book diary: once it backs up a bit, it keeps me from posting anything else. Let's rectify that and quickly.

#36 -- "Zone One" by Colson Whitehead

I'm way over zombies, so it's a testament to Whitehead's power that I was able to get past that for this. Very good, not his best, but very good. Subtle, too -- weeks later I'm still picking up on things.

#37 -- "The Origins of the Second World War" by A.J.P. Taylor

Post-Wallace I'm on a history kick, and I've been wanting to reread Taylor's "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe," which I last read in college. Feeling like I should read something new-to-me first, I got this and "Bismarck." This isn't anything really new to me, but it's very well presented, and it's instructive and helpful to read a history that looks at everything rather dispassionately -- i.e. did the characters involved act rationally. Britain comes off looking awful, France almost as bad.

#38 -- "Tito" by Neil Barnett

This is part of a series of popular biographies, so maybe my hopes were a bit high. As far as here's how Tito's life went, here's what he did, here's what resulted, it's fine. It doesn't delve much deeper than that, though. (Admittedly, sources beyond Tito himself are scarce for parts of his life.) I don't have any real complaints about this, but no enthusiasm, either. It gets the job done, but I'll have to wait for a real comprehensive biography of the man.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Joke

#35 -- "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace

So it took nearly two months, 15 years after it actually came out, ten years after I really should have read it, two years after Infinite Summer for chrissakes.

And it was so very worth it. Was it frustrating? Absolutely -- there were times when I'd settle in to read a chapter before bed, and instead find myself getting through two pages in 30 minutes. There were sections that I wanted to skip. There were times that I thought it'd never end.

But when I got to the end, I wanted to go back and start again. "Infinite Jest" amazed me and moved me.

A recap isn't really worthwhile -- there's so much written about the book (a lot of it really good itself!) that me trying to sum it up wouldn't accomplish much. I can say I'd recommend everyone give it a try. Early on, I told someone who asked that I wasn't sure if it was for everyone. I still don't know, but I think everyone should find that out themselves. It's worth the try.

What a fantastic book. I wish I hadn't waited until three years after Wallace's death to find out just what I'd been missing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Placeholder

I meant to get back to blogging this weekend. I've been all moved in for a while, things have settled down, I finished "Infinite Jest." Then ... time slipped away.

But, soon. I still intend to write some longer things for this, which unfortunately take some research time. I'd also like to write something about the experience of finally reading "IJ," because there simply isn't enough written about that book. I'd like to write something about the very strange experience of being a Denver Broncos fan this year.

But tonight? Tonight I'm tired, and I'm going to drink a Lagunitas Censored and read A.J.P. Taylor 'til I pass out. Soon, though.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Relocation

So, uh, it's October already? September blew by -- in what constitutes a major life change, I've been moving in with the Ski Bum. It's the first time since 2002 that I haven't lived alone, and moving (and preparing my old place to be rented) has made me radically rethink the benefits of private property -- think a special episode of "Hoarders" devoted to Eastern Europe, hockey, and penguins and you get some idea of what my place was like. Books about the Balkans alone took up several storage boxes.

In a masterpiece of bad timing, I also declared September to be "Infinite Jest Month" -- reading that was long overdue. Now, finishing it is: moving and reading IJ at the same time don't really mix, as I'm usually getting in about five pages as I collapse at the end of the day. I'm still just 1/3 of the way through it.

And that's all I'm reading. So the only addition to the list lately is this:

#34 -- "Ajax, Barcelona, Cruyff" by Frits Barend and Henk Van Dorp

This is a collection of interviews with the soccer legend, and -- as is probably obvious -- one's interest in the book will be directly proportional to their interest in Johan Cruyff. Mine's moderate. Some of it's really interesting -- Cruyff is not humble and not shy about stating his opinion, making him a far more fascinating personality than, say, Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby. But then many of the interviews are directly related to issues in Dutch/Spanish soccer at the time of speaking, and those get eye-glazing if you don't have a doctorate in "internal politics at Ajax, mid-70s."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maxvill

"I'd hate to see you throw a knuckleball 3 and 2 to a guy like Maxvill, if the bases are loaded and a walk means your ballgame."

That's 1969 Astros manager Harry Walker, speaking to Jim Bouton, quoted in "Ball Four." I read it in 1985 or so, and immediately cultivated an image of Maxvill, a player I otherwise knew nothing about: a canny player, the kind of thoughtful hitter who would make you pay if you threw him the wrong pitch at the wrong time. I vaguely wondered why I hadn't heard more about him in all my baseball reading.

That image stayed with me until I came across this card a few weeks ago, and read the back: I'd interpreted Walker's words the wrong way. Dal Maxvill hit .175 in 1969.

* * *

This isn't becoming a card blog, but I felt like I needed a palate cleanser after that Hadl airbrush. This is just a beautiful card.

The 1972 Topps design is hit or miss for me -- I can't tell if they were going for their idea of a modern-psychedelic design, or their idea of a throwback-1920s art design. Or both. Sometimes it's really gaudy. But other times, when they keep the colors sedate, they can be lovely. Exhibit A: this card. It screams baseball. The photo is great -- the Cardinals' uniforms are so timeless that this could be any time from the 1930s onward. Turn it sepia and you could pass this picture off as a member of the Gashouse Gang.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Your Airbrush Future

Madness lies within 1970s sports cards. You pick up a card that at first glance looks okay -- but the slightest uptick in attention to detail and you notice something seems off. It's been airbrushed. You think ok, that's not a bad airbrushing, but then you can't help but keep looking, and all the little flaws leap out at you, and eventually you've spent 15 minutes critiquing a football card that came out when you were four years old.

There are a few quarterbacks that have earned themselves a classification in my mind: guys who retired a few years before I came onto the football-watching scene, who seemed to get good press but didn't end up in the Hall of Fame or in the Super Bowl, my two main avenues of exploring the NFL's past. Roman Gabriel, John Brodie, John Hadl (Billy Kilmer is a semi-member, but he played in a Super Bowl). I know two things about Hadl: he played for the Chargers for a long time, and his last name looks like it might be Croatian. Oh, a third: his 1975 Topps football card probably drove an airbrusher crazy.

Not sure why they had to resort to the airbrush here -- he went from the Rams to the Packers in mid-1974, so there was ample time to find a new photo or just dig out a cropped head shot. But no, Topps stuck with this picture (it's a good one, you must admit). At first it looks pretty normal -- you have to scrutinize things like numbers to see the problems. But then the big one hits: both teams are wearing home darks. Never happens. Once that clue's there, you can see all the little things: Hadl's helmet is a little off (though really pretty good -- I've seen airbrushed helmets that looked like Sputnik), the deformed #72 on the blocker, the lines on Hadl's socks.

But then the thing that drives me absolutely crazy: #5, there, on the far left of the card. Why did a PATRIOTS player have to be airbrushed in? With his deformed hand and the helmet that looks like a six-year-old drew it? What's the point?

The point, I guess, is that the Rams' bench was on that side of the field and there must have been a clear white jersey standing there, maybe with a dark blue helmet. So it was necessary to do something. But why make it a (very weird-looking) Patriots player? It's that detail that's the breaking point, the thing that keeps me coming back to this card. If it took that much effort, why not just dig up a Hadl headshot?

After all that work, Hadl's time with the Packers was brief and disappointing (details here, including info on the Ricky Williams-esque trade that brought Hadl to Green Bay). Airbrushing lasted a bit longer -- Topps kept doing it on football and baseball cards 'til 1981 or so, and hockey through about 1990. The anonymous airbrusher, I hope, went on to bigger and better things. After that card, he deserved them.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

September

It's still steamy, still bordering on unbearable, but now the knowledge that it will end becomes more tangible. Mornings are refreshing, not as heavy with heat. It's still a sweaty business just existing, but it's not too long before I can bring the long-sleeve t-shirts out of mothballs. Stepping out of work to the sounds and smells of a Falcons preseason tailgate the other night was bracing, exciting. It felt like the start of something good.

I've said it many times before: autumn is my favorite time of year here. This one promises to be good.

Monday, August 29, 2011

So, Hey

The dog days of August get me again. The Ski Bum and I went to Mexico for a week, then when we returned we both suffered post-vacation torpor and ailments, then my internet crapped out for a few days. And things have been busy. And I've still got that torpor (I haven't uploaded most of my vacation pics yet, for one).

I've got some stories to tell, like my run-in with the cops in some backwater town, but they'll have to wait (I'm tired, still a bit ill, and in the midst of one of my three fantasy football drafts). But they'll come -- I've got some writing in me.

In the meantime, though, other people's writing:

#31 -- "But Beautiful" by Geoff Dyer

Many years back, a music critic told a friend: if you can write well about jazz or hip hop, you've got it made in this business. Which may explain why I flamed out as a music writer. I love jazz. I can't write word one about it, though.

Geoff Dyer can write quite well about it. I learned about this book through the Progressive on the Prairie -- I suggest you read his piece on the book, which is better than anything I can do. It's quite a book and one of the best things I've read this year.

#32 -- "The Serbs" by Tim Judah

This falls into a weird gray area: it's fantastic, but if you aren't really really into that region of the world, it'll be too dense. If you are really really into that region of the world you probably don't need me to tell you about the book. Anyway, it's nuanced and intelligent. Also unknown by me 'til recently: Judah is apparently behind the Economist's great Eastern Approaches blog, so three yays there.

#33 -- "The Dangerous Summer" by Ernest Hemingway

Ah Hem. Long time since I've read anything by him (aside from my ten-year effort to get through "Garden of Eden"). This is half brilliant descriptions of enjoying life and drinking with beautiful people, half stuff about bullfighting. To be fair, some of the bullfighting stuff is pretty gripping (and I still want to read "Death in the Afternoon") but ultimately I don't really know/want to know anything about the sport, so it's kinda lost on me. For completists only. Or people who grabbed it off a used bookstore shelf on a whim a decade ago.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Close Your Eyes and Think of England

Heading out of town again, for the third time in the last month-and-a-half -- this strange little period of jet-setting ends after this, and I'll be Atlanta-bound for a few months. Not now, though, and it's actually a pleasant change to schedule just about all my out-of-town trips for the unbearable summer months rather than the pleasant spring/fall months.

I went to DC two weeks ago, for a 48-hour exercise in old-style drinking-too-much, and managed to take two photographs over the course of the trip:




So there you have it. DC.

* * *

Books:

#26 -- "Send Them Victorious" by David Stubbs

I like to imagine my British friends' internal monologues sound like this. It's hard to properly describe without weakening the joke, but an old British Boer War commander reviews all English international soccer matches. Clever and surprisingly subtle for something that's (intentionally) over-the-top xenophobic. Really, it's a lot funnier than I can make it out to be, just search "wingo" and "When Saturday Comes" and that might turn up some of the pieces. I laughed throughout, and I am normally a somber, humorless man.

There were four more books here, but sometimes Blogger says "Greg -- I'm autosaving right now," but then lies. And then when you hit "publish," you get a 404 error, and then find out that your draft cut out like 20 minutes ago. And then you say a really bad word, because really you need to finish packing. So you miss out on hearing about:

#27 -- "Contacts" by Jan Morris

#28 -- "Reach for the Ground" by Jeffrey Bernard

#29 -- "They Call Me Assassin" by Jack Tatum

#30 -- "The Italian Job" by Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti

So, uh, sorry?

* * *

Got to run but one last bit of self-promotion: read this! And go Liverpool today.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Wrote Something

So I usually try to keep this part of my life separate from that part of my life, but once in a while ego takes over: I've written a travel article on my favorite place, and I'm really rather proud of it. Go and give it a read, willya?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Late to the Party

A while back, I gave Unsane a nice little tongue bath -- one of my favorite-ever bands, legends in the field, etc. Left unremarked at the time: I hadn't heard their most recent album, 2007's "Visqueen." Yes, kind of weird to go four years without hearing the latest album by one of my favorite bands. But I kinda figured I knew what I'd be getting, the logical follow-up to "Occupational Hazard" and "Blood Run." Something cool but not mind-blowing.

I was kind of right but oh so wrong. Motivated by extreme enthusiasm for one of Chris Spencer's other projects, Celan, as well as the late-last-year release of a new Unsane single, I finally checked out "Visqueen." I may have telegraphed the punch: this may be the best thing they've done since at least "Total Destruction," if not earlier1.

"Visqueen" is just nasty. Furious, but with that tightly-wound control that's made Unsane such a mesmerizing and ominous force for (gulp) more than two decades. "This Stops at the River" and "No One" sound like a hate letter to New York. "Shooting Clay" and "Last Man Standing" and a couple other spots on the album bring the bluesy element that's always lurked in the depths of Unsane's music to the forefront -- it's like Robert Johnson's playing guitar with a crowbar, man2. "Eat Crow" and "Disdain" are familiar headcrushers. I could probably do without the eight-minute dirge that closes out the album, but what the hell, if I'm gonna hear an eight-minute dirge I'd prefer it be by Unsane.

This is the lost soundtrack to "Escape From New York." Snake Plissken would dig this. Goddamn Unsane, man. They're still touring, too -- I hope they make it down here sometime soon.

1 - Pitchfork gave this a 5.0 score. Here's a fun fact: Pitchfork sucks.

2 - I don't know what this means

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Football Readiness: Confirmed

This has been one long week of global bummers, between the Norway massacres and the subsequent jerky reaction, the death of Amy Winehouse and the subsequent jerky reaction, and the ongoing bizarrely self-destructive debt ceiling dispute and the ongoing jerky reaction. Borders went under, somehow prompting one sleepless night thinking about the world's imminent decline. And it's been really hot.

Amid all this, the end of the NFL lockout comes as not just a relief but an overwhelming joy. About a month ago I told the Ski Bum that I'd be fine if the NFL lockout continued through the season, that I'd use the time to do productive things. She looked at me askance, and rightly so. The past 48 hours have been a blissed-out blur of reading ESPN blogs about guys I've never heard of on teams I don't care about, wondering where Kevin Kolb will end up, stopping my fingers just short of buying 16 John Elway throwback jerseys on eBay. I'm excited about the forthcoming Premier League season and Liverpool's possibilities. I'm excited about the forthcoming NHL season and the Avalanche's possibilities. I am absolutely frothing rabid about the upcoming National Football League season and this in a year where the Broncos will be lucky to go the 6-10 that Vegas is predicting. I'm thinking about taking some days off to go visit Falcons training camp, even though that means sitting outside on an August Georgia day developing heat prostration and watching a team I don't really care about.

Should I like football this much? It's a stupid and meaningless question, yes, but that doesn't prevent me from asking myself from time to time. The whole overblown spectacle surrounding the sport, the mashup of a WWE event and one of the crasser Republicans' campaign rallies, is anathema to quiet bookish me. There's the casual response to the potentially life-ruining violence, there's the casual racism that's let much of the fan base dehumanize Vince Young, to name one. The players generally aren't too likeable, the fans are often worse (part of the reason that I've never sought out a Broncos bar here is that it lets me maintain the fiction that Denver fans are smarter/classier than the rest). It's not a sport with much of an intellectual tradition -- Paul Zimmerman (past) and David Roth (present) are the only writers on the sport that have impressed adult me (America's most popular sport should have more great writers on it, shouldn't it? Roth knocks it out of the park in the Awl, but other than that there's no one that I feel like I have to read, just the SI types that I struggle to on Monday morning because I'm reluctant to accept that the football weekend's over).

But forget all that. I'm certainly able to. Come September 11th, I'll be getting into a neck vein-popping state over failed third downs. I'll be performing ethical contortions to justify rooting for the unsavory types on my teams (a little easier for me, at least, since I don't root for the Steelers). I'll be Tweeting incoherent pre-verbalisms when Knowshon Moreno fumbles. I'll be routinely drunk and eating awful shit on Sunday afternoons.

Why? I don't know. American football's the best sport for tv, and combined with its once-a-week schedule, it seems more like an event, a happening than other sports. Childhood conditioning, too, I guess -- in our largely secular household, the NFL was the premier Sunday ritual, and my childhood happily coincided with the local team being pretty great. And for all the missteps, the NFL does know how to build up drama -- NFL Films may be frequently hokey, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I get a chill any time I see its grainy slo-mo, even if it's a presentation of "The Detroit Lions: The Less-Bad Years."

So bring on the spectacle, bring on the stupid. Bring on Frank Caliendo and Jimmy Johnson and Tim Tebow talking earnestly about believing in yourself. It isn't pretty, it isn't classy, but good lord I cannot wait for football to start.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Prague 2001

One afternoon I went to U Fleků, spurred on by the "Rough Guide to Prague" descriptions of ambrosial beer and a beer museum in the back. The beer was indeed ambrosial, although back in 2001 the craft beer explosion hadn't fully hit and I was still willing to drink things like Heineken, so my perceptions may have changed since. When I went back in 2006, the bar was full of drunk loud Germans so I passed it by in favor of a club where bad folkies were playing to hippie American expats.

The beer museum, though: I asked an employee about it, me with no Czech and he with limited English, and was led back into a courtyard. He indicated that he needed to get the fellow in charge of the museum -- he also indicated that this wasn't something that came up often. I waited, and waited. Finally, he reappeared -- and bear in mind that it was about 4 p.m. -- shaking his head. "Still asleep," he said. "Still asleep."

* * *

Pretty slick, wasn't it, how I spent all of June nursing this blog back to life, then spent the first few weeks of this month holding a metaphorical pillow over its metaphorical face? Yeah. I've been working on something else writing-wise, which will hopefully bear fruit soon, and I've been busy as hell regardless. To sum up: Colorado was lovely, and everyone who doesn't live there is an idiot.

* * *

Books. I did continue to read.

#23 -- "Sag Harbor" by Colson Whitehead

I'm thoroughly in the bag for ol' Colson now, and I'll read anything he writes, even if it's on the disappointing Grantland site. This, man, this is so good. A book about the teenage years that doesn't feel romanticized or idealized: dead-on funny and heartbreaking. My memories of childhood summers stem from the two weeks we'd spend at a Michigan lake -- this felt perfectly accurate, and wonderfully written.

#24 -- "Roumeli" by Patrick Leigh Fermor

I felt like I should pay tribute to the late PLF somehow, but in retrospect I probably shoulda just read "A Time of Gifts" again. This has some beautiful parts, but really, unless you share Fermor's rapturous love of Greece -- and it exceeds my love of all things Slavic -- a lot of this will seem over the top.

#25 -- "Pfitz" by Andrew Crumey

Some of this feels way too cute, some of this feels like genius that's a few levels above me. On finishing it, I was torn between a sneaking suspicion that I'd just wasted a few days, and the desire to read this about two more times to sort it out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jaroslav Jiřík


Sad news from the Czech Republic -- media reports say that Jaroslav Jiřík, once of the St. Louis Blues and the first Czech-trained player in the NHL, died in a small plane crash today.

His North American career was minor -- three NHL games, no points, most of the season spent in the minors -- and he went back to Czechoslovakia after one year (later saying he should have given it more time). His career in Europe was pretty magnificent, though. Nearly 20 seasons with Kladno and Brno, more than 300 goals, three Olympics and seven World Championships. Rest in peace.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Notes From the Patio

I'm on vacation, I read a lot. My parents have a nice back patio that's very conducive to this. Briefly:

#20 -- "Big Shots" by A.J. Baime

A series of brief histories on some of the world's biggest liquor brands. The style's not really my thing -- written by a Playboy editor, nice back cover comments from Maxim, this is bro-lit. Bill Simmons on booze. It's fun though, and made me feel like I should drink more bourbon. Plus learning what an awful human being the real Captain Morgan was makes those horrid "Put a little Captain in you" ads a bit easier to take.

#21 -- "Shadow of the Silk Road" by Colin Thubron

Some time back, I was mightily unimpressed with one of Thubron's earliest works. Reading this gives me a bit of perspective on that, though, and if I look at "The Hills of Adonis" as a rookie effort in the process that eventually allowed Thubron to write something this wonderful, well, then, it served a purpose. There isn't a lot of great travel writing around today, but Thubron seems to get better and better. "Shadow of the Silk Road" takes him along the old route, from China to Turkey, and it's the best book yet from someone who's written his share of greats.

#22 -- "Anansi Boys" by Neil Gaiman

Good fun here. I'm still waiting for one of Gaiman's novels to knock me out, and it hasn't yet -- his characters are a bit too templated for me -- but they're all entertaining, rollicking, exciting, whatever words you want to use. In my easily-distracted state, it's nice to find a book that hooks me enough to be read in one sitting.

Back to the patio!

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Eagle Has Landed

Interrupting this holiday silence with breaking news: Tomáš Klouček has latched on to a team for 2011-12, signing on with HC Lev Poprad. This is the new Slovakian entry in the KHL, and it's looking like a haven for Czechs and Slovaks who want KHL money while staying closer to home. Every player listed here is either Czech or Slovak, including long-ago Avalanche washout Václav Nedorost.

This is excellent news (though not as excellent as my hypothetical Klouček-to-Brno deal). HC Lev immediately becomes the shining star of the KHL. Everyone can get back to enjoying the holiday now.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

That Life It Is Contagious


At the risk of jinxing myself, life was already feeling kind of good before I came out here. Now? Now I feel unstoppable, able to bench press cars, ready to star in a Hollywood blockbuster. Colorado will do that to you. Well, perhaps not you, but definitely me.

This morning began with me on my parents' back porch at 7 a.m., drinking coffee and writing in 70 degree temperatures. Two hours later, I was at 10,500 feet, clambering over a 10-foot-deep snowdrift to get to a rickety bridge over a burbling stream. By 1 p.m., I was back on the porch, 70 degrees changed to 90 and coffee changed to beer.

It was all lovely. Colorado, why you gotta be so great?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Coming to a Close

This is, I think, the last day of the SCFblog challenge (today or tomorrow -- I'll have something tomorrow anyway, before I leave for Colorado). Big thanks to Tapeleg for getting this going, and giving me a reason to breathe some life into this ol' blog. I think you'll continue to see a more frequent posting schedule than pre-challenge. Not quite daily, and perhaps not quite so much on obscure Czechoslovakian hockey, but more often.

Not much tonight, as I'm still wiped out from a weird and evil 24-hour sinus infection that struck me yesterday, plus I'm still struggling to do laundry and pack, plus I frittered away most of the evening playing Football Manager (Ajax are well on their way to a second straight Dutch title). I'll be writing from Colorado soon enough (when not buying Tapeleg Becherovka and beers), and hopefully maintaining some of the momentum this produced.

Thanks to everyone that dropped by. Now tonight, do me a favor, and pray to whatever higher power you believe in that the Avalanche don't pick up the newly-free Sheldon Souray tomorrow.

* * *

#19 -- "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan

I feel a bit unworthy writing about this when I'm this tired -- this'll just be a knocked-off review, and this book deserves more. I get nervous when a novel is described as a rock and roll novel -- which I think this was, or maybe I imagined it -- because the track record isn't great. "The Commitments" is fun enough, I never liked "Great Jones Street," and I seem to remember Jay McInerney writing one that was just awful.

Put all that negativity aside, because this is wonderful. Often touching, often funny, often powerful. It's more a series of loosely connected stories than a novel ("a rock and roll 'Cloud Atlas'" - Greg). There seems to be a lot of hype around Egan, and judging by this, it's justified.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Last in Line

The end of the roll call: part three of the Czech Thrashers.

Zdeněk Blatný -- Guy's from Brno! A product of the first draft, I can honestly say that (even with my eye for such things) I don't remember a minute of Blatný playing in Atlanta. (He only managed 20 games over two seasons for the Thrashers, so perhaps understandable.) Went to Europe in the lockout year, came back for a season in the Bruins system, and has been bouncing around Europe ever since. He split 2010-11 between three different teams in Slovakia and Germany, doesn't seem to have a team for next season. He's still just 30, though, so I imagine he'll pop up somewhere.

Tomáš Klouček -- What could have been. Official hero of the PPA. 38 games over two seasons for the Thrashers, his time ran out with Barys Astana of the KHL and he's been linked to Slovakia's new entry in that league. Mark my words, if he'd stuck in Atlanta, things would be so different now. (I'd have about 14 more Thrashers jerseys, for one thing.)

Jaroslav Modrý -- Gosh, did I ever want to like him, but my enduring memory of his one Thrashers season goes like this: power play, puck goes to Modrý at the point, it skips over his stick and out of the zone. That happened one trillion times (give or take) in 2005-06. Kind of amazingly after that, he managed two more NHL seasons with the Stars, Kings, and Flyers, before returning to the Czech Rep. He played in Plzeň last year, not sure if he's back next season.

Bobby Holík -- He was here for three seasons, according to the internet (which has no reason to lie) -- I would have sworn it was much shorter. I remember being excited about the signing, but then never really warmed to him with the team. I believe he lives in Wyoming now, which I've always found rather curious (people living in Wyoming, that is, not Holík in particular).

Pavel Kubina -- Another longtime favorite (Czech defenseman, natch), though by the end of 2009-10 he seemed to be going through the motions. Granted, so did every other player except Evgeny Artyukhin. I was still sad to see him go -- a really solid player whose reputation was tarnished by playing in Toronto. He suffered a concussion in the playoffs and I'm hoping he'll be fit to go next year.

Ondřej Pavelec -- Ahh, perhaps the saddest entry. He showed many signs of becoming the goalie we hoped last year -- now, if he pans out, he'll do it in Winnipeg. Left out to dry far too often by the shaky defense, I get the sense he's got a good future. He's getting more looks for the Czechs in international play, too. Maybe, down the line, a Pavelec Czech jersey will make its way into my home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Early '90s Represent

I don't really get too bent out of shape over the Hall of Fame -- basically if a player is up there enough that he's even in the discussion then sure, give him the benefit of the doubt, that's my feeling. (note: this all becomes null and void when Chris Osgood's name comes up) All of the guys today are sorta relics of the pre-Avalanche era for me -- regardless of how long they played or what they accomplished, I lock in Nieuwendyk with Calgary, Gilmour with the Leafs, Belfour with the Blackhawks. (And Howe with the Flyers, but that was where he spent his glory years anyway.)

At least in the case of Gilmour and Belfour, that's where the best memories are. I'd completely forgotten that Killer ended up playing for the Sabres and Canadiens in later days -- after that period from 1992 to 1994 where he was in contention for best all-around player (I had a Gilmour poster and jersey, and I've never even liked the Leafs), the decline was pretty rapid. And even though Belfour won the Cup with the Stars, by that point he was behind Roy, Brodeur, and Hasek on the list of most-feared goalies. His off-ice escapades eventually made him something of a joke, and it was easy to forget that time when he was the most-feared goalie in the league. God, I hated him with the Blackhawks. Glad he never made it to Detroit.

Anyway, the good feelings from the selections lasted about five minutes before everyone on Twitter started bitching about whoever didn't make it, but in this corner: can't complain. I'd like to see Bure get in but I can't argue that he should have gone ahead of any of these guys.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lifeline


Tonight's the closest I've come to dropping out: I planned an extravagant post, got caught up in other activities and lost track of time, and now I'm about 10 steps from collapsing and I've got nothing. Nothing... but an old CHZ Litvínov banner.

Litvínov is one of the smaller towns to become prominent in Czech hockey -- it's more on the level of Chomutov than Prague or Brno -- but since Miroslav Klůc's stint with the team 50 years ago, it's at least made a dent. Prominent players coming out of Litvínov include Ivan Hlinka1, Jiří Bubla, Petr Klíma, Josef Beránek, Robert Lang, Vladimír Růžička, Martin Ručinský, and Jiří Šlégr all passed through. Put aside your thoughts about those players' NHL careers -- that's a pretty good lineup.

Litvínov's closely associated with black and gold -- when a book was written about the team's history, the title was "Černá Žlutá," or "black and yellow" -- but careful observation reveals that this is red and black. No idea why -- I haven't seen any color pictures of Litvínov uniforms pre-1980s, so if they once emulated the Atlanta Falcons, I still haven't seen proof.

1 - and if ever someone's reputation deserved a posthumous rethinking, it's Ivan Hlinka -- a hockey legend whose name was dragged through the mud by a disastrous and perhaps unwinnable coaching situation

Sunday, June 26, 2011

ATK Praha


Another of the old Czech magazines, and this one's a goldmine. "Ruch" (meaning "hustle," according to Google Translate) from November 28, 1952. It looks like it's the precursor to "Stadion" -- same size, similar look, same publisher's address inside.

There's a lot here and I'll post stuff as I scan in, but for now I just want to talk about the cover. It's a great photo, making me wonder if all of these magazines are nicely archived somewhere. It shows a match between Plzeň in blue -- for that year, they were known as ZSJ Leninovy Závody Plzeň, which is a mouthful -- and ATK Praha in green. The ATK player in the center, mosh pit grimace on his face, is forward Miloslav Charouzd. I don't know a lot about him, but he was pretty prominent in 1950s Czechoslovak hockey -- he played on that doomed 1949 World Championships team, then on the 1952 Olympic team.

The thing that's most interesting (to me, friends, to me) is the ATK uniforms -- in my various books and magazines, this is the only thing that has good clear photos of the team. The ATK stood for the melodious "Armádní tělocvičný klub" -- Army Physical Education Club, according once again to our pals at Google Translate. It was one of several short-lived military clubs (Tankista and ÚDA Praha among the others) in the early 1950s, prior to the military focusing its affections on Dukla Jihlava. There isn't much on record about ATK -- they (as far as I can tell) replaced the similarly-obscure Stadion Podolí, went through some name changes and then vanished after 1956 -- so realizing that this actually had a photo of them in action, however obscured, caused some excitement in these parts.

Not much on the design (there's actually a better black-and-white view inside, which I'll scan sometime down the line), strong letters that look kind of frattish or youth crewish, but thumbs up to the forest green-and-red combination. That's not something you see a ton (at least in North America -- the Minnesota Wild are the only team that I can think of), like the claret-and-blue of Aston Villa.

I don't know much about any of the other players on the cover. The Plzeň defenseman in the front is named Havlíček -- I can't find anything more on him. The goalie is likely Karel Trhlík. The player in the back (partially cut off on my scan) is a bit confusing -- his jersey appears to be pale green, but the caption indicates that he's defending here, so he's probably just a miscolored Plzeň player. The caption calls him "Havel" -- likely Jan Havel, one of several Czech players with that name.

More to come from this issue, once I get stuff scanned in.

Guilty Feelings

#18 -- "Our Lady of Darkness" by Fritz Leiber

This is something I feel kind of bad about: trashing a book that's (I think) out of print and not likely to be picked up anyhow. But somewhere along the line, I committed to documenting everything I read, so:

(deep breath)

Boy is this bad. I felt a need for some old-timey horror a while back, and this was one of the few books mentioned in Stephen King's "Danse Macabre" that I never got around to reading. The little I knew about it sounded good. I find the concept of cities-as-entities interesting and I had high hopes.

Instead: a muddled and often incomprehensible plot. Horrible expository dialogue. Unwieldy adjectives and adverbs. Boring cardboard characters. There are three legitimately chilling scenes in the entire book -- one is immediately followed by five or six chapters of a dry conversation recounting an invented San Francisco literary history, another turns out to be a complicated joke. At one point, a character "quirk[s] a smile". Harry Stephen Keeler would be ashamed.

I get the feeling that this was a very personal book for Leiber -- the little bit I've read about his life seems to indicate that. I wonder if that kept editors from pushing some much-needed changes. It needed something.

The kicker: this won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1978. I won't be seeking out the runner-up.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Atlanta's Czechs (Part 2)

Thought about an Avalanche draft post, but after about pick three I was at a party, and past Landeskog and Siemens I don't really recognize any of the names. Plus, last night's post serves as proof that I really don't know what I'm talking about -- I got kind of upset that they didn't draft a defenseman with the second pick, but since I'm vastly against rushing defensemen to the NHL anyhow, I should therefore... be against picking one there? Picking one to start in 2011? Oh, god, I don't know. I can't complain about the Landeskog pick, have a strange premonition Siemens will be traded before he ever plays a game for the Avalanche, and they didn't pick any Czechs or Slovaks. There you go, that's your draft post.

Let's move on with the Czech Thrashers instead. Starting with a favorite:

Jiří Šlégr -- one of my all-time favorite hockey players, little of which has to do with his Thrashers time (though I was upset when he was traded). Definitely my all-time favorite Canuck. Never really got the respect he deserved, but he's one of those rare guys who won the triple of the Stanley Cup/Olympics/World Championships, plus he's Jiří Bubla's son so beat that. The best thing about the Red Wings winning Stanley Cups is that Šlégr got a ring. He's now in the Czech parliament, which is awesome.

Ladislav Kohn -- Scrappy guy who could've had a NHL career if things had fallen differently, another one I almost forget was a Thrasher (26 games, seven points). Also ended up lifting the Cup with the Wings, though (correct me if I'm wrong) think he didn't play enough to get his name on. Still plugging away with Třinec in the Czech league.

Milan Hnilička -- All-time leader, NHL-goalie-looking-most-like-Henry-Winkler award. Ended up with a pretty awful NHL record but he never had a very good team in front of him, eventually getting pushed out by the flash of brilliance that was Pasi Nurminen. He's now an official for BK Mladá Boleslav, a team that makes me wonder why we don't see the green-and-black combo more often.

Kamil Piroš -- The Thrashers' move means I can quit wondering when Piroš is going to pan out. He's apparently 32 now, which makes me feel indescribably old -- in my mind he's forever 23 or so, a bright prospect. At one point there were a surprising amount of his training camp-worn jerseys available in the Thrashers team store. I'm tempted to see if they're still there, but that might get a bit emotional. Since leaving the NHL, he's been carrying out his own Grand Tour, seeing Russia, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, and Sweden. He's playing for HV71 next season.

Richard Šmehlík -- I'm not qualified to be GM of any NHL team outside of Alberta, in part because show me any aging Czech defenseman and I'll think "great signing. Fantastic." I thought the Šmehlík signing was the kind of thing that would lead the Thrashers to the next level, blah blah. Instead he played half an uninspiring season for them, was traded for a pick that became Mike Vannelli (now of the Stavanger Oilers), then retired. I think he lives back in Buffalo. Mike Vannelli played in Norway last year. I do have a Šmehlík-signed puck, which looks classy on my bookshelf.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Helpful Tip

Argh blargh, if you're in a "do a post every day" thing and you've got an event after work, WRITE YOUR POST EARLY, dumbass. I thought about writing something about the Liles trade but I find I don't have a ton to say -- nice little player and I'll miss him just in the way you miss the familiar, but "offensive defenseman" is a pretty easily-replaced position and he wasn't Bobby Orr out there.

I'm more concerned that this leaves the Avalanche with a dearth of quality defensemen for next year -- beyond Johnson, Quincey, and O'Byrne (I presume he'll be re-signed), there's the unpopular Hunwick, Cumiskey (who wasn't John-Michael Liles out there), Wilson, and the young kids who will take a while to reach their potential. So all of a sudden I've gotta thoroughly rethink yesterday's post and say that it would be just delightful if the Avalanche sign Bieksa or Pitkanen, not least because it'd be advantageous to hit the cap floor at some point. I guess I'd kind of prefer Pitkanen -- maybe because of my usual Euro bias, but he's also younger and sturdier, and I get the feeling Bieksa's a bit more likely to be overrated.

I also entertain fantasies of throwing an offer sheet at Bogosian, because I think he's gonna be pretty hot shit down the road, but the Jets are also way under the cap and would match anything. Still, I can dream.

So ok, there's my revised plan for the Avalanche's summer: get Vokoun, get Pitbieksa, don't throw a crapload of money at any over-the-hill winger, for god's sake double don't even think the words "McCabe" or "Jovanovski" to fill those vacant defensive spots, maybe pick up Klouček, probably tank again next year and pick high again and then start tearing shit up. Research backs none of this up but I've got a party to go to. Bye!

PS As I was typing this the Avalanche picked Landeskog, which is I guess a bit weird because he's not a defenseman, but what the hell. I'll take it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not Long Now


Eight days to Colorado.

* * *

Was going to write a post on how I hope the Avalanche (again) behave responsibly in the free agent market -- I'm still not over the dual Smyth/Hannan disappointment -- but all the NHL madness today kinda took the wind out of my sails. Suffice to say I'd be happy if they get Vokoun (or a roughly equivalent goalie -- if Colorado goes into 2011-12 with Brian Elliott as the top option, I'll be super sad) and ... not much else. They've got a lot of prospects, they'll have more in a few days. There are very few appealing options on this list -- Gagne might look ok but at a much lower salary, Pitkanen would be swell but I suspect he and Bieksa are going to be this year's winners of the stupidly overpaid defenseman award. I'd like to see Fleischmann back, too, but I also know I'm an idiot where Czech/Slovak players are concerned and I'm trying not to let my fingers type SIGN HEJDA WHATEVER IT TAKES or something right now. Spend what it takes to get up to the cap, but focus on the young guys you've got, don't get stupid. I know a lot of people want to see a big splash. Here's hoping for a quiet, effective ripple.

* * *

Edited to add: after Vokoun-to-Avs, the second biggest thing I want to see in the NHL right now is Ryan Smyth-to-Flames, simply for the absolute shitfit that would ensue. I'll bring the popcorn.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Revelation Revisited #6: Frozen Peas

No For An Answer: You Laugh

I was an uncritical supporter of all things O'Mahony for a long, long time, but now I can acknowledge being wrong on a few of them. Voicebox was not good. God Forgot was far worse. "A Thought Crusade" is often pretty plodding, and (gulp) some of "This Isn't Me" is kind of sappy.

All that off my chest: 20+ years after I first heard it, "You Laugh" remains my favorite early Revelation release, and top five for the label's whole history. Opening "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" onward to the Uniform Choice-slagging "About Face," this is nine minutes and change of everything I loved about hardcore. Barked vocals, buzzsaw guitars, drums that sound like the set's in the process of falling over.

This record is sufficiently imprinted on my brain that I've still got the entire lyrics memorized, putting me in good shape if anyone ever starts up No For An Answer karaoke. After Minor Threat, NFAA was one of the hardcore bands that helped shape my worldview (to the point that I kind of dismissed Uniform Choice because of "About Face," and rightly so, I must say. What an overrated band). A lot of the stuff from this era sounds at least a little bit hokey now. "You Laugh," though, is still a ferocious burst of awesome.

* * *


Things I have, in keeping with the Czechish theme of this month: a bunch of old hockey team pins, from 1960s through 1980s Czechoslovak hockey teams. I've been looking for a nice way to display these for a while -- I've struck out, so any suggestions gratefully accepted.

Top row, left to right: ZKL Zetor Brno (yeahhhhhhhhhhhh!), HC Poldi Kladno, TJ Gottwaldov, Škoda Plzeň, Spartak Hradec Králové. Bottom row: TJ Slavia Praha, Sparta Praha twice, and TJ Baník Ostrava. Not a lot to say about any of these (except for the Hradec Králové one, which shows a lion holding a "G" -- that's the city crest, exactly what you'd expect for a city named "Hradec Králové") except that I think they're pretty cool to look at.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Living and Writing

Short post tonight -- I had to work late, and now I'm wrestling with something larger: trying to reconcile my portrayals of two rather -- nay, very -- inconsistently characterized characters. It ain't easy.

I'm sometimes resistant to anything that someone says will "help with the writing." My hubris-laden (and silent) response is that I know how to write, dammit (if not always well), I just need the right atmosphere. Or motivation. Or something. All of which is bullshit and I know it, but that's a post for another time.

Anyway, this is "I'm not too big to admit that I'm sometimes wrong" day, so here are two different tools (in very different forms) that have really helped a ton with the writing. Both came to me from good friends -- cheers, MMW and Tapeleg.

In book form, let me suggest that anyone who wants to write fiction check out "The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays From Tin House." The parts I've read are just dead on, pieces that address things that might cause you trouble, then make you feel capable of tackling them. A+.

And then there's Pomodoro, something that I guess is widespread but that I'd never heard of before Tapeleg mentioned it. The Pomodoro plugin is one hell of a big help for someone with chronic attention problems. It seems simple, but somehow, having the actual timer going is a big help. At least for me.

So thanks, M and T, for the assistance. Tomorrow: more stuff about old Czech hockey!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Atlanta's Czechs (Part 1)


The brief period of furious mourning passed -- apparently, among the things we've learned over the past month and a half is that thanks to my inner strength I can indeed cope with being abandoned by a hockey team. The story of my voyage of self-discovery will be released by Random House in August, $29.95 hardcover.

But I'm not yet averse to a little nostalgia. One of the things that made the Thrashers easy to root for (for me, at least. Perhaps not you) was their willingness to sign our Slavic brothers. In their brief time in the league, the Thrashers employed (by my count) 16 Czechs and four Slovaks -- in comparison, the longer-lasting Avalanche have had only eight Czechs. The Thrashers' roster sometimes looked like I'd assembled it in a poorly-thought-out game of Eastside Hockey Manager.

A look back is in order. In their first season alone, the Thrashers had the following guys on the roster:

Patrik Štefan -- when they make the sad Thrashers movie, the Štefan pick will start it off. He would have benefited from more time in the minors, not playing in the IHL, not suffering so many concussions, not forever being known as "the guy picked in front of the Sedins." Scored 25 points in 1999-2000 -- surprisingly, that wasn't his best year. He'd broken down by 2008 and is now an agent in California.

Petr Buzek -- forever the answer to the unasked trivia question, "who was the Thrashers' first all-star," presumably picked because of his not-actually-horrible-by-Thrashers-standards -22 in 99-00. He'd been a promising prospect whose career was derailed by a nasty 1995 car accident; 99-00 was his only full NHL season. He played only 14 games for the Thrashers over the next two seasons before being dealt to Calgary -- after 1 1/2 part-time years there he returned to the Czech Republic. He's now in management with Dukla Jihlava.

František Kaberle -- If you have anything bad to say about this guy, don't say it 'round here. Came over from the Kings in a mid-season trade, was one of the Thrashers' steadiest defensemen in the early years. Losing him for nothing was the start of the downward spiral. Won the Cup with Carolina in 2006, he's been back in the Czech Republic for a few years -- he'll play for Plzeň next season. With Tomáš winning the Cup this year, the Kaberle brothers can swap stories over beers in Kladno this summer.

Martin Procházka -- Even my Czech Thrashers memory isn't infallible -- I routinely forget that he ever played in Atlanta. Racked up one assist in three games in his NHL swan song. He's split the past decade between Russia and the Czech Republic; after taking last year off, he's reportedly coming back with Kladno next season. (edit: hours after I wrote this, he signed with EV Regensburg of Germany instead.)

Vladimír Vůjtek -- Doomed from the start, I remember him best because he caught a skate blade in the face in the pre-season. After that, it's perhaps understandable that he only lasted three games before returning to Europe, where presumably skate blades stay where they belong. Also notable because a large Vůjtek photo remained on the wall of the team shop for several years after his departure. He had a curious career arc -- he'd play on the fringes of North American hockey, head back to Europe for a few years, then return to the U.S. for a cup of coffee. The Thrashers experience didn't totally put him off and he returned for a five-game stint with the Penguins four years later. After that, he collected passport stamps with appearances in Finland, Russia, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. He's since packed it in and is now an agent in Prague.

Coming soon: part two!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Under the Wire

Sneaking this in to continue my one-a-day streak. I'm exhausted and have a sore jaw after Friday's dental work, so actual "trying" resumes tomorrow. Quickie book review:

#17 -- "Football Dynamo" by Marc Bennetts

This is the kind of thing I like -- a book placing sport against a wider backdrop. In this case, it's soccer in Russia, and it's a good time -- history, corruption, vodka. Bennetts has a good sense of humor and a good ear, plus he very obviously loves the country. I'd like to see something like this written about Russia's (or any non-North American country, really) hockey.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Help Wanted

Busy weekend here and a rare appearance at a Braves game tonight, so I'll keep this short. I'm more or less throwing this out to any Czechs and Slovaks who drop by -- I need some assistance on a long-term project.

I'm trying to find out whether the following hockey players are alive or dead -- if they're dead, I'm looking for a date/info on their later life.

Names are given with and without diacritics, in hopes of attracting a stray Google search.

Any assistance is greatly appreciated. Leave comments here or contact me at postpessimist at gmail dot com. Thanks.

Otakar Cimrman (a/k/a Otto, Ota, Oto, Otik). Born May 1, 1925. Defenseman. Played for Chomutov 1950-63, appeared in 1956 Olympics.

Miroslav Nový (Miroslav Novy). Born October 1, 1930, in Prague. Defenseman. Played for Sparta Praha, Motorlet Praha, Chomutov, ATK Praha, I. ČLTK Praha. Appeared in 1952 Olympics, 1953 and 1954 World Championships. Coached in Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1960s and 1970s.

Jiří Pokorný (Jiri Pokorny). Born June 16, 1932. Forward. Played for Pardubice, Sparta Praha, and Tilburg (Netherlands). Coached in Netherlands and Germany after retirement.

Zdeněk Pýcha (Zdenek Pycha). Born May 29, 1926, in Prague. Defenseman. Played for Stadion Podoli, Sparta Praha, ATK Praha. Appeared in 1952 Olympics.

Miloslav Šašek (Miloslav Sasek). Born March 25, 1933. Forward. Played for Plzeň in 1950s and 1960s. Appeared in 1957 and 1958 World Championships. (UPDATE: still alive, appeared at HC Plzeň ceremony in recent months)

František Schwach (Frantisek Schwach). Date of birth unknown. Forward. Played for Plzeň and TJ Gottwaldov (now Zlín) in 1950s and 1960s. Appeared in 1958 World Championships. (UPDATE: still alive, lives near Zlín)

Vilém Václav (Vilem Vaclav). Probably born December 16, 1925, though some sources give year as 1926. Forward. Played for Plzeň. Appeared in 1957 World Championships. (UPDATE: passed away in 2011, date uncertain)

Miloslav Vinš (Miloslav Vins). Born December 3, 1923. Forward. Played for Plzeň. Appeared in 1957 World Championships. (UPDATE: passed away several years back, probably in 2004 or 2005)

Jozef Záhorský (Jozef Zahorsky). Born January 6, 1929, in Bratislava. Goalie. Played for Slovan Bratislava, ATK Praha, Plzeň, Sparta Praha. Appeared in 1952 Olympics, 1953 World Championships. (UPDATE: reportedly passed away in 2002, though I've been unable to find any hard information)

Long shots, eh? Thanks to anyone who can help -- you'll get the coveted PPA Medal of Honor.

Friday, June 17, 2011

S is for Sparta

It's the most iconic symbol in Czech club hockey, one of the most iconic in Europe: Sparta's "S." Through the years, it's always been there in some form -- no other Czech team matches Sparta for consistency.

One of my favorite jerseys, this is a Sparta ČKD Praha jersey from the late 1970s. It's almost definitely from 1977-78 or 1978-79. It's hammered, it's got stories to tell, it's got character.

Some luck here: I'm usually at a loss when jerseys don't have names on the back, and old Czech rosters are few and far between. But thanks to the relatively certain dates we can establish that this was probably worn by defenseman Miroslav Kuneš. He played for Sparta from 1969 through 1982, and in all the photos I've seen, he was wearing number 5. Numbers didn't change much in the old Czech leagues so I think this must be his.1

Judging by the numbers, Kuneš could handle himself. He was generally among the team leaders in penalty minutes. This jersey has been through the wars. Repairs are numerous, and the right sleeve looks like eventually they just gave up on trying to repair it. This is probably the most hammered jersey I own. It's unlikely that I'll ever see any late '70s Sparta games on DVD, so I can only imagine.

The shoulder/sleeve writing says "Transgas" -- I'm guessing it was the state-run gas company. This only appeared for a few years and helped date the jersey.

I always think of Sparta as the pre-eminent Czech team, but they went from 1954 to 1990 without a title. Brno, Dukla Jihlava, and Kladno racked up the titles in the meantime, with Pardubice, Košice, and Vítkovice also winning at times. Think of the New York Yankees going 36 years without a title. Actually, don't, Sparta doesn't deserve that.

In that vast empty space, a lot of great players never tasted glory -- players like Jiří Holeček, Jan Havel, Jiří Hrdina, ... and Miroslav Kuneš. He is still involved with the club, on the management side, so hopefully he's had a chance to share in the joy of the six titles they've won in the past 21 years.


1 - edit/addendum: minutes after hitting "publish post," I found a photo of Kuneš ... wearing number 7. It's from fairly early in his career, though, and he was definitely wearing 5 later. Still think it's his.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lemons

Amalfi coast, Italy, 2004

I've got nothin' tonight. There's a post I want to do, but I don't have the energy to do it justice. So, tomorrow. In the meantime: lemons.

That's not enough? Fine, fine. Pula, Croatia, too. 2003.







Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When Minnows Swam With Sharks

Looking at it from decades on, Czechoslovakian hockey post-World War II has something of a Wild West feel. Between 1945 and 1957, the top league had (year-by-year) 12 teams, 11, 12, 8, 8, 8, 18, 21, 18, 16, 15, 14, 12. Divisions ranged from one to three. The two most prominent pre-war teams, LTC Praha and I.ČLTK Praha, were quickly dissolved, merged, and neutered. On paper, it looks like anybody's game.

For the most part, though, the anarchy masked some simple truths: if you weren't from one of the big cities, you weren't going to win. In those years, the champions were all from Prague, Ostrava, Brno, and České Budějovice.1 That state of affairs mostly lasted until army-backed Dukla Jihlava started its spell of dominance in the late 1960s.

One team, though, came close to busting in a decade and a half earlier -- and it may have been the least likely team in Czechoslovakia.

* * *

Chomutov, as far as I can tell, didn't have a team before World War II. I have a book from 1954-55 (most of these images come from it) called "10 Years of Ice Hockey in Chomutov" -- another from 2005 is called "60 Years of Chomutov Hockey." So if there was much going on pre-war, these books are ignoring it. Chomutov's club2 first appeared in 1945-46, on a very low level -- playing exhibitions, as far as I can tell.

I don't know much about Chomutov the city, except that it's fairly small. According to Wikipedia it had about 30,000 people in 1938 -- it has 50,000 now, still smaller than Boulder. What's more, it's not really near any large population centers, so there was no spillover to draw from. Logically, they should have stayed in the lower levels.

Chomutov rose through the ranks, though, as the Czechoslovakian leagues gradually took a new shape. In 1949-50, they were in the equivalent of the second division. And when the top league went from eight to 18 teams in 1951-52, Chomutov were one of the promotees. Most of them could only aspire to be also-rans. Chomutov, though, competed from the start. And it was largely down to one man.

* * *

Miroslav Klůc, center, in action against RH Brno3. Other players, L-R: Bohumil Sláma, Vlastimil Bubník4, Otakar Cimrman, Slavomír Bartoň

There's a commonly-repeated statistic that Miroslav Klůc scored 226 goals in the 1949-50 season. That's true in the most technical sense, but that includes all matches the team played, including exhibitions (which made up most of the schedule at that point). Think if an AHL team played a local beer league team, and that's what Chomutov was doing. The schedule for that year includes a 32-2 win over "Atlantic Praha," a 21-5 win over Roudnice, and a 26-4 win over Jičín. Miroslav's brother, Josef, is listed as scoring 131 goals that season.

Klůc's achievements don't need exaggeration. It's hard to determine these things for certain, but it seems like at least offensively, he and Vladimír Zábrodský were the top players of the early 1950s. Between the 1951-52 season (when Chomutov entered the top flight) and 1956-57, either Klůc or Zábrodský won the scoring championship each year.



Right out of the gate, Chomutov were a force. In 1951-52, with Klůc leading the league in goals5, they finished first in the Czechoslovakian league's Group A, going 9-1 in the regular season. Unfortunately that didn't carry through to the finals, where they went 0-4-1 to finish last of the six teams participating.

The next year, they finished second in Group A, going 10-2. Klůc led the league in scoring with 33 goals. Chomutov tied for the highest-scoring team in the league with 100 goals. They went 2-3 in the final, to finish fourth.

The same season, Klůc got his only invitation to the World Championships team -- he scored two goals. It's a bit confusing as to why he rarely got called to the national team (he'd have one more prominent appearance), and I'm short on theories.

Next year was an off year for both club and Klůc, but in 1954-55, Chomutov finished second in Group B at 9-3-2. Klůc led the league with 25 goals. Chomutov was the highest-scoring team with 89 goals. They went 1-2 in the final, finishing third. And then the next season they seemed to be moving up: 1955-56 saw them finish first in Group B at 12-1-1. Klůc led the league in scoring again, and got his only Olympic appearance, scoring twice in Cortina. Things were looking bright.

Cortina Olympics: Brno's Bartoň, Chomutov's Klůc, Chomutov's Cimrman

* * *

Unfortunately it was the high-water mark.

For the 1956-57 season, the Czech league slimmed down to 14 teams, and eliminated the groups and the round-robin final. False causality, I know, but I don't know what else changed that year: Chomutov finished an uninspired seventh, well out of the running. A bit of a comeback the next year, as they went 13-8-1 to finish fourth, but the 35-year-old Klůc scored only eight goals.

It proved to be his swan song with the team. There were -- according to the 2005 Chomutov book -- problems in Chomutov's management, and disputes with Klůc. One of them was over his coaching -- he served as player-coach for several seasons, and management apparently decided that he should concentrate on one. Whatever the problem (and however it worked - I'm not sure how player transfers operated in Czechoslovakia), in 1958 Klůc left Chomutov. He traveled just 15 miles northeast, joining second-division Jiskra Litvínov. One season as player/coach and he got them up to the top league; then in 1959-60, Litvínov's first season in the top league, Klůc regained some of the old magic and scored 23 goals. He kept playing until 1963, at age 40. He's still revered in Litvínov -- they've never been back down to the second division since that season they earned promotion. When Litvínov retired #14 in honor of their greatest player, Ivan Hlinka, they saw fit to dually honor an earlier holder of the number.


* * *

Chomutov's time in the sun was almost done. Post-Klůc, they limped on in the lower half of the league for a few years, but after a last-place finish in 1963-64, they were relegated. They made it back to the top league in 1967-68, but only lasted that season -- ditto one more promotion in 1973-74. Since that last one, they haven't made it back to the top, even after the post-Communism changes. They're now firmly established as a top second-division club -- they're always at the top of the next flight down, never quite moving up.

Miroslav Klůc is still alive, living in the Prague area. 88 years old as of this writing, one of the best players no one's ever heard of, on a team that caught a little bit of magic for a few years.



* * *

Research for this article came from "10 let ledního hokeje v Chomutově,"6 "60 let Chomutovského hokeje," and historie.hokej.cz.

Most images came from the "10 let" book -- the 1956 Olympic photo was sent to me by Miroslav Klůc, the Litvínov retired numbers photo from Miloš Tarant.

* * *

1 - Kladno finally broke the monopoly in 1958-59, but it's only a few miles from Prague so could almost be considered a suburb.

2 - I like to give the full names of Czech clubs where possible. I also like hanging on to my sanity too, though, and in the years covered here (according to the more recent book) the club was called ČSK Chomutov, Sokol II Chomutov, ZSJ Spojocel Chomutov, TJ Sokol Hutě Chomutov, TJ Baník Chomutov, and VTŽ Chomutov. So simply "Chomutov" it will be. If you want to know more about the naming history, congratulations, we should probably hang out.

3 - forerunners to today's Kometa Brno, whoop whoop!

4 - brother of Augustin, yes

5 - 1950s Czechoslovakian goal leaders are a bit problematic. In years where there was a playoff tournament, that's included in the goal total. So when Chomutov hit those finals, Klůc got an extra three-four games to score in. Nothing we can do about it, all these years later.

6 - this is an interesting book, in part because the author is listed as -- Miroslav Klůc. Perhaps he really was the whole team in the 1950s. It's got a number of odd little cartoons throughout, including the one below.

* * *

This doesn't really fit in anywhere, but I had to share it. The joke is very basically, if I'm translating right:

"Heavens, what is Otakar Cimrman (Chomutov defenseman) doing, hanging a steel ball off his foot?"

"He's so fast that he has to do that to keep from going offsides!"

I have to think that in 1950s Czechoslovakia, a hockey player with a ball cuffed to his leg would bring up less humorous images.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Calendar Man



Ahhh, to be young and in Colorado again. I'd estimate that in the late '90s, I put about 50% of my earnings into buying Avalanche merchandise. They were really the biggest thing in my life for a few years, and while I wouldn't want that skewed perspective back, there is a certain nostalgia for the innocence and passion.

This came from a late-1996 game, when we could still think of an imminent dynasty in Denver. The Avs' wives were selling team calendars at McNichols Arena -- Stephane Yelle, on injured reserve at the time, was signing them.



Most of the photos are players-with-families, warm and friendly shots. A couple of the single guys, though, got goofy.

René Corbet (above) remains one of my all-time favorite Avs, one of the most entertaining energy players I've ever watched. He'd fight anyone (winning none) and score. I still think the trade sending him and Robyn Regehr to Calgary for Theo Fleury is the worst Avalanche trade ever, even worse than Drury/Yelle for Derek Morris and spare parts.

Then there's Eric Lacroix, below, who was already laboring under the "general manager's son" tag and chose to compound it as the runaway winner of the "photo most likely to get you shit in the locker room" contest.



These are still the guys that I forever think of as the "true" Avalanche (Avalanches?) -- I see Matt Duchene and still think "Ricci's number," Erik Johnson's 6 draws an instinctive "Wolanin." 16 is forever Warren Rychel to me and I didn't wasn't even a fan. Not long ago I had a flashback dream about Tom Fitzgerald getting traded to the Avalanche. I hadn't consciously thought about Fitzgerald in years.

Thankfully, there are a few numbers that are eternal, and I won't have to worry about them getting usurped by someone new. Like good old #21, here, showing us how they eat breakfast in Örnsköldsvik.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ephemera

Stuff dug up in a vain attempt to get organized:

Photo of the 1959 Czechoslovakia World Championship team, sent to me a few years back by forward Bohumil Prošek (kneeling third from left, slight pen mark pointing to him). Two down from him, far left kneeling is Jaroslav Jiřík, who a decade later would become the first Czechoslovak-trained player in the NHL.

Two photos of defenseman Jaromír Bünter, sent to me by Mr. Bünter. He played in the 1956 Olympics.

Photo of Litvínov old-timers ceremony, sent to me by former forward Miloš Tarant.

Dukla Jihlava statistical guide from the 1972-73 season.

1973-74 Sparta ČKD Praha team photo, sent to me by defenseman Josef Horešovský (1968 and 1972 Olympics). Horešovský is dead center of the middle row.

Photo of František Kaberle junior and František Kaberle senior.

German cigarette card, showing the 1936 Olympic match between Czechoslovakia and France. Czechoslovakia won 2-0. No idea who wore what number so I can't identify any of the players.

1987-88 Tesla Pardubice team photo. A couple future NHLers here. Far left of bottom row, wearing goofy headband: Jiří Šejba, who briefly appeared with the Sabres a few years later. Third from right of the same row, similarly wearing goofy headband: Dominik Hašek, who made far more appearances for the Sabres.