Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Michal Sýkora

(Rejected titles: "Sýkora on Trial," "I Served Michal Sýkora," "Sýkora Is on the Roof")

I don't have much time for the Philadelphia Flyers -- probably because the man most associated with the team is this charmer, probably also because you heard so much about the team in the 1990s even though they never won anything. Nonetheless they've had a few guys I really liked over the years (Pronger, Hextall, that Pletka kid) and for a team that's always seemed suspicious of Euros, they've had a whole bunch of Czechs.

Thus this, snagged on eBay a few years back. No points for guessing why I found it irresistible.

Roman Čechmánek was one of two big, flaky Czech goalies named "Roman" around the same time, and like Turek, I had a soft spot for him. The Flyers' treatment of him was pretty abominable -- while he was inconsistent in the playoffs, he got zero help from his teammates around that time, and the Flyers haven't had a goalie as good since. I admit that I'm a Čechmánek apologist, but there were a lot of passengers on those early-'00s Flyers teams, and he's unfairly taken the heat since. He was never the joke he was subsequently made out to be -- anyone who thinks Brian Boucher or Robert Esche was better is certifiably insane and should not be allowed to roam the streets.

Then, Michal Sýkora: one of those eternal frustrations, by then tempting his fourth and final NHL team. Big (6'5", 225) and with a scoring touch in juniors, he'd shown signs of breaking through in 1995-96, but then spent the next several years bouncing from team to team, then NHL to AHL, then North America to Europe. 2000-01 saw him returning to the NHL after a year and a half with Sparta Praha -- in part-time duty with the Flyers he was decent but unspectacular, and afterwards he was back to the Czech Republic.

I'm no chess expert, but I think it's just about impossible to get the board into this setup. One might almost think this was staged in the service of a silly pun.

The season this came out, 2000-01, marked the Flyers debuts of both Čechmánek and Sýkora -- for Čechmánek, it was the start to an NHL career, for Sýkora an end. Čechmánek went on to three good but tumultuous seasons with Philly -- he won the Flyers' team MVP trophy two out of the three years he was there, and added the Jennings Trophy in 2002-03, but also blew up at his teammates in the 2002 playoffs and never got them to the Stanley Cup. He spent one season with Los Angeles, generally the Last Chance Saloon for NHL goalies in those days, then spent a few years dividing time between the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden before calling it a day in 2009.

Sýkora returned to his hometown Pardubice after his sole Flyers season, and played four more seasons there. He and Čechmánek did team up once more, on the 2002 Olympic team. He only suited up for HC Pardubice twice in the 2004-05 season, and that marked the end of his career. I've been told he runs a pub in Pardubice now -- if anyone knows (I know a couple people from Pardubice drop by here), fill me in, as I'd like to get this signed.

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