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.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inexplicable

Ok, this is a hard one to figure out.



The title is (more or less) "From the American Ballpark," and the joke goes roughly:

"Reporter: What's your name?

Player: Buzcinski - B as in bits, U as in hit, Z as in killed, C as in shreds, I as in invalid..."

Obviously, the translation ruins the whole "U as in," "Z as in" effect, but more curiously -- why is a Czechoslovakian sports magazine in 1955 running a cartoon about American football? While there had been at least one such game played in Prague (details are here -- I'd never heard about this before I started looking this up) I really don't think it was at all common. Czechs would have related to such a cartoon the way I'd relate to one about, say, cricket. I suppose the humor in the joke would be universal, but why set it against the background of an unfamiliar sport? Was football seen as quintessentially American back then? I kind of doubt it -- I'd think baseball would have been more representative (though unlikely to produce the scene seen here).

My guess is that they cribbed it from an American publication -- I can't quite make out the artist's name, but it looks like the first name is either Fred or Ford, both American style. Or, perhaps it was an American living in Prague. I've got a few issues of this magazine and I'll have to go and see if this was a regular thing.


Then there's this, which makes me laugh a bit. It's from an article headlined "Prima donnas and traders" -- the player on the left, with his fancy-dan mustache, is obviously a prima donna. The fellow on the right is obviously a trader. I don't know why he's wall-eyed. The article's a bit long and I haven't tried translating it yet.




This is most of the cover to the issue, from January 28, 1955. The full thing is too big to fit on my scanner. That's a fellow we've mentioned before, Vladimir Zábrodský, making a defenseman look stupid. While his reputation in the former Czechoslovakia is a bit mixed, Zábrodský was undoubtedly a massive talent. In most of the photos I've seen of him, he stands out -- players are giving him room (or he's creating it), and he looks stronger, more confident than the others. That sounds a bit like projection, but in this case I don't think it is. I think if I were to show a photo of a game featuring Zábrodský to someone who had never seen hockey, they'd immediately recognize him as a star.

* * *

Hey, let's do a little link catch-up, in the name of spreading the word about good sites. First off, I've been remiss in not giving props to my chum Michelle's Street Dog Dispatch, chronicling her adventures in Southeast Asia. She's a hell of a writer -- go by and encourage her to do more of it.

Then, on the Czech hockey front, something sorely needed: the Czech Hockey Report, an English-language site covering hockey in my favorite country. I think this is the first English blog covering the Extraliga since Vak Fan gave up the ghost, and I'm thrilled to find it -- wish I had known about it during the 2010-11 season. Switching sports, staying in the region -- the Slavic Football Union, with a variety of writers covering soccer all over Eastern Europe. It's good stuff. Finally, The Other 87 -- soccer again with some really interesting features, in particular the multi-part article on Antonio Cassano, and this post on Eric Cantona. All good sites, give 'em a look!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Incident at U Herclíků

Perhaps it's time to nominate a new name for the title of "toughest player ever." I don't know how many penalty minutes he accumulated in his career. I don't know if he ever threw a check. I don't have any idea how he played. But Augustin Bubník survived events that would have crushed many -- and then he returned to play hockey.

* * *

In early 1950, Gustav Bubník's career must have looked pretty good. He was one of the top Czechoslovakian league's brightest stars at just 21, the middle of three talented brothers. He'd been an integral part of the 1948 Olympic team that took silver, and the 1949 team that won the World Championships. He'd followed that up by leading the league in goals, scoring 26 for ATK Praha in the 1949-50 season.

But there were dark clouds looming over the Czechoslovak team. Defections were a concern for the authorities -- players such as Victor Lonsmín, Zdeněk and Drahomír Jirotka, Oldřich Kučera. and Milan Matouš had already left. Most recently, Bubník's national teammate Zdeněk Marek stayed behind in Stockholm after the 1949 championships, eventually ending up in the United States.

Bubník had his chance to do the same. In 1948, his touring LTC Praha team voted in somewhat shadowy circumstances on whether to stay behind on a trip to Switzerland. They decided no1 2 and returned to Czechoslovakia. A few years later, they probably regretted that decision.

* * *

It's just about impossible, at least with the resources at my fingertips, to determine just what happened on March 13, 1950. Bubník is the only surviving principal. Another hockey player, Vladimír Zábrodský3, wasn't there, but might have insight but if he's spoken on it it's not readily available. All others are dead.

Bubník and his countrymen weren't given the chance to defend their world title in 1950. The flimsy official reason was a that Czechoslovakia was protesting the alleged refusal to grant visas to Czech journalists, an excuse that dissolves under the simplest scrutiny. The authorities may have been weary and wary of defections, they may have been getting in line with the rest of the Eastern Bloc nations.

On March 13, much of the team was gathered at the U Herclíků pub. Zábrodský wasn't among them -- some have hinted that he may have sold out his teammates and been responsible for what subsequently transpired, but he was known as a teetotaler, and given how popular he appeared to be with some teammates, he may just not have been invited. Again, no one knows.

In any case, the visa excuse was broadcast on the radio as the players gathered, and they responded rowdily and angrily -- calls of "Death to Communism" were heard, not something you wanted to shout in 1950 Prague. And at some point, others in the pub revealed themselves as state agents. Punches were thrown, arrests were made, and 12 Czechoslovakian stars were in the brig.

Bubník suffered torture and worked on the Czechoslovakian equivalent of chain gangs even before he was formally sentenced. Once the trials (a formality) were concluded, one of Czechoslovakia's brightest young stars was sentenced to 14 years in prison, the second-longest sentence after star goalie Bohumil Modrý, who got 15 years.

The sentence included work in uranium mines. An aside here: uranium mining is not good for you. It doesn't promote long life -- the New Yorker had an excellent article about it last year, and bear in mind those were people going to it voluntarily. The experience was sufficiently debilitating that it's widely blamed for Modrý's 1963 death.

Bubník made it through, surviving long enough to see Czechoslovakian President Klement Gottwald's death and a subsequent slight loosening under Antonín Zápotocký. An amnesty was declared in 1955 -- Bubník and his teammates were pardoned. And then, after torture and forced uranium mining -- most resumed playing hockey.

* * *

Who knows what Bubník could have done if he hadn't lost five years of his twenties right as he was emerging as a star. As it was -- he slotted right back in with Spartak Brno, then moved on to Motorlet Praha, Slovan Bratislava, and Litvínov before an injury -- apparently to the spine -- ended his career in the early 1960s.

Later that decade, he moved to Finland and began coaching the national team. He helped take Finnish hockey to a new level. In 1967, he led the Finns to their first international victory against a major hockey power -- Czechoslovakia. The next year, the Bubník-led Finns defeated Canada at the Olympics.

Perhaps realizing that it was better to have him on their side, the Czechoslovakian government "rehabilitated" him in 1968. Bubník returned home in 1969, and coached Škoda Plzeň for a couple years, then coached off and on throughout the 1970s.

* * *

Bubník is still alive and by all accounts quite robust at age 82. He's one of the final links to a fascinating chapter in hockey's history, the last survivor of one of the game's darkest moments. He's a member of two halls of fame, in the Czech Republic and Finland. Not a household name, but a fascinating man nonetheless.



* * *

(two excellent links for further reading: a straight forward account of the arrests and trials here, and a lengthy interview with Bubník here. Both were invaluable in writing this.

1 - the vote was either 8 or 9 against staying to 6 for. According to Bubník, Vladimír Zábrodský was the go-between on the discussions and cast a vote against after the Swiss-based organizers of the plan reneged on promises. Zábrodský's brother Oldřich did stay, playing in Switzerland for a few years and eventually ending up in Belgium.

2 - In the Lonsmín article, I suggested that this was the same time when Lonsmín defected. Further research suggests that's not the case although I'm still not sure.

3 - about whom more at another time

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another Hero Down

Patrick Leigh Fermor, dead at 96.

I was perhaps the only person on earth who believed he would finish And the article says that we'll see the last book in the trilogy that started with "A Time of Gifts" and continued with "Between the Woods and the Water." Those two books are simply beautiful. If you haven't read them, and possess an ounce of interest in the world beyond your neighborhood, do yourself a favor.

(edited because I'm very obviously a moron who didn't read to the end of the Guardian obit.)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

10 Years Ago

Lazy post tonight. I had ambitions, but work wrung me out like an old rag, and the other things I was planning require some research.


So: ten years since the Avs' last Stanley Cup. Canucks and Blues and Kings fans are, I know, weeping for me. I remember the night pretty well -- I was still working the graveyard shift, so I watched the first period at home, listened to the second period on the radio en route to work, watched third period at work. Thankfully my supervisor that night was a diehard Bruins fan -- he delayed a meeting so that we could see Bourque get the Cup.

I had a bit of bad luck with Avalanche Stanley Cup wins -- saw that one at work, saw 1996 exhausted on my parents' couch the night before starting a new job just after moving back to Colorado. That one left me almost dumbfounded; the Avalanche were still something new and odd, I wasn't used to them, I hadn't gone through any pain. Krupp scored his goal. I looked quizzically at the TV, watched the celebration with some pleasure, then went to bed. 2001 was, in retrospect, more satisfying. We'd gone through all the "next dynasty" talk, built up a healthy hate of the Red Wings, a healthy dislike of the Stars, and then it all came back around.

As I write this -- in mid-2011, for anyone checking my hard drive after the apocalyptic war -- the Avalanche don't look too close to a Stanley Cup (talk to me in three years). Hopefully I'm back in the homeland for the next one. I'm overdue for a proper celebration.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Good Thing of the Day


Roman Turek and giant penguin, circa 1996.

Profiles in Courage

Couldn't let this one pass unremarked -- someone named, uh, "Generic Viagra" added this comment on an old post:

in my town a similar building is abandoned, the drug addicts are there and smoke many drugs!I think that this is really good!


I salute you, sir/madam.

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.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Krujë, Albania

Albania fell 2-0 to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Euro 2012 qualifying today -- I'm not up to the math at the moment but I'd guess that all but ends any hopes of making it to the tournament.

In sadness, and because I don't have time for a proper post tonight, I give you photos of Krujë circa 2005.

I think of Albania often, and hope circumstances take me back there soon.