Ivan Hlinka - Ivan Hlinka - Czech ice hockey idol who took revenge on the Soviet Union

9 2004 Aktuality English
obálka čísla

Britský deník The Guardian otiskl 24. 8. t. r. nekrolog trenéra hokejového reprezentačního týmu ČR, který zahynul při dopravní nehodě 16. 8. t. r. List shrnuje Hlinkovu kariéru sportovce a trenéra. V této souvislosti je připomínáno vítězství ČR na olympijských hrách v Naganu.

In March 1969, after the Czechoslovakian ice hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 2-0, the streets of Prague filled with people chanting at their Soviet occupiers, „You have tanks, we have goals." In such a context, Ivan Hlinka, who has died aged 54, had an importance comparable to that in England of Bobby Moore, Alf Ramsey and Denis Law combined.

As an ice hockey player, Hlinka led Czechoslovakia to their first world championship. As a coach, he took the Czech Republic to an Olympic gold medal in Nagano. Later, he became the first European to coach in the north American National Hockey League (NHL).

Hlinka died in a car crash while returning to Prague from the spa town of Karlovy Vary, where he had gone to make sure that the Czech star Jaromir Jagr could take part in the World Cup tournament, which begins next Monday. Hlinka’s feuding with Jagr was one of the reasons for his dismissal as coach of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins in 2001. Ironically, Herb Brooks, whom Hlinka succeeded as coach, died last year, also in a car crash (obituary, August 22 2003).

Born in Most, near the German border, Hlinka began playing, at the age of 12, with the junior teams of CHZ Litvonov, the hotbed of Czech hockey. He made his senior debut aged 19 in 1969, and, apart from a brief spell with Dukla Trencen, played there until 1981, registering 848 points in 469 games. But his reputation was made as leader of the national team. With Canadian and American professionals barred from competition, „amateur" ice hockey was dominated by the Soviets.

When the Czechs won their first world championship, in Prague in 1972, it was Hlinka who was credited with convincing his teammates they were capable of winning. He won two more world titles, in 1976 and 1977, but had to settle for Olympic bronze in 1972 and silver in 1976.

However, in 1976, Czechoslovakia again shocked the hockey world by reaching the finals of the Canada Cup, the first „open" world tournament. Although they lost to the host Canadians 5-4 in the final, Hlinka was named as the tournament’s outstanding forward, ahead of Guy LaFleur and Phil Esposito.

At 6ft 2in and nearly 16st, Hlinka’s style as a centre resembled Esposito’s – difficult to move from the slot in front of the goal, although his skating and passing abilities reminded people more of the elegant Montreal Canadian centre Jean Beliveau.

A number of Czechs had already played in a rival professional league, but, in 1981, Hlinka, past his prime, became one of the first in the NHL, playing two seasons for Vancouver Canucks; his 60 first-season points remains a team record for a rookie. He played two more seasons in Switzerland, before returning to Litvonov as coach in 1985. He became coach of the national Czech team just as it was weakened by the loss of Slovak players to their own, newly independent country.

Hlinka’s greatest triumph came in 1998, when, behind the outstanding goaltending of Dominik Hasek, the Czech Republic won in Nagano, the first Olympic tournament completely open to professionals. After coaching the Czech Republic to their second world title in 1999, Hlinka was hired as associate head coach in Pittsburgh by Brooks and general manager Craig Patrick, both of whom had competed against him as US Olympians.

After a year understudying Brooks, Hlinka took over the Penguins in 2000, joining Chicago’s Finnish coach Alpo Suhonen as the NHL’s first European skippers. Boasting 15 European players, his team reached the Stanley Cup semi-finals, but he was fired after losing the first four games of the 2001-02 season. Player-owner Mario Lemieux blamed a lack of communication; Hlinka was unable to get the superstar Jagr to concentrate on playing defence.

Hlinka spent two years resting after suffering heart problems, but again was hired by former rivals, spending one season as coach of Avantgard Omsk, in the Russian Premier League. At the 2004 world championships in Prague, he was named as the greatest figure in Czech hockey history.

After the Czechs performed badly in that tournament, Hlinka was chosen to replace his former assistant, Slavimir Lener, as coach. With Hlinka’s death, Vladimir Ruzicka, captain of the 1998 Olympic champions, is expected to take over. But no one can replace Hlinka’s standing in the hearts of Czechs.

He is survived by his wife Libena and a son.

Michael Carlson

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

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