July 24, 2009

Brothers: Frantisek and Zdenek "Steve" Tikal

In 2002 we saw a pretty rare occurrence. Two brothers faced off against each other in Olympic competition, playing for different countries.

Robert Reichal, the NHL star was of course playing for his birth country, the Czech Republic, where he is a huge star. His younger brother Martin, who was also born in the Czech Republic, was skating for Germany. Martin never made it to the NHL, but he found the professional leagues and the lifestyle of Germany to his liking. He even became a German citizen, allowing him to compete in the 2002 games.

Believe it or not, that was not the first time two brothers competed on the same ice but for different countries. In 1960 the Tikal twins, Frantisek and Zdenek, also found themselves on opposite sides of the ice.

Frantisek, pictured, was a stalwart defenseman for the Czechs in a career that spanned 17 years. He was especially dominant in the early 1960s, helps Czechoslovakia capture the bronze medal in 1964. He was a regular player on the national team from 1957 through 1966. He was even named the best defenseman at both the 1964 and 1965 World Championships, and was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2004. Father David Bauer, the legendary Canadian national team coach of the 1960s, considered Tikal the best defensman in Europe in the 1960s.

His brother Zdenek was nowhere near as good. In fact, while Frantisek is somewhat legendary in the Czech hockey scene, Zdenek was once considered a great traitor by everyone in his country. In 1948 he opted to defect from the new communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, a definite no-no.

Not a whole lot is known about Zdenek, other than he did wind up in Australia, had been playing for a club team in Melbourne, and, believe it or not, was a star player for them as they entered for the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, USA. He also started going by the name Steve Tikal.

It would be a short Olympics for Zdenek, however. The first Australian game came against Czechoslovakia, and they lost 18-1. But the Czechoslovaks seemed to have another goal in mind - exacting revenge on Zdenek for his defection. As if under direct orders the Czechoslovaks went head hunting for Zdenek because he was a traitor. Eye witness accounts suggest on his very first shift he was speared in the neck by a Czech player.

Obviously you would have to think that would put Frantisek in a pretty odd spot. After all, he had not seen his brother in 12 years, and secret service police were most certainly keeping the two of them apart so that they could not speak to each other. On top of it all, Frantisek had to watch his teammates go after his long lost twin brother.

According to Seamus O'Coughlin's book Squaw Valley Gold, it was actually Frantisek who ended Zdenek's night. "They collided and the brother from Australia separated his shoulder," he wrote. It ended his Olympic tournament, as he never played another game.

For what it is worth Frantisek was never assessed a penalty in the game, so if the story is true it may have been a clean hit.

What I am unclear of is if the two twin brothers were ever reunited. Frantisek appears to have stayed in the Czech Republic until his death in 2008, which would mean he would not have gained travelling freedoms until the fall of communism around 1990. Zdenek's story beyond the 1960 Olympics is a complete mystery. Did he live long enough to return home and reunite with his brother and family?

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