November 24, 2015

Jiri Hrdina

If you were to judge hockey greatness solely on championship achievements, Jiri Hrdina would be one of the greatest hockey players of all time.

Hrdina was in fact he was a very good player, but by the time he was cleared to play in the NHL, he had already spent most of his prime behind the Iron Curtain of Eastern Europe. His NHL days were played well into the sunset of his career.

In his career, Hrdina played in two Olympic games, two Canada Cups, and six World Championships. In 1985 he was a world champion gold medalist, earning silver in 1982 and 1983, and a bronze in 1987 and 1990. He was part of the Olympic silver medalist Czech team in 1984 at Sarajevo.

Drafted 159th overall by the Calgary Flames in 1984, Hrdina played in 389 games in the Czechoslovakian League from 1977 to 1987. However after the 1988 Olympic games in Calgary, Hrdina would sign with the Flames after getting approval from the Czech hockey powers.

A masterful puckhandler and great skater, Hrdina never produced huge numbers in the NHL. He didn't in the Czech leagues either. He was a solid two way competitor who would serve as a great depth player on two strong NHL teams - the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hrdina's best NHL season was in 1988-89 as he scored 22 goals and 32 assists for 54 points. He however was used in only 4 post season games as the Flames went on to capture their first Stanley Cup championship.

An underrated defensive player, Hrdina's offense became a bonus as his true value to the Flames was to be a friend and father-figure for a young Czechoslovakian star in the Flames organization - Robert Reichal.

On December 13, 1990, Hrdina was traded to Pittsburgh in exchange for tough guy defenseman Jim Kyte. Pittsburgh acquired the veteran for depth purposes at center, but more importantly to fill that same father-figure role with their own Czech superstar in the making - Jaromir Jagr. Like with Reichal in Calgary, Hrdina helped Jaromir adjust to life in North America, and to learn English.

Though used sparingly on the ice, Hrdina was a big part of back to back Stanley Cup championships in The Steel City in 1991 and 1992.

Hrdina retired in 1992, but his effects on the NHL were being felt long after his departure. Jagr had gone on to become one of the game's greatest players ever. Reichal was a solid goal scorer for many years in the NHL. And you can bet that the 1998 Gold Medal Olympic champion Czech Republic squad all owe a thanks to one of the most unheralded figures in Czech hockey history - Jiri Hrdina.

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