January 17, 2016

Vitezslav Duris

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the NHL saw the arrival of several defecting stars from behind the communist Iron Curtain.

Some of the great names to risk everything to play in the NHL included Vaclav Nedomansky, Petr Klima, Petr Svoboda and the famous Stastny brothers - Peter, Anton and Marian.

The Toronto Maple Leafs featured a small collection of international men of mystery like Jiri Chra, Miroslav Frycer and the Ihnacak brothers, Peter and Miroslav. The Leafs worked tirelessly to orchestrate their arrival to North America.

Another lesser known Czech defector who played for the Leafs was defenseman Vitezslav Duris.

Duris defected weeks after participating in the 1980 Olympics. In his rookie season he was often paired along side the Leafs superstar European defender, Hockey Hall of Famer Borje Salming.
"He's the boss," Duris said of Salming. "My job is to get the puck to him as quickly as possible."

After his rookie season, Duris was surprised to be demoted to the minor leagues. The Leafs overhauled their blue line significantly that summer, and committed to a serious youth movement. Older rearguards like Duris were moved out for the likes of Jim Benning, Bob McGill and Fred Boimistruck.

Though he could have fled to Germany for the season, he committed to playing in the minor leagues and was determined to return to the NHL.

"I had the offer to play in Europe, but I had already played there. I wanted to play in the NHL," he said.

Duris had a strong season with the Cincinnati Tigers of the CHL in 1981-82, scoring 14 goals and 55 points in 66 games. He led all defensemen on the team in scoring. His game grew as he adapted to the North American game nicely.

Duris was rewarded in 1982-83 when he returned to the NHL, though injuries allowed him to play in only 32 games.

After Duris' second season in the NHL he opted to take the offer to go to Germany.

"Playing in Europe was better than playing in the minors," he said.

Interestingly, Duris also convinced minor league star/future NHL coach Bruce Boudreau that that was accurate, too. Boudreau would join his former Cincinnati teammate in Iserlohn for a season.

Duris would continue playing in Germany until 1991.

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