Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 08/01/13 at 12:44 AM ET
When the news that Zigmund Palffy had retired (using a wood stick till the very end!) hit the wires, I was amused as heck by the fact that so many NHL fans didn't know that he was still playing, because I spend my summers reading the Czech and Slovak media, and the number of former Czech and Slovak NHL'ers who go home and end up playing for another half-decade or more is plain old staggering. Martin Straka retired last summer, but Martin Rucinsky, Petr Nedved, Josef Stumpel and another dozen former NHL'ers are playing in the Czech Extraliga or the KHL, and the same is true for Slovaks, Ladislav Nagy, Miroslav Satan, Branko Radivojevic, etc.
It's just something you get used to after a while, and in the cases of players like Straka, the man literally worked as the GM while he was playing with HC Plzen, he bought a majority stake in the team to save it from folding, and now he's the team's coach.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, it's almost predictable that most of the older-guard guys will "go home" and play for another three-to-five years, and the Sporting News's Sean Gentile took a look at some of the more notable members of the active Czech-and-Slovak ex-NHL'er club:
Petr Nedved, Czech Republic: The 41-year-old winger has played six seasons in Czech's top professional league; in 48 games with Liberec Bili Tygri HC, he had 20 goals, 33 assists and a league-leading 151 penalty minutes. That last number is bizarre; good luck finding any other guys with 99-point seasons under their belt who wind up averaging more than three PIMs a game. For the record, two guys have accomplished that in a single NHL season—Kevin Stevens in 1991-92 and Rick Tocchet in 1992-93.
Nedved, the eighth-leading all-time scorer among Czech players, was one of the last to defect from the former Soviet Union, then played for seven NHL teams. He's best remembered for his time with the New York Rangers—and his contract disputes.
Jozef Stumpel, Slovakia: Also 41, Stumpel spent last season with Slovakia's Nitra MHC, totaling 13 goals and 37 assists in 52 games. He was done in the NHL when the Florida Panthers waived him in 2008. At his best, with the Los Angeles Kings (and Palffy, a close friend), Stumpel was a point-per-game player. He's the seventh-leading all-time scorer among Slovakian players. Sixth: Palffy.
Stumpel's another member of the still-using-a-wood-stick club...
Martin Straka, Czech Republic: He peaked as an NHL player in 1995, when he had 95 points for the Pittsburgh Penguins, largely on a line with Alexei Kovalev and Robert Lang. He also wound up playing—again—alongside Jagr with the Rangers from 2005-08 before leaving for Pizen HC of the Czech league. He had 54 points in 2012-13.
Martin Rucinsky, Czech Republic: A first-round pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 1991, Rucinsky had 612 points in 961 NHL games and peaked in 1995-96 with the Montreal Canadiens, when he had 25 goals and 35 assists in 56 games. Last season, with HC Litvínov, he had 13 goals and 14 assists in 33 games.
Radek Bonk, Czech Republic: The third overall pick in 1994 by the Ottawa Senators, Bonk took a handful of seasons to develop into a 70-point scorer, a mark he hit in 2000-01. He also played for the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators before leaving for the KHL in 2009. He's spent the last four years with Oceláři Třinec of the Czech league and had 40 points in 39 games last season.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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