from Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press,
“I had a source in Czechoslovakia who said ‘Nick, this guy is the best player we have, but you won't like him, he's always in trouble with the authorities,’,” Former Red Wings head coach Nick Polano told the Detroit Free Press in a 1988 interview. “I thought to myself, Hmm. Sounds to me like a good candidate for defection.
“By the time we got to the fifth round, I was giving Jimmy the eye. Finally, Jimmy said 'OK, but now you have to deliver him.’.”
In August 1983, Ilitch had a trip planned to Europe. Part of the agenda was making contact with Klima in an effort to convince him to defect. Ilitch’s outlook was simple: “Whatever it takes,” he said at the time.
In November, the Wings sent Louis Jakub, a Czech native who lived in the Detroit area, to Czechoslovakia as a representative in hopes of recruiting Klima. “It was impossible for him to come at that time because he was in the army and the government could have punished his parents,” Jakub revealed in 1985.
In August 1985, news broke that Klima had left the Czechoslovakian national team while it was on a training assignment in West Germany. He failed to appear at a practice at a facility near Rosenheim, and was discovered to be missing from his team’s hotel. The Associated Press reported Klima was seen having a drink with a teammate at the hotel restaurant the night before. West Germany hockey officials said Klima stood up and said he was going to the men’s room. Instead, he got his luggage from his room and left.
The next day, Reuters reported that Xaver Unsinn, the West German national coach, said Klima had left West Germany with a North American scout and was headed for Canada.
In September, Czech officials conceded Klima had defected. A front page article in the Czechoslovakia Sports Daily quoted Dr. Ján Starší, coach of the national team: “Petr Klima was lured by money of the National Hockey League and betrayed the collective of his teammates.”
Klima was 20-years-old and considered one of the top left wings in the world. His service with the army hockey team Dukla-Jihlava had ended, clearing one hurdle on his path to the NHL.
Jim Lites, the Wings’ executive vice-president, and Nick Polano, who had moved from coaching to being assistant general manager, had gone to West Germany to meet Klima and help him and his girlfriend defect. They kept a low profile and they kept on the move, changing hotels from Rosenheim to Munich to Stuttgart to Koblenz to Wiesbaden to Frankfurt. Klima ran, swam, biked and lifted weights to keep fit. As the weeks wore on, boredom set in. One day he rented a Mercedes 500 and crashed it on the autobahn.
“No speed limit,” Polano said later. “Petr thought it was funny.”
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