Canucks and Beyond

Facebooking Jiri Bubla

07/29/2007 at 1:13am EDT

Sure, there’s only 7 members so far, but the group is only 24 hours old. Soon we’ll be 1000s strong! And let’s face it: no one was EVER going to properly step in and remember Jiri Bubla if I didn’t take matters into my own hands. (He’s the only European member of the Canucks Alumni squad, for godsakes, and lives in Tsawassen, BC, to this day).

Note: If you want to be my “friend” or (more importantly) to join the “Church of Bubla”, you can find me on Facebook by searching for “Alanah McGinley” where you’ll eventually find me listed - confusingly—as “Alanah McGinley-Downie.” (Or just search for “Jiri Bubla.” Believe me, it’s the ONLY group listed!)

Go Bubla!

(Geezus, I love saying his name. I recommend saying it three times fast for maximum effect).

Here’s an article from Tony Gallagher of The Province from a few years ago, about Bubla & Son (Jiri Slegr, for those of you who didn’t realize).

There were times in his life when Jiri Slegr probably never much cared whether he ever saw his father Jiri Bubla.

But there they were last Sunday night here quietly having dinner together, the Vancouver Canucks newest defenceman and a man once generally considered to be the best defenceman in the world together again, and it was a heartwarming sight.

The two were separated when Slegr was a young boy in Czechoslovakia, Bubla and his wife splitting up with the now 54-year-old former Canuck essentially losing contact with his son while his life took all sorts of twists and turns in hockey before he retired in ‘86, probably three years too early.

Married again with two boys, John and Steve, from his second marriage, Bubla seemed to lose his way even further after hockey, falling in with the wrong crowd and eventually serving five years in an Austrian prison for heroin smuggling.

Afterwards he was able to return to Canada thanks to some help from Pat Quinn and the Canucks at the time and since then he has put his life back together wonderfully well.

He owns Tofino Transport, a trucking company he shares with Raoul Parara and says he’s a happy man to have a relationship now with his first son, Jiri, who also happens to be very good friends with his two half brothers.

“I’m very happy and proud of all my boys,” says Bubla, who encouraged Slegr to give the NHL a shot again despite the fact he would make more money in Russia. “Hockey is good over there, but this is the best. I told him if he plays well here and there is no lockout, he could be in good shape. If there is a problem, he can go back.”

Slegr speaks three languages, including Russian, and as well as taking young Kirill Kotsov as much under his wing as the youngster is willing to go, he also found some time to talk about his often difficult relationship with his dad.

Difficult childhood

It wasn’t easy for him growing up, the fact he’s been as forgiving as he is, a stirring tribute to the way his mother and stepfather raised him.

“I took the name Slegr when I was 10-years-old because when I was living with my mother and stepdad, all the time everyone was Slegr and I was Bubla,” he says. “And really my father wasn’t a part of my life at all. I maybe heard from him three times all the time I was growing up. No birthday cards, nothing, and it was tough.

“At that point I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. It was tough too because I used to play with Ivan Hlinka’s son and all this time he was a great hockey player, I would hear his stories of what his dad and my dad were doing together, but I would hear nothing from him.”

When his dad went to prison, it brought a whole new level of suffering for young Slegr.

“People were really not very nice to you,” he says, mastering the understatement. “When I would be on the ice the other team would ask me if I took bread to my father while he was in there. And there was lots of other stuff. It was not very pleasurable, but you have to move on. My stepdad was a big help to me at that time.”

Slegr didn’t really get on speaking terms with his father until his first tour as a Canuck in ‘91 after Bubla had returned from prison and was working for his wife’s cleaning company which had the contract for the Pacific Coliseum.

“They came to me in the dressing room and said ‘your father is right outside’ and I said ‘really?’

“We saw each other and we started talking and now things are really good between us. I have to say my father now is making all the steps and all the effort so he’s trying to make up for earlier.”

Hardships behind him

As a result Slegr is not only healthier mentally these days, his physical ailments (back, knee and hernia) are all behind him. So if you see a return to his ‘98 gold-medal winning Olympic form when he was essentially the best defenceman at Nagano, you’ll know why.

Some of it is in the genes.

“I was on three Olympic teams, but ‘76 was my best year, I guess,” says Bubla, who played here with Marc Crawford and tells some of the best Bill LaForge stories.

“We were second in the Olympics in February, won the world championships in April and then got to the final of the Canada Cup in September.”

Bubla’s last Olympic appearance was 1980 and he joined the Canucks with Hlinka as the first two players officially released from an eastern bloc country, in part because of the work behind the scenes by the Griffiths family.

It turned out Vancouver was the place father and son were first reunited.

With luck, it will be the place they will live happily ever after.

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