The world champion was locked up in an insane asylum. And then the invincible team was born

For 23 long years, Czechoslovak hockey has been waiting for a gold medal at the world championship. In the end, the players symbolically won it at home in front of their own grateful supporters.

From today’s perspective, the fact that the two foreign teams were absent from the tournament must also be acknowledged. And the Nordic countries, after the emergence of NHL competition in the form of the WHA, were weakened by a number of players who went to try their luck in North America.

On the other hand, beating the then Soviet Union, which had won an incredible 10 World Championships and Olympic tournaments in a row, was a feat never to be forgotten!

The decisive game against the USSR on April 20, 1972 was enjoyed by almost the whole country, and the goals of two future emigrants, Václav Nedomanský and Richard Farda, and the decisive blow of the rebel Jaroslav Holík determined the final result and 3:2 gold for the home team. The next golden era of our hockey was just beginning…

World champion at the lunatic asylum, he also played with Gretzky

Rudolf Tajcnár, 23, was then one of the world champions. In 1972, the Slovan Bratislava defender lived the year of his life. During it, he also won an Olympic bronze medal. He scored five excellent goals as a defender at the World Cup and his future looked more than rosy. But it was a big mistake.

The secretary was always quite rowdy, he also liked to drink, but this time after the World Cup he overdid it and after fighting with several policemen in a bar, he had to spend four years in a psychiatric hospital!

Stories from hockey history

Photo: Getty Images

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In the end, he had to alternate there for a year, after which he was able to return to hockey, but not to the national team. He played in the league for Slovan for four more seasons, but he liked the communist regime so much that he decided to emigrate. He was promised a job in Switzerland, but the Czechoslovak Hockey Association, as usual, imposed a two-year sentence on the IIHF, so Tajcnár, if he wanted to play hockey, only had to to go abroad.

He spent his freshman year on the AHL farm, where he also won the coveted Calder Cup, and he didn’t watch the NHL’s main team Philadelphia Flyers only because of an injury at the time. he was supposed to be called. The following year, he even played with a young Wayne Gretzky for the Edmonton Oilers! However, not in the NHL, but in the then competitive WHA, where he only had a chance in two duels, otherwise he played mainly on the farm. But his season was again complicated by an injury, this time to his knees. To make matters worse, he was attacked and stabbed during a trip to New York!

After his convalescence and the expiration of his sentence, he moved to Europe and ended his career in Switzerland. Homesickness was so great in his case that in 1987 he decided to return to Czechoslovakia. He did the seemingly impossible thing on a fake passport and eventually surrendered to Bratislava Public Security. Surprisingly, the police let him go after a thorough interrogation. Thereafter, he supported himself as best he could, but of course he did not return to hockey in any capacity, even after the 1989 coup. He lives alone with mental problems and alcohol. He died aged 57 from a heart attack in the summer of 2005.

5 minutes from Olympic gold

Prague’s golden success was just a harbinger of what was to come in the following years. For several years a world-class team was built up until 1976. At the Innsbruck Olympics, Czechoslovakia unfortunately finished second, also due to an unfortunate concussion and mainly due to an epidemic of flu in the team. At that time, the Olympic gold was missing 5 minutes in the match against the Soviets…

Photo: Profimedia.cz

World champions. Defenders Machač and Pospíšil and goalkeeper Holeček between them.

At the world championship in Katowice, Poland, the Czechoslovakian lions were already healthy and above all hungry. In the ten matches of the tournament, they did not experience the bitterness of defeat, they drew only once in the already decided state of the tournament with Sborna (who managed to lose incredibly 4:6 against the host and eventually relegated Poland). At that time the Czechoslovaks celebrated their fourth world championship title with a huge lead, 6 of the tournament’s top 10 scorers were Czechoslovaks, and Holeček, Pospíšil, Nový and Martinec were part of the tournament’s all-star team . And that was just the beginning!

The NHL bows to a small nation

In 1976, the first major world tournament with the participation of all the best hockey players in the world took place – the Canada Cup.

There was no shortage of the four best European teams, but also the best NHL professionals in the jerseys of Canada and the USA. Although Czechoslovakia arrived as world champions, foreign journalists did not take them very seriously anyway. They were primarily interested in defeating the Soviets. Famous Canadian coach Scotty Bowman even said that only beautiful jerseys attracted him to the Czechoslovakian team. But on September 9, 1976, in Canada, they had to admit, willy-nilly, that there are great hockey players in a small country in the middle of Europe who can beat the proud stars of the NHL.

It was then that Vladimír Dzurilla, an experienced 34-year-old goalkeeper, who looked more like a replacement for Jiří Holeček, had the duel of his life. He was first ridiculed when he slipped while walking on the ice. But then the Montreal fans stopped smiling. The stocky fighter from Bratislava, who was due to end his career in Brno, was absolutely unbeatable on the ice overseas. The Canadian stars did the possible and the impossible to overcome the cheerful Slovak, but in vain.

And when Milan Nový scored less than 5 minutes before the end, it was a legendary 1:0 victory. For the first time, our hockey players beat Canada on its strongest roster! The Czechoslovak team eventually reached the tournament final, but it wasn’t enough to beat Canada in two games. But no one could take away the recognition of the cradle of hockey in Czechoslovakia.

Goalkeeper Rogatien Vachon said at the time after the hard-fought victory: “These guys are sharp as nails, but they have big friendly hearts. I will never forget what happened when I caught the hardest shot of the game. Whoever took the shot approached me and patted my back in appreciation.” We should add that the player was Vladimír Martinec, who was playing at his peak at the time.

Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re unlucky

In 1977, the defense of the world title in Vienna was all the more difficult as, years later, foreign selections returned to the tournament, even with the authorization for the departure of the NHL professionals. So far there hasn’t been much interest in starts in Europe, so Canada received an 11:1 sting from the USSR, for example. But overseas professionals, who play hard, have also seen better days, like when they drew 3-3 with the Czechoslovakians. Then our selection even lost to the Soviets 1:6 and the defense seemed lost. But these fighters did not give up. They successively beat Sweden, the USA, in the final group of the USSR, Sweden again, and all they need to win the gold medal is to beat Canada.

But the sneaky grinders with a maple leaf on their jersey put on a great performance and won massively 8:2. The title seemed lost for the defenders, but just like 30 years ago, the opponents helped. Sweden unexpectedly beat the Soviets 3:1 and this won Czechoslovakia’s fifth gold medal in history. For the first time, our hockey defended the title of world champion!

A year later in Prague, all the fans believed in the third consecutive golden pearl. From the start, everything went like clockwork, seven matches in the grassroots group, seven wins and a famous hat-trick by František Černík in the Soviet net. This pick just had power! In the final group, the home team again beat the Swedes and Canadians, and in the last duel with the Soviet Union, it was enough to lose by one goal! It has to be fixed, the fans thought… But the Czechoslovakians lost the match 1:3. What can we say that Martinec may have scored the second goal, the referees simply did not recognize him.

The only goal decided then! It took nearly a quarter of a century for the golden hat trick…

John Robinson

"Extreme gamer. Food geek. Internet buff. Alcohol expert. Passionate music specialist. Beeraholic. Incurable coffee fan."

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