Legends celebrate new Czech hall of fame
by Lucas AYKROYD|15 MAY 2024
A who's-who of Czech hockey stars reunited at the O2 Universum to herald the opening of the Czech Hockey Hall of Fame's new location in central Prague.
photo: © J. Svoboda / MS Hokej
Great institutions are built around great people. And by that measure, the new home of the Czech Hockey Hall of Fame in Prague should be a big success.

The Czech Ice Hockey Association arranged a reunion with close to 50 Czech hockey legends at the O2 Universum to celebrate the reboot.

Situated in Galeria Harfa until 223, the 2008-founded hall – spanning close to 300 square metres – is now centrally located in Prague’s New Town (Nekazanka St. 857). Highlights include a fan shop, a multimedia zone, and displays of artifacts from Vladimir Zabrodsky’s 1940’s gloves to Dominik Hasek’s 1990’s goalie equipment. It opens its doors to the public on Wednesday.

The reunion attendees included members of Czech hockey’s golden generation, such as Hasek, defenceman Jiri Slegr, and forwards Robert Reichel and Martin Rucinsky. They played vital roles as the Czechs captured an historic gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the first Winter Games to feature full NHL participation. This era also saw Czechia dominating the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, with titles in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2005.

Rucinsky, 53, was delighted simply to be attending the reunion, which also saw representation – from forward Vladimir Martinec to defenceman Jiri Bubla – of the powerful Czechoslovakian teams that won Worlds gold in 1972, 1976, and 1977.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Rucinsky, a crafty two-time World Championship all-star (1999, 2001) who also logged 961 career NHL games. “We haven't done that in the past. And I think the people that are behind this have done a great job to bring together a mix of people, including my generation, and the guys who were playing [at the Worlds] in 1985 and 1972 and 1978 in Prague. It’s a great atmosphere. It creates great memories, and I’m glad to be part of it.”

He didn’t hesitate when asked to name his favourite World Championship memory.

“Vienna 2005 was very good because there was a lockout in the NHL and nobody was playing,” said Rucinsky, who scored a goal and an assist when the Czechs blanked Canada 3-0 in the final. “All the guys went to the World Championship. So we had all the great players. It almost felt like I was playing at the Olympics, because all the teams were strong. And we won it, so that’s probably the one that stands out. Unbelievable atmosphere. Plus guys like Jiri Slegr and Jaromir Jagr got into the Triple Gold Club, because they had never won a World Championship before.”

Like Jagr and Hasek, Reichel was a huge leader at the 1998 Olympics. Under coach Ivan Hlinka, his longtime Litvinov idol, the longtime Czech captain wore an “A” in Nagano as Vladimir Ruzicka took the “C.”

Reichel, a 2015-inducted IIHF Hall of Famer, truly made his mark in the apocalyptic semi-final shootout against Canada. The wily centre was the lone Czech to beat Canadian goalie Patrick Roy. Hasek denied Theoren Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros, and Brendan Shanahan to propel the Czechs into the final, where they edged the Russians 1-0.

So just how often does Reichel – who doubled this season as an assistant with Litvinov and the World Junior squad – get asked about his Nagano exploits?

“It’s mostly in February when the anniversary comes up,” Reichel said. “Lots of TV [coverage] around the Czech Republic. That’s probably when I look back at what we did for our country. But after that, we have to live our life, a normal life.”

Back in 1972, life was anything but normal in Prague when the Czechoslovakians defied the experts by ending the Soviet Union’s reign as nine-time world champions.

Partnered on defence with Josef Horesovsky, Bubla chipped in two assists on home ice. In later years, his regular partner would be Milan Kajkl. Of course, Bubla was not yet the force he’d become as a back-to-back tournament all-star in 1978 and 1979. And he would also get a taste of NHL glamour during the 1982 Vancouver Canucks run to the Stanley Cup finals.

However, early-career moments, like Prague ‘72, are tough to top.

“I remember everything, honestly, because at that time I was 22 years old,” Bubla recalled. “I started the year before in 1971 at my first World Championship. So for me, it was so special and exciting to be in Prague. So many people were involved. And after so many years we won the gold medal. It was a good time.”

Undoubtedly, visitors to the new-look Czech Hockey Hall of Fame will also have a good time at a venue that is both entertaining and educational.

For more information, see sinslavy.ceskyhokej.cz.