Monday, August 16, 2004


Ivan Hlinka: Dead at 54

More bad news to wake up to and report before the World Cup.

Ivan �Smiley� Hlinka, current coach of the National Czech team, former Canucks player and Penguins coach is dead, today, at the age of 54.

Hlinka was involved in an auto accident outside of the resort town of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad). has a brief English-language recap of the story.

Although Hlinka is generally thought of as a no-nonsense old-school hardass by North American pundits, and not held in much esteem, Hlinka is quite a legend in the Czech Republic for his efforts as a player for the Czechoslovakian national team and as a coach of the new Czech Republic national program.

As a player, Hlinka won 3 World Championships Gold Medals, 5 WC Silver Medals, and 2 WC Bronze Medals. Hlinka was also part of the 1976 Olympic squad that won silver and 1972 Olympic squad that won a bronze.

Hlinka came over to North America for two productive seasons with the Canucks, where he put up 123 points in 137 games. Hlinka was 33 when he returned back to the Czechoslovakia, and then two years later, he would begin his distinguished 2nd career as a coach.

From 1985 to 1994, Hlinka was the coach of the Litvinov team. During his tenure, Litvinov produced a bevy of incredibly talented players that grew up together: Jiri Slegr, Martin Rucinsky, Robert Lang, and Robert Reichel being the most notable.

Hlinka got his first real exposure to current-day North American fans when he led the Czechs to a surprising Gold Medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. Hlinka had previously led the Czechs to Olympic bronze in 1992, before NHLers were allowed back into the tournament.

Hlinka also led the Czechs to WC Gold in 1999 and 3 other WC Bronze Medals.

So, Hlinka won a combined 14 World Championship medals and 4 Olympic medals.

What fans here remember most about Hlinka was his stormy tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2000-01. NHL fans just didn�t take kindly to a strange European coaching a team; Especially a coach who eschewed his English lessons and wasn�t exactly known for being the best communicator.

It was hoped Hlinka would be able to control Penguins diva Jaromir Jagr, and lead the Czech-heavy Penguins squad to success.

Despite a pretty solid 42-28-9 record and semi-finals appearance in his initial year, Hlinka seemed to be at odds with Jagr, owner Mario Lemieux, and hockey writers the entire time. When Hlinka opened up the next season with 4 straight losses, it gave the Penguins the perfect excuse to fire him.

Of course, the fiery Hlinka continually battled the Penguins for the next few years for monetary compensation that he was supposed to get for being fired. It was a stormy 1.1 years, and together with the horrible experiment that was Alpo Suhonen in Chicago, this pretty much turned off NHL teams to European coaches.

yea.. I was looking for you online to see if you've heard the tragic news. I knew he had connections to Vancouver... plus he's Czech.. so it's got to be something that you'll report on.
We had hoped that the Czech national team that we re-created in Pittsburgh at the time would've worked with Hlinka as coach, but it was just a conflict of personalities... or big heads (thanks Jagr).
Very sad news. I hope they win one last gold for him.
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