Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Petr the Obscure

Contemplating the current state of hockey is pretty depressing for me -- as I've been repeating, the Avalanche are about to flame out, and the Thrashers are in freefall. The team needs severe help, gave up one of its few tradeable assets for an at-best third-line center, and I think the most attractive option out there is probably Petr Cajanek. No offense to Pete, but if he's the best on the market, I feel an overwhelming sense of doom.

So, yeah, contemplating my teams as they stand makes me want to drink a whole lot and then curl up in the fetal position and cry (granted, not much different than what I do on a normal day-to-day basis, hockey notwithstanding).

With 2007 looking so grim, please allow me to look backwards for solace – to the early 1990s, and perhaps the most obscure player that ranks among my all-time favorites.

Petr Prajsler

I was living down in southern Arizona in the early 1990s, which had few options for satisfying a hockey jones -- the University of Arizona Icecats, and up Interstate 10 a couple hours, the Phoenix Roadrunners of the International Hockey League. For one season, among those Roadrunners and their shiny jerseys, was a big defenseman with an unpronouncable name. In those inexplicable ways one chooses favorites (this was long before my fandom started skewing toward Czechs -- a glimpse of the future, I guess), I adopted Petr Prajsler as my favorite Roadrunner.

By that point, he'd had two years of solid AHL experience (with the New Haven Nighthawks) and one partial year with the Kings, and not really knowing how these things worked, I was pretty sure that his time in Phoenix was limited, and he'd be on to greater things soon. Well, I was half right -- his time in Phoenix was limited because he would be in the Bruins' organization the next season.

Still, though, on an IHL level he seemed like a great player. Scored a lot, and was pretty physical (in the era of the wild-and-wooly IHL -- a quick check shows that Prajsler's 140 penalty minutes that season ranked sixth on the team, well below Rick Hayward's 369).

Prajsler was one of the last Czech defectors -- a top-level player with HC Pardubice, he was drafted by the Kings in 1985, then he and his wife used a Yugoslavia vacation in 1987 to sneak to Austria, where they then contacted the Kings and came over.

With all that, it's a pity that his story didn't end better. His biggest NHL season proved to be 34 games with the Kings in 1989-90, and after spending the 1991-92 season in the Bruins organization (where he had a pretty good year with the Maine Mariners), it was back to his hometown team, Hradec Kralove. In the late 1990s he was a coach with Czech club HC Chotebor, and since then he's pretty much vanished. (Well, not literally -- he still lives in Hradec Kralove -- but he doesn't seem to be involved in hockey.)

He left behind two stories. One was a fight with Kelly Buchberger -- after taking some harassment from the Oiler, he punched Bucky in the face, dropping him (perhaps a sign that Buchberger wasn't too popular outside Edmonton -- if you read the accounts of this fight, most are pretty gleeful, even though Prajsler didn't bother taking off the gloves). The other, the words of a former NHL scout, relayed to me years later when I revealed my Prajsler fandom: "When asked what was the strangest thing he'd ever seen on the ice, the scout thought for a moment, then replied 'Petr Prajsler.'" I've been a bit bitter about that story for years.

And one more story, showing how Petr had wormed his way into my subconscious: years later, while drunk, I shelled out a whole bunch of money to buy his game-worn jersey off the internet. It still resides in a place of honor today. Na zdraví, Petr, wherever you are!

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