Within the mid-1960s, I used to be a highschool senior who wanted to graduate to activate a school hockey scholarship at a college the place my educational credentials challenged their requirements. English class was a favourite of mine, however it was additionally probably the most troublesome. We had a thesis undertaking that was crucial to a very good or passing grade. The subject material had a large scope, however it wanted to ivolve some analysis, a written paper and a verbal presentation.
I, like many aspiring younger hockey gamers, was enthralled with the NHL. Most hockey followers in Canada, myself included, believed the hockey world had one internet in Vancouver, the opposite in Halifax and that the benches and penalty field have been situated alongside the 49th parallel. You could possibly rely on one hand the NHL gamers who weren’t Canadian. The Montreal Canadiens have been my favourite crew and Jean Beliveau my idol. For my thesis, I wanted to chronicle their dominance, their impression on French Canada and the category and dignity Beliveau exuded.
David Conte (Dave Sandford/NHLI by way of Getty Photographs)Whereas I used to be enthusiastic about my idea, my instructor was not. He referred to as the analysis “low-hanging fruit.” I wanted a special approach to fulfill him and get the grade I wanted. And my summer season job at Vivid’s Vineyard in Niagara Falls offered me with a brand new route.
On the vineyard, I labored with a person who had defected from Czechoslovakia. He was an engineer by commerce, however accreditation and language restricted his alternatives to work in that discipline. He was an important hockey fan, however his ardour for the sport lied throughout the pond. The Russians had emerged because the powerhouse and the Czechoslovakians have been their best challenger. He had nice satisfaction within the Czech accomplishments, and spoke of his favourite participant, Vaclav Nedomansky, with reverence, explaining that he possessed expertise and finesse, that he was a gentleman and function mannequin for all. It was not not like the way in which I spoke of Beliveau. As well as, Nedomansky was regarded as among the many world’s greatest athletes — a nationwide team-level soccer participant, extremely expert tennis participant and the cornerstone of Slovan Bratislava and the nationwide crew.
My coworker’s ardour piqued my curiosity, and since I knew little or no, it met the factors of analysis, context and presentation my thesis undertaking required. I did the analysis, handed the course and loved an important faculty expertise on and off the ice. And whereas the undertaking was attention-grabbing and informative, I used to be nonetheless enamored with Beliveau and Les Habitants. To me, hockey was nonetheless Canada.
It wasn’t lengthy after, although, that the Swedish Invasion of the NHL and WHA started. Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Borje Salming, Inge Hammarstrom, Thommie Bergman, Dan Labraaten and Willy Lindstrom introduced a brand new dimension of talent and creativeness to the sport at a time when it had reached its highest degree of brutality and ferocity. In addition they confirmed character, persevering and adapting to their new environment.
However nothing fairly awoke Canadian followers to the truth of the expertise different hockey-playing nations possessed just like the Summit Sequence. In an period with out web, we have been largely in a blackout as to their accomplishments and have been stunned and impressed with the exploits of Vladislav Tretiak, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Yakushev and the Soviet squad. The sport was within the midst of an evolution, and globalization was the stimulus. Nonetheless, as a result of the Jap Bloc nations have been in lockdown when it got here to NHL migration, different nations, together with the Czechoslovakia, weren’t within the highlight.
That modified when Nedomansky bravely and courageously challenged the lockdown and defected to WHA’s Toronto Toros at a time when the sport was at its fiercest and pugilism was valued as a lot as velocity and talent. The Europeans have been examined and challenged at each nook. In his time with the Toros, he was a teammate of Frank Mahovlich. They fashioned a pure bond as gamers who understood the duty of being a job mannequin to so many.
On the similar time Nedomansky was making his arrival in North America, I had gone abroad to play in Finland. Whereas gamers typically fought over No. four, 7 or 9 in Canada and the USA, European gamers fought over Nedomansky’s No. 14. They noticed the World Championship in the identical method we noticed the Stanley Cup and considered ‘Ned’ as we did Bobby Orr. Nedomansky was revered, a beacon of hope for younger Czechoslovakians, a few of whom – the Stastny brothers, Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Holik and Dominik Hasek – went on to grow to be NHL stars.
Nedomansky had some nice moments throughout his time in North America. He was a 50-goal scorer with the Toros and gained the WHA’s equal of the Girl Byng Trophy. He twice reached the 35-goal mark within the NHL and hit the 70-point plateau twice, as nicely. His post-prime manufacturing within the WHA and NHL, leagues by which he spent 9 mixed seasons, compares favorably to a number of European Corridor of Famers who plied their commerce within the NHL. Regrettably, we didn’t get to see him within the NHL on the peak of his expertise.
Quick ahead to the mid-1980s, and I had taken a scouting job with the New Jersey Devils. Marshall Johnston, an achieved coach, NHL and worldwide participant was my boss and mentor, and he had organized a dinner at New York Metropolis restaurant II Vagabondo, which has a bocce courtroom. Nedomansky had been invited, and he jogged my memory of Beliveau that evening, radiating humility, dignity and intelligence. (And realizing how nice an athlete ‘Ned’ was, I averted a bocce sport.)
By the 1990s, ‘Ned’ joined me within the scouting world. Clearly, he had numerous cachet in Europe, and two moments stand out, specifically. Throughout one breakfast in Helsinki, he instructed me his story and about life earlier than his defection. Breakfast become lunch and nearly dinner. It was fascinating, a story that rivalled a spy film and opened my eyes to a world I had by no means recognized. Then there was the time our paths crossed within the Czech Republic, when 5,000 followers gave ‘Ned’ a standing ovation. His presence had not been introduced, and the respect and admiration he was proven was overwhelming. He was a returning hero who meant a lot to his individuals.
He continued to obtain that degree of respect after we have been reunited as fellow scouts with the enlargement Vegas Golden Knights. He had simply returned from teaching Crew Europe on the World Cup, and he was met with utmost respect from all of these round us, even these too younger to know or perceive his story.
It’s causes like these – the regard by which he’s held, what he means to his compatriots, how he opened the door for a technology of Czech gamers – that John Davidson and the Hockey Corridor of Fame choice committee acquired it proper by inducting ‘Ned’. That is an honor that represents a lot greater than a statistical abstract. His defection gave hope to gamers behind the iron curtain. The migration of nice European gamers enriched our sport a lot and gave strategy to the expansion of the sport globally. His character gave us all an instance of dignity and sophistication. He has been an inspiration and instance to the world of hockey. This recognition displays that.
Personally, I congratulate Vaclav. I really feel richer for realizing him, and I do know the Corridor is richer for having him.
David Conte has been an NHL scout for 4 a long time and spent greater than 30 years with the New Jersey Devils, for whom he acted because the director of scouting and later govt vice chairman of hockey operations. He joined the Vegas Golden Knights in 2016 and most lately was named a particular project scout by the New York Islanders.
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