Czech Republic mourns the death of hockey legend Ivan Hlinka

Ivan Hlinka, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic is mourning the death of a great hockey player and coach, Ivan Hlinka, who passed away Monday. He died when his car collided with a truck just outside Karlovy Vary in Western Bohemia.

Ivan Hlinka,  photo: CTK
Ivan Hlinka will probably be best remembered as head coach of the Czech hockey team that won gold in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

On the road to gold the Czech Republic skilfully defeated teams such as Canada and Russia. Much of their success was attributed to Hlinka, who patiently held the Czech team together - even through the nerve-wracking penalty shoot-out at the end of the semi-final against Canada.

Ivan Hlinka in 1978,  photo: CTK
Hlinka started his hockey career as a twelve-year-old junior with the Czech club Litvinov in 1962 where he played for the next 19 years. During that time he helped Czechoslovakia win the World Championships three times in 1972, 1976, and 1977. The same team won two Olympic medals, bronze in 1972 and silver in 1976.

Vladimir Macholda played on the ice with Ivan Hlinka for a number of years in Litvinov, he is currently the general manager of the club. He had these fond words for his teammate and friend.

"We played together for a long time in Litvinov. He was a person who wanted to do everything to win. He loved to play every game and it didn't matter to him what the game was for. I think he was a good person and a good friend of mine. It is very difficult for me to talk about him because he passed away so recently."

Hlinka was one of the first players from Czechoslovakia to make the move to the NHL. In 1981 he joined the Vancouver Canucks, where he still holds the title for most points scored by a rookie - with 60. In two years in the NHL Hlinka scored 42 goals and 81 assists in 137 games.

After 1987 Hlinka began coaching. He brought the Czech national team two world championships and three Olympic medals in the 1990s. He would return to the NHL as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2000. His winning record for that season is third in the Penguins' history.

Ivan Hlinka in Nagano 1998,  photo: CTK
In 2004, at the World Championships in Prague, Hlinka was named the best Czech hockey player of all time. His career in hockey was to continue, he was named head coach of the Czech Republic for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey next month. There is no doubt that he will be sorely missed behind the bench. Vladimir Macholda once again.

"I think it is one of the biggest names in Czech hockey. His stature and charisma can not be compared to today. People will remember him as a hockey player, a coach, and a friend... he will be remembered very well. You can't come close it describing him, simply, he was a great person. He really liked people and the game of hockey, there are very few people like Ivan Hlinka."