“It’s OK to say Straka got stiffed by AHL All-Stars”

Last week, we learned that forward Nick Cousins and Goaltender Anthony Stolarz were named to the AHL All Star team representing the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.  Both are well deserving, and nothing should ever take away from that.

However, the leading goal scorer in the AHL at the time, Petr Straka, was left off.  So I wrote this.

Still, nobody saying much about it, other than “not enough points” or “not enough room” or such.  Fans, of course, solidly in Straka’s corner as he’s played so well this season, and we want him to get the recognition.

But in the mean time, he’s been passed on the goal-scoring leader-board, and I learned some behind the scenes things that told me why this issue wasn’t getting more attention.  So I kind of dropped it, despite the fact that I still feel like he should have been named.

Nevertheless, I got this letter–including the title above–from our old friend der Eishockeyzuschauer, adding some historical perspective.  He’s never one to shy away from controversy; I thought I’d share it:

 

 

To Kram :

I find it most ironic that, clearly, there is to be pretty much no discussion in the professional media about Lehigh Valley Phantoms winger Petr Straka being absolutely snubbed for the 2016 AHL All-Star Game in Syracuse. 

After all, the 23-year-old now in his third season as a professional only comes from the Czech Republic, a country where not all that long ago professional journalists couldn’t necessarily bring up potentially controversial topics, either. Although Straka, himself, was actually born three years after the so-called “Velvet Revolution” which ended forty-one years of Communist Party rule in what was then the since dissolved nation of Czechoslovakia, there is little doubt that his parents and relatives, etc., well remember the time when entities such as the press and the articles it produced only existed with the blessing of government. Furthermore, although I am sure very few if any contemporary beat reporters / other professional journalists who comment on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms OR its NHL affiliate in the City of Brotherly Love are actually aware of such, the very first Czech / Slovak player ever signed by the Philadelphia Flyers organization was a guy who was dumped from the national team and suspended for an entire domestic league season in the early 1970s all because he was apparently too politically outspoken.
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Indeed, after several seasons of only seeing spot duty with the national team of Czechoslovakia, 23-year-old defenseman Rudolf Tajcnar from Slovan Bratislava finally became a regular during the 1971/72 campaign and earned a bronze medal after appearing in all six of his country’s matches at the 1972 Winter Olympic Games held in Sapporo, Japan.  Just a few months afterwards, Tajcnar followed that up by scoring five goals in ten games at the 1972 IIHF World Championships in Prague as host nation Czechoslovakia won the gold medal at the annual affair for the first time since 1949. By the start of the very next ice hockey season later that fall, however, the promising young defenseman from Slovan Bratislava had simply vanished entirely, or so it seemed. 
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Research nowadays reveals that official team records of Slovan Bratislava list “mental health issues” as the reason why Tajcnar missed the entire 1972/73 campaign. Only once all season long is the Olympic bronze medalist and IIHF world champion referred to by Rude Pravo (the official newspaper of the Communist Party which also just so happened to be the most widely read daily publication in the entire country) and that brief mention in a post-game report only states the player is out of action for an extended period of time. Still to this day what exactly transpired is unknown for sure but after Tajcnar passed away in 2005, several articles written clearly cite “disagreements” with the ruling government.
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Sure enough, now 25 years old, the attack-minded Tajcnar went straight back into Slovan Bratislava’s line-up at the start of the 1973/74 season and quickly rebuilt his reputation in the domestic league as an offensive defenseman. But Tajcnar never ever did regain his place on the national team of Czechoslovakia, not even suiting up for one single exhibition contest let alone a major tournament game, this after appearing in the country’s colors a career total of 59 times prior to his abrupt disappearance. Whether Tajcnar had been blacklisted or was beaten out by players more talented than he is a debate for hockey historians. 
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It certainly should be prominently remembered that in the wake of the so-called Prague Spring that was stopped by Soviet tanks, it was a very hardline political leadership that was now in charge of Czechoslovakia during the early 1970s. It should also be kept in mind that this was the very same country that had seen virtually the entire national ice hockey team arrested by state secret police while on its way to defend its gold medal at the 1950 IIHF World Championships in London, England.  Altogether, twelve players were put on trial for treason (plotting to defect to the West), found guilty and given varying prison sentences; many years later, one of those players was later told by a high ranking official that the ice hockey team had, in fact, been used by the ruling Communist Party to set an example for all of the country’s athletes.
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Tajcnar ended up on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the summer of 1977 with the speculation being he bolted on one of Slovan Bratislava’s fund-raising exhibition tours in Switzerland. The Olympic veteran was quickly signed by Swiss club HC Ambri Piotta despite the fact that all western European clubs at that time respected the IIHF’s mandatory eighteen-month suspension for all defectors from eastern Europe. After coming to the realization he would have to sit out and already knowing that North American pro clubs did not follow IIHF regulations, Tajcnar soon signed a new, two-way contract with the Philadelphia Flyers organization and was summarily assigned to the Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League.
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With seven goals and 39 points in 63 AHL games during the 1977/78 regular season, Tajcnar became the second-highest scoring defenseman behind only future Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Terry Murray on that Maine Mariners team which hoisted the 1978 Calder Cup trophy.
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Getting back to the conspiracy surrounding Lehigh Valley winger Petr Straka, it is rather astonishing that the Phantoms sniper was overlooked for the 2016 AHL All-Star Game.  Over the years watching sports in this country, I have come to take it for granted there is an unwritten rule that mandates if a given player is leading the league in home runs / points per game / goals when the time comes to select the squads for the annual All-Star Game, then that player is automatically rewarded  with an invitation to the gala event. Something about the public wanting to see impact players, I have always been inclined to believe.
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As for the lack of pro-Straka sentiment, what is most ironic is that while Czechoslovak pundits could certainly be locked up for what they said or wrote back then, now it is the fear of being locked out that serves as the most effective deterrent to dissent.  
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PS – I’m not intimidated by Czechoslovak state secret police. I’d like to talk to them and see what they know about Whiteboarding tactics. Because the Hershey Bears will be at the PPL Center in Allentown to skate with the Hamilton Street Heroes this Friday night.     


Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level, Phantoms Hockey

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