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Sports Then and Now

The Tragic Story of Hockey in Czechoslovakia

Posted on February 14, 2014 by Martin Banks

Czechoslovakia was a hockey power during the 1940s and 1950s, winning gold medals in the World Championships in 1947 and 1949. The country’s national teams also won a silver medal in the 1948 Olympics, losing to Team Canada on goal differential. Unfortunately, two tragic events ended the careers of most of the players responsible for this success, launching Czechoslovakian hockey into a dark period where they did not win a major tournament for over 20 years.


The Plane Crash

In 1948, the Czechoslovakian team was on top of the world, having taken over as perhaps the most dominant hockey nation in the world. In preparation for the upcoming 1949 World Hockey Championships, the team scheduled a couple of exhibition games against Great Britain. The team would fly from Paris, where they had been staying, to London for these games.

Eight of the players flew out the day before the game and spent the night in a hotel. These players arrived without incident and made their way to Wembley Stadium the next day for the game. The remaining six players stayed in Paris for an extra night and left the morning of the game. These players, Miroslav Pokorny, Zdenek Svarc, Zdenek Jarkovsky, Karel Stibor, Vilibard Stovik and Ladislav Trojak, were never heard from again, as their plane vanished over the English Channel.

The remains of the aircraft were never found and the fate of these players remains a mystery to this day, although it is most likely that the plane crashed into the Channel. Czechoslovakia would go on to win another gold medal in 1949 without these players, but this tragedy has always been a black mark on the country‘s hockey history.

Entire Team Arrested

Winning the World Championship in 1949 eased some of the pain for the Czechoslovakian national team, as they had remained on top of the hockey world. This would not last, however, as the entire team was arrested by the national state security police as it attempted to leave for the World Championships in Great Britain in March of 1950. As a result, the team did not participate in the tournament.

In October of 1950, the players were officially charged with treason because it was believed that they planned to defect during the World Championships. The police received intelligence about a conversation between players on the team in December of 1948, leading them to believe that the players would not have returned from Great Britain after playing hockey.

The result was 12 players sentenced to jail, terms ranging from 15 years to eight months, despite a lack of evidence that the players had actually planned to defect. Keep in mind that treason was an extremely serious crime behind the Iron Curtain during this period. It wasn’t like modern-day North America, where it’s common for substance abuse treatment to be the only consequence for serious drug-related offences.

The most significant charge was levied against goaltender Bohumil Modry, who was sentenced to 15 years, but died in jail after 13 years at the age of 47. Many other players were released after only five years in jail, but the damage was done and it took a long time for Czechoslovakian hockey to recover.

Hockey in Czechoslovakia Today

Because Czechoslovakia broke up into two separate republics in 1993, the Czechoslovakian national hockey team no longer exists. The Czech Republic has gone on to produce several outstanding hockey players, including Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek and Patrik Elias, and won the Olympic gold medal in 1998. Slovakia has also had some hockey success, including the development of star players Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik and a gold medal in the 2002 World Championships.

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