The highly-skilled — if not, by contemporary standards, expensive — VACLAV NEDOMANSKY, shown here skating for the Detroit Red Wings in the National Hockey League, scored 63 goals in 65 games on his last seven major international tournament appearances prior to a historic defection in the summer of 1974 and remains forever the all-time leading goal-scorer in the history of the Czechoslovakia national team with 163 goals from 220 matches.
Less than two weeks before visiting Soviet club Dynamo Moscow made its historic appearance in North America, the Eastern Bloc refugee and Maine Mariners “rookie” defenseman RUDY TAJCNAR found himself at the center of a budding controversy that threatened to short-circuit another international series entirely.
POLDI KLADNO and TESLA PARDUBICE, two of the top clubs in the domestic elite league standings of reigning two-time defending world champion CZECHOSLOVAKIA for the 1976/77 season, were preparing to cross the Atlantic Ocean and face off against National Hockey League opponents for the very first time ever. Roughly a week prior to Christmas in 1977, however, the Czechoslovak Ice Hockey Federation sent a telegram to the NHL offices in Montreal to announce that the scheduled matches with the Detroit Red Wings and the Philadelphia Flyers would not be contested. Both the Flyers and Red Wings each now employed one former Czechoslovakia national team member who had later fled the Iron Curtain and this was found to be unacceptable.
Detroit Red Wings center VACLAV NEDOMANSKY had actually bolted more than three years earlier after being named the Best Forward at the 1974 IIHF World Championships. The by-now 33-year-old, one-time Slovan Bratislava superstar was a recent newcomer to the established NHL, though, having been originally signed to a five-year contract worth $ 750,000 by the Toronto Toros of the upstart World Hockey Association. But the WHA’s Toros, who had since moved south to the United States and become the Birmingham Bulls, could no longer afford the salary of “Big Ned” and on November 18, 1977, offloaded the Czechoslovakian goal-scoring machine onto the books of the NHL’s Red Wings in one of ice hockey’s most spectacular fire sales ever conducted.
Despite arriving from Switzerland well after the American Hockey League season had already started and later missing even a bit more time through injury, Olympic bronze medalist RUDY TACJNAR from Czechoslovakia still finished second among defenseman on the 1977/78 Calder Cup champion Maine Mariners with 39 points (7 go 32 as) from 63 games.
Exactly one day before Nedomansky was dealt to the Motor City club, the Philadelphia Flyers were adding a bronze medalist from the 1972 Sapporo Winter Games of their own to the roster of a successful expansion organization which had already won the prestigous Stanley Cup in both 1974 and 1975. Tajcnar was also a Slovan Bratislava product and had originally signed to play the 1977/78 season in Switzerland with HC Ambri Piotta immediately after his defection but was quickly subdued by the standard 18-month suspension automatically issued by the International Ice Hockey Federation at that time. And so the Flyers were able to ink the 29-year-old and initially assigned the Olympic blueliner to their American Hockey League affiliate.
JOHN A. ZIEGLER, JR., had only taken office as the fourth president (and first American chief executive ever) in the long history of the National Hockey League to start the 1977/78 season but was in no mood to be bullied by the political agenda of any communist state-controlled ice hockey authorities.
The incoming NHL leader made his position crystal clear — the entire international exhibition series would be called off if both Poldi Kladno and Tesla Pardubice could not commit to skating in every one of the scheduled eight matches. There could be no other way for the C.I.H.F. to collect the coveted hard western currency all Eastern Bloc countries were always so eager to get their hands on at every opportunity. And $ 200,000 U.S. dollars could buy a considerable number of Koho sticks, the preferred choice of a good many Czechoslovak players that was actually manufactured in Finland.
Czechoslovakia center VACLAV NEDOMANSKY (14) of Slovan Bratislava, who later had seasons of 38 and 35 goals playing for the Detroit Red Wings in the National Hockey League despite his advanced age and a horrible supporting cast, hopes to apply pressure to a host nation defenseman looking to clear a puck from potential danger during the 1974 IIHF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
The Czechoslovak Ice Hockey Federation soon caved and quickly fired off another to Ziegler only a few days before Christmas, itself — both Poldi Kladno and Tesla Pardubice were now formally in the proper frame of mind to forgive the western imperialist North American professional clubs of any and all horse thievery and, at present, sufficently set to appear for all eight historic exhibition matches against NHL outfits.