Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 28
The Stanley Cup Journal

Richard Smehlik is surrounded by members of the media at a press conference in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Richard Smehlik is surrounded by members of the media at a press conference in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
(August 11, 2003) — Entering his tenth NHL season, Richard Smehlik pulled on an unfamiliar sweater for the first time. After nine seasons starring with the Buffalo Sabres, starting the 2002-03 season with the Atlanta Thrashers was a surprising move for the big Czech. In fact, Smehlik enjoyed his time with the Sabres to such a degree that he still maintains his residence in the Buffalo suburb of East Amherst. But just before the trade deadline, GM Lou Lamoriello engineered two deals considered relatively minor at the time, but moves that turned out to enhance the Devils' chances of achieving the Stanley Cup. One was securing Grant Marshall from Columbus. The other was picking up Richard Smehlik from the Thrashers. Smehlik was a steadying force on the blueline and added yet another veteran to a defense corps that already included leadership in the guise of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Tommy Albelin.

After leaving Jiri Bicek and Kosice, Slovakia at 3:00 the morning of Saturday, August 2, the Stanley Cup was driven five hours and 45 minutes west to Ostrava in the Czech Republic - the birthplace of Richard Smehlik. Smehlik's visit with the Stanley Cup was abbreviated, and although disappointed, he took it well. "That's the way it is," he said. "It's unfortunate but there's not much you can do." After missing a flight from Toronto, the Stanley Cup had arrived in Europe twenty-four hours later than expected, and it was necessary to condense the schedule.

Richard Smehlik brought the cup to a car dealership specializing in American vehicles in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Richard Smehlik brought the cup to a car dealership specializing in American vehicles in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
With 320,000 residents, Ostrava is the third largest city in the Czech Republic. The historic city (records date the first settlement as early as the thirteenth century) is a large urban centre, but features a surprising amount of green space, including the Polanka Forest, which is part of Odra River National Park. The day in Ostrava began with a stop at a car dealership specializing in American automobiles. After a quick visit and some photographs, Richard maximized the time allotted in his itinerary, taking the Stanley Cup to several locations in his birthplace - City Hall, the Town Square and then to the police station where Richard was able to hook up with an old friend. At noon, Smehlik took the Stanley Cup to a local mall where over a thousand anxious hockey fans waited to get an autograph and a photo with the star and his trophy.

Afterwards, Richard met a number of friends at a sports-themed restaurant. The dining spot was especially interesting in that, on the back of each chair, the name of a well-known NHL player from the Czech Republic had been stencilled. Smehlik wasn't interested in searching out his own seat and sat randomly in the Jiri Dopita chair instead. Other chairs around the dining area included ones for Radek Bonk, Roman Hamrlik, Bobby Holik, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Robert Reichel, Jiri Slegr and Martin Straka. In tribute to the guest of honour, the restaurant played a video of Game 7 between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the victorious New Jersey Devils.

At 4 o'clock, the Stanley Cup had to be transferred over to Patrik Elias. Elias sent a helicopter over to pick up the Stanley Cup and make the 45-minute flight to Znojmo, a historic city on the southern border of the Czech Republic.

The Rotunda of Saint Katharina, a national cultural monument located in Znojmo, identifies the town's earliest days and although built in the first half of the eleventh century, still exists in the city today. The Rotunda could be pinpointed from the helicopter, which finally set down at a compound with emergency vehicles and other helicopters. There, the Stanley Cup was greeted by local media. After assorted interviews, the helicopter again lifted off the ground and touched down on a helicopter pad at a nearby hospital. Although Patrik didn't get the opportunity to go inside, he met many of the patients outside the hospital.

Patrick Elias brought the Cup to a town rally in Znojmo, Czech Republic.
Patrick Elias brought the Cup to a town rally in Znojmo, Czech Republic.
From there, the Stanley Cup was taken over to the arena, where a huge reception was set for the arrival of Patrik Elias. 8,000 fans watched a live video feed of Elias and the Stanley Cup on the centre ice screen. In real time, they were able to see the Stanley Cup with Elias at the hospital, watch Patrik putting the Cup into the vehicle and transporting it to the arena and then let out a gigantic roar as the screen depicted Patrik carrying the Stanley Cup into the arena where they sat. Patrik waved to the crowd as he walked up the symbolic red carpet and climbed the stage at centre ice where he placed the Stanley Cup, gleaming and polished, in the middle of a table and stood back as the camera flashes nearly blinded him. Local dignitaries from Znojmo made presentations to Elias.

The sniper intended to do an extensive autograph session, but when the surging crowd pushed forward to the point that the table at which he sat broke, Patrik abandoned the idea both for his own safety and for that of the Stanley Cup. Elias ducked into a backstage area with the organizers of the event for photographs, autographs and celebratory drinks.

Elias poses with the Cup and with a youth hockey team at a local rink in Znojmo, Czech Republic.
Elias poses with the Cup and with a youth hockey team at a local rink in Znojmo, Czech Republic.
Patrik Elias and the Stanley Cup arrived at the hotel for the party that Saturday evening. Included was an outstanding buffet including many of the fine food items reflective of Czech culture - potato soup, fish and breads, roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut. Celebrating with Patrik were his fiancee Yvonne, his agent and a number of friends from his days as a junior playing with Poldi Kladno. "Let's turn it up a notch," Patrik suggested, and at 9PM, selected friends descended to a fabulous bar in the basement of the hotel. There were no windows, implying the feel of a wine cellar, and the party-goers danced to a band and chatted animatedly until 4:30 Sunday morning. "Co Cech, to muzikant," Elias said to the amusement of his friends. Patrik Elias leaned over to the Cup Keepers and translated himself. "So many Czechs, so many musicians."

Seven-thirty arrived a little sooner than anyone was prepared for, but when the alarm went off, Patrik Elias pulled himself together for the 40-minte drive to Trebic, his hometown. Patrik visited the mayor's office first, then crossed the square with the Stanley Cup to the roar of 4,500 hometown friends and fans. The Stanley Cup was placed on a table in the square, and after speeches and presentations, photos and toasts, Elias settled in for a morning of signing. Three hours later as the clock struck noon, Patrik Elias had signed the last of the autographs for the excited fans.

After a patio lunch, Patrik Elias seated the Stanley Cup next to him in his Porsche, and with his fiancée and family following behind, drove to the Trebic Castle for some awe-inspiring photographs outside the baroque monument.

It had been a full and eventful day, and Patrik had utilized every moment available with the Stanley Cup well. But the Cup's European adventures were far from over. Although the time with Patrik Elias had come to a conclusion, the Stanly Cup made its way to Prague, where it would be flown to Moscow and a day with Devils' defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky on Monday, August 4.

In Wednesday's Stanley Cup Journal, you'll discover why Oleg Tverdovsky insisted on an armed guard travelling with the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Shea, unarmed, writes about hockey history from Toronto.

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