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Ivan Hlinka (January 26, 1950 - August 16, 2004) was a Czech professional ice hockey player and coach. He was one of the most important figures in Czech ice hockey.

Playing career

Ivan Hlinka was one of the greatest hockey players in Czechoslovak and Czech history. He was a big center and played a similar style to Phil Esposito, often scoring using shots from the slot.

Hlinka began to play ice hockey at a very young age. When he was six years old, he was already playing in a youth team in Litvínov. He played in Czechoslovak league for the first time when he was 16.

At the age of 20, he became a captain of Litvínov team and played in the Czechoslovak national team for the first time. He played 256 games as a member of the Czechoslovak national team and scored 132 goals in international games. He also played in 544 games in Czechoslovak league and scored 347 times. Hlinka was named the Golden Hockey Stick winner as top player in Czechoslovakia in 1978.

Hlinka helped the Czechoslovak team to win world titles in 1972, 1976, and 1977. As a member of the Czechoslovak team he won an Olympic bronze medal in 1972 and a silver medal in 1976.

He played in the inaugural Canada Cup tournament in 1976, playing against NHL superstars. Canada defeated Czechoslovakia in the best-of-three final two games to nothing, with scores of 6-0 and 5-4, Darryl Sittler scoring in overtime in the second game.

He was a captain of the national team in 1977–1980.

In 1981, Hlinka and fellow Czech Jiří Bubla joined the NHL's Vancouver Canucks. This started the Czech migration to the NHL. In his two years in the NHL, Hlinka scored 42 goals and assisted on 81 others in 137 games. They were the first Czechs who played in Stanley Cup finals. They were also the first men from communist Czechoslovakia who played in NHL legally with the permission of Czechoslovak authorities. (Jaroslav Jiřík played legally in NHL in 1969–70 season but only three matches.)

Hlinka returned to Europe to finish his playing career due to problems with his back in 1983. He played in Swissmarker team EV Zug until 1985, when he returned to Litvínov where he started his coaching career.

Coaching career

After his come back to Czechoslovakia, Ivan Hlinka began to coach in “his” Litvínov; later he coached temporarily in Freiburgmarker, Germanymarker.

He also became very famous for his trick in the 1986-87 season. Litvínov was in the last place in the table of the Czechoslovak league. Ivan Hlinka, already 37 years old, began to play again. Litvínov immediately improved its game and during first Hlinka's games didn't lose (6 wins, 2 ties). Altogether, he played in 19 games and got 23 points (5+18).

In the 1990s, he was a coach of Czechoslovak and later Czech national teams. His teams won bronze medals at the Albertville Olympics and the World Championships in 1992 and 1993. He left the national team after unsuccessful World Championship in 1994.

He came back in 1997 and his team won bronze medals at the World Championship again. Ivan Hlinka became a national hero when his team won gold medals at the Nagano Olympics; the first time that the NHL agreed to release its players for the Games. The triumph was celebrated by a whole nation which didn't forget him. The dominance of the Czech ice-hockey in the world was confirmed one year later when Hlinka's team won the World Championship too.

In 2000–01, Ivan Hlinka came to the NHL again. He was a coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was the first European ever to coach in the NHL (along with Alpo Suhonen). His first season also coincided with Mario Lemieux's return to the NHL, and together they made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals, knocking off the higher seeded Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres along the way before falling to the New Jersey Devils. The next season was not successful, as the struggling small-market Penguins had traded their superstar, Jaromir Jagr. Hlinka himself was criticized by Lemieux for not taking classes in the summer to improve his English and that contributed to the frosty relationship between them. Fired early in the 2001–2002 season, he returned to Europe in 2001.

In 2001-02 he worked as a general manager of Czech national team and in 2002, he became a coach of Russianmarker team Avangard Omsk for one season.

Coaching Record

Team Year Regular Season Post Season
G W L T OTL Pts Finish Result
PIT 2000–01 82 42 28 9 3 96 3rd in Atlantic Lost in Conf. Finals
PIT 2001–02 4 0 4 0 0 (69) 5th in Atlantic Missed Playoffs

Hlinka's death

Hlinka was supposed to be once again head coach of Czech Republic starting from 2004-05 season. However, he died on August 16, 2004, at the age of only 54 near Karlovy Varymarker, Czech Republicmarker, when his car collided with a truck while driving above the speed limit (about 110 km/h, speed limit is 90 km/h). The truck suddenly appeared in his lane. Its driver claims he had to avoid a collision with an animal. More likely (the court was inclined to believe this), he turned from the main road and made a left at a crossing where it was prohibited. Hlinka was not using a safety belt. According to experts, the safety belt would not have helped him. The truck driver was found guilty of the accident and received a 2-year suspended sentence.

Acknowledgement and awards

  • Czechoslovak Player of the Year (1977–78)
  • Inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame (2002)
  • Czech Ice Hockey Legend (2004)
  • Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for national U18 ice hockey teams named after him


Vancouver Canucks team record for most points by a rookie (60). - Tied with Pavel Bure

Career playing statistics

Career coaching statistics

Quotes about Hlinka

  • He was a real high-quality player. He probably never got the billing over here he should have. You look back on his hockey career on both sides of the pond and he had quite a resume.” - Tiger Williams

Quotes of Hlinka

  • We had a small problem that we didn't know whether Jarda Jágr would go fifth or Vláďa Růžička would go fifth but then, I would say, a respect overpoised because when Vláďa Růžička said he wanted to go fifth, then Džegr said he would go fourth. Patýs was a bit surprised when we democratically elected him to go because he hadn't played at the end and I believed he can score with a techniques somewhat.” - About a penalty shooting against Canada at Nagano Olympics. (notes: Džegr is a funny nickname of Jaromír Jágr coming from a wrong pronunciation of his name by his American fans. The quote was originally in Czech and it sounded very strange too.)

  • It doesn't happen very often at us but we had a bigger will to win than Canada had.” - After a win against Canada at Nagano Olympics.

  • I got information about numbers of people standing at various places at home in the beginning of the game. So we thank them that they crossed their fingers for us, it was probably somehow worthy and we will be proud again that we are Czechs and it will not be just because of the hockey.” - After a win of golden Olympic medals at Nagano Olympics. (notes: During finals, hundreds thousands of Czechs were watching the game on large screens on the main squares in Czechia. The quote sounded very strange in Czech language too).


  1. International Hockey Legends: Jaroslav Jirik

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