The Three CzechsSunday, February 21, 2010
I find the concept of nationality when associated with Sports a somewhat troubling one. I have watched my Argentine football team lose too many games particularly when they played in Mexico City. The excuse, then, was the city’s altitude. The Mexican sports announcers pointed all kinds of other deficiencies in my Argentines. I began to dislike these announcers that my mother (a fan of football) called buitres (buzzards). What really made my blood boil was when my Argentine players would fall to the ground and which this impartial Argentine thought were vicious Mexican fouls. The buzzards discounted these as obvious examples of Argentines doing what they did best which was to dance the tango. The idea of dancing the tango is associated by Latin Americans as an example of soap opera over-acting.
I left all that behind when I came to Vancouver in 1975 were I was introduced to something called ice hockey on my portable b+w TV. In those days few players wore helmets or at least the one who seemed to be the best, Guy Lafleur didn’t. Even I could see he had style and speed as I watched his longish hair sweep back as he skated. I could never understand the function of the Hammond Organ that kept playing the Mexican Hat Dance.
I explained to my Argentine cousins that Canadians played a game on ice in which they would almost kill an opponent with a stick. An official would come and say, “You have been a bad boy, so go to the penalty box and sit there for a few minutes.” My cousins did not believe me and to this day I find the hockey penalty concept as alien and difficult to comprehend as Canada’s parliamentary democracy.
It was sometime around the mid 80s that my friend Paul Leisz took me to a real live Canucks game and I began to appreciate the sport even if I will never understand the subtleties of the game. It is much too fast for me to understand them.
It was also in the 80s when my good friend Mike Varga (surely the best Canadian CBC hockey and sports cameraman in the business) took me into a CBC command van where I was able to see the Hockey Night in Canada director (like a general in the field) direct his many cameramen on a wall-full of TV monitors. His job seemed to be as difficult and stressful as that of an air-traffic controller.
In the 80s, too I was commanded to follow coach La Forge to Edmonton where his Canucks were playing against Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers. I had been further commanded (by Vancouver Magazine’s Chris Dahl) to take action pictures of the game. My experience in hockey photography was as limited as that of boxing. It was nonexistent. I didn’t know where to stand to take my pictures. Mike Varga was in his special booth and he invited me to join him. There was a plastic or glass wall separating us from the Oiler’s bench. Wayne Gretzky was right there trying to figure where he had seen me. I had taken his picture on his 21st birthday in CBC’s Studio 40 in Vancouver.
My knowledge of hockey has not improved since but that did not prevent me from watching the Canadian team play Switzerland and today against the United States. When convenient I try to tell myself that I am Argentine-born so I should not be concerned if the Canadians (not we) lose. They did lose and I am a tad sad. But being older and wiser I am not going to let the emotions of those games of the Argentine football team back in Mexico City affect my morale. It is only a game I say to myself. It is not important.
As I was thinking about hockey today I had a pang of memory overcoming me when I read about Jágr being the best player in the Czech team that lost (also today) to the Russians. I went to my hocke files and found an envelope in which I had written Canucks – The Three Chekes [sic]. When I looked at the pictures I had printed I remembered a bit. The picture must have been taken either 1990 or 1991 (or perhaps a bit earlier) when Jágr had played with the Pittsburgh Penguins (a fact I did not know but found in Wikipedia. Remember I know nothing about hockey). A sports writer for Vancouver Magazine (one that had the credibility of writing for Saturday Night but I do not now remember his name) had concocted a column that was about the three Czechs who must at one time had played together. I know that the man on the left is Jaromír Jágr but I have no idea who the other two may have been. They must have been Czech players for the Canucks.
But as I look at this picture it grows on me. I notice that I used Ilford HP-5 with my Mamiya RB-67 camera. This was the Ilford equivalent to Kodak’s Tri-X. I must have known that I was not going to get much time to take their pictures (in all I took 8 exposures) so I did not pack lights.
I wonder if such a picture could be taken today? Would there be access? To me it looks like three young men in happier and more innocent times.
I am glad to hear (as I watch Olympic Men’s Hockey) that there is no Hammond organ playing the Mexican Hat Dance.
My friend and sports enthusiast Jack MacDermot has this to day about the photograph:
I'm about 95% sure about this:
It's the 1992-93 Canucks, since that is the season that all three players (if I've properly identified them) played for them, according to the record book.
It could be a year or two earlier if it was training camp or exhibition season because the third player (Slegr) hadn't made the team yet, but had been drafted.
1. My first reaction was "That's Petr Nedved, not Jagr" and upon looking at more pictures online I'm pretty sure that's right.
2. Robert Kron
3. Jiri Slegr (son of former defenceman Jiri Bubla, famously caught in drug deal)
I guess the only way to confirm this would be with someone who knew the team well at that time but that's my best guess.
Hope this helps,
Addendum: The original writer, Brian Preston has this to add to Jack MacDermot's accurate take on the men in the picture:
I do remember that day. Slegr was the baby faced
rookie but he did progress into a good pro, and did
go on to win a gold medal with the Czechs at the
Olympics in 1998 I believe. I remember Robert Kron
commenting after you took the shots: "We're
hockey players, not strippers." He was having
second thoughts about it. I never did talk to any of
them later to see what they thought of the photos.
Kron was the older (28 or 30 year old) father figure
to Slegr the new arrival who spoke no english yet
and Nedved was also young and considered very
immature. Win, lose, he didn't particularly care,
hockey was just fun to play. A big goofy kid. Now
they're all finished with the game, and middle aged.
It would be interesting to see what their lives are
like now. Probably all back in the Czech Republic I
And he adds these details:
Funny how a thing you haven't thought about in years can become vivid in the mind again-- I don't remember much of the interview but I do recall Kron told me he became a dad at nineteen and I said Wow, and he said why does everyone say wow here, where I come from that's normal. I remember that because it was in the story I wrote. I find with these old things I wrote nearly twenty years ago I remember exactly what's in the story and not much else-- so the story has replaced the memory, and become the memory. But I do remember watching you work and being impressed with how quickly you got the job done, very unhesitating and confident, which had them responding like players to their coach... you probably could have got them down to their jock straps...