Václav Nedomanský, who fled communist Czechoslovakia in the mid-1970s to become a star forward for the Detroit Red Wings, was elected as part of a six-member class of 2019 inductees to the NHL Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
He joins goaltender Dominik Hašek as one of only two Czechs in the National Hockey League’s coveted Hall.
Born in Hodonin in what is now the Czech Republic, close to the border with Slovakia, Nedomanský played professionally for Slovan Bratislava in the Czechoslovak Extraliga from 1962 to 1974.
He was a key member of the Czechoslovak national hockey teams that won a silver medal at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble as well as an IIHF world championship in 1972.
In the prime of his career, Nedomanský became the very first player from behind the Iron Curtain to defect and play hockey in North America when he made his way from Switzerland to Canada in 1974.
“When I made the decision in ‘74 to finish my dream, I jumped right into it and I’m so happy I did that,” Nedomansky told reporters on Tuesday.
From 1974 to 1977, Nedomanský played in the World Hockey Association – a now-defunct competitor to the NHL – for the Toronto Toros and Birmingham Bulls. He made the jump to the NHL in 1977, when he joined the Detroit Red Wings.
Coming into the NHL at age 33, Nedomanský would go on to score 125 goals and tally 283 points in seven seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues, but achieved his greatest success across five seasons in Detroit.
After retiring in 1983, he was only allowed to return to Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
While a Czech was expected to make the NHL Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Nedomanský’s election came as a surprise.
Wing Patrik Eliáš, who played 20 seasons for the New Jersey Devils from the late 1990s to 2016, did not make the NHL Hall of Fame cut in his first year of eligibility, though he should be a near-lock to be voted in during the upcoming years.
Another Czech star might just get there first, however, as NHL great Jaromír Jágr will become eligible for the Hall of Fame from 2021.