The first Slovakian hockey star to ever represent the former Czechoslovakia was none other than Ladislav Trojak. He would go on to be an influential force in hockey history.
Trojak, known as "Patrik" or "Skot" (Scotsman) to his teammates, was discovered almost by coincidence during a tournament held in the Tatra Mountains in 1934. Jan Michalek, a defenseman for Sparta Prague, played in that tournament and was mighty impressed by the Slovakian whirlwind.
Upon his return to Prague, Michalek talked enthusiastically about Trojak. The manager of LTC Prague, one of Europe's top clubs at that time, got curious and decided to take the 6 hour drive to Kosice and check him out.
LTC's manager was blown away when he saw Trojak and immediately approached him to ink a deal. But it was too late, for Troják had just signed with HC Tatry. Undeterred, the manager took Trojak back to Prague and then proceeded to give HC Tatry an undisclosed sum of money in order for them to drop the contract.
Trojak was an exceptional skater and he used that to his advantage at all times. Aside from his skating ability his strongest asset was a tremendous work ethic. He dug out pucks from the corners and battled for every inch. Although he was an adequate goal scorer he was more keen on setting up his line mates and was a very creative passer.
Trojak played so well that he soon was promoted to LTC's first line with the legendary scoring machine Josef Malecek and winger Oldrich Kucera. Together they also formed a dangerous line on the Czechoslovakian national team.
In later years Trojak played with Vladimir Zabrodsky and Stanislav Konopasek, two other highly regarded players both domestically and internationally. Trojak was always tried to shun the limelight, but at times he could make headlines with his flair and skills. More often than not Trojak sacrificed personal statistics for the good of the team. He would often do the dirty work on the ice and he never complained. On the contrary. He loved to battle.
In 1936 Trojak debuted on the world scene, participating in his first world championships and Olympics. Although World War II interrupted both tournaments from 1940 through 1946, robbing Trojak of his best years, the 5'11" 185lb right winger appeared in 4 world championships, including capturing gold in 1947. He also returned to for his 2nd Olympics in 1948, capturing a silver medal. He became the first Slovakian Olympic medallist.
Even at the age of 34 he was still amongst the fastest players in the country and was still a key member of the national team. Historical tatistics are sketchy at best, but he is officially credited with 24 goals in 46 games with the national team.
In early November 1948 the Czechoslovakian team was going to London for a couple of exhibition games. But not the entire team did fly to London at the same time. Eight players took a flight one day earlier just to be followed by another six players who were to leave Paris the next day, amongst them Trojak. On the morning of November 8th, London was covered in a heavy mist. The first set of players who had arrived the day before waited for their teammates in the hotel, but to no avail.
The Czechoslovaks had a game to play at Wembley later that day, so the eight players left for Wembley thinking that their six teammates would arrive directly to Wembley instead. In the second period the English players showed great sportsmanship and also played the game with only eight players. The Czechs won the game 5-3, but the players were more worried about their teammates.
Not until late that night did they found out that the small plane had vanished from the radar over the waters of La Manche. There was never a trace found after the plane which almost 60 years later is resting somewhere at the bottom of La Manche. Also vanishing that night were Trojak's teammates Zdenek Jarkovsky, Miroslav Pokorny, Vilibard Stovik, Zdenek Svarc and Karel Stibor.
The families suffered a tremendous loss but to add salt to their wounds, the secret police started to interrogate them. The secret police accused the players for having staged their own deaths and that they were living somewhere abroad.
Lea Trojakova and her six year old daughter were devastated by the threats, accusations and lies surrounding their dead husband and father. Lea was blocked from taking any jobs and only by help of some good friends did she eventually get a job as a janitor.
The prosecution of Trojak's teammates continued for years and virtually all the players were sentenced to hard labour, some ranging between 10 to 15 years.
Today there's a tournament played each year in Kosice in the memory of Trojak, called Ladislav Trojak Memorial. The Steel Arena, home of HC Kosice, also bears his name.
- Special thanks to Pat Houda