Stanislav Konopasek

This is Stanislav Konopasek, the best left winger in all of Europe in the 1940s.

The undersized Czech (5'10" 175lbs) likely made it big in hockey because of his uncanny chemistry with Vladimir Zabrodsky, the Czech's big star back then. The two grew up together and played complimentary styles together from the age of 10, when Zabrodsky's father coached the youths.

Zabrodsky was the goal scoring machine, with Konopasek more than just riding shotgun. Neither showed much interest in the physical or defensive side of the game, leaving that to the variety of right wingers they had, most famously Ladislav Trojak.

Powered by the dynamic duo, the Czechs won the 1947 and 1949 European Championship. There was no championship in 1948 as the Olympic games filled that role. The Czechs finished with the silver medal, despite an equal record with first place Canada.

Konopasek was named top forward in 1947, despite being outscored 29-14 by Zabrodsky. By 1949 he had assumed the scoring championship over Zabrodsky, including scoring the game winning goal in the Czechs' first ever victory over Canada.

As the decade turned into the 1950s, Konopasek, just 26 years old, was set to become possibly the best player in Europe. But political unrest landed him off the ice and into the slammer.

The government was facing civic upheaval and decided to crack down on anyone who was disloyal to the communist ideology. Sports stars, including many of the hockey greats, were targeted, even if they were quiet politically, to be made examples of. Konopasek and many of his teammates were jailed with fabricated charges of attempts to defect.

Declared a state traitor, Konopasek was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, but was set free by 1955, one of the longest internments by a hockey player. He and several old teammates found employment at an automobile factory in Prague, but were kept off the ice except for an intercity league.

Konopasek was slowly allowed to return to elite levels of hockey, but his age and the years off dulled his game. He retired as an active player in 1963 and became a coach in Prague and Poland.

Konopasek died on March 6th, 2008. He was 84.

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