Jiri Bicek

Jiri Bicek is hardly the best player to come out of Slovakia. But he was the first to bring the Stanley Cup to the country.

Bicek was part of the New Jersey Devils team that won the Stanley Cup in 2003. Part of his celebration rights was to bring hockey's crown jewel to his hometown, the historic city of Kosice.

Seven thousand of people gathered to get a glimpse of the famous chalice. Only one problem. The airlines lost the Cup!

Cup keeper Mike Bolt arrived safely, only to find out the Stanley Cup did not make it. Somehow the Cup was still back in Toronto, much to everyone's disappointment.  Somehow it never did get on the plane.

"There was a time when Stanley would travel with me in the plane," explained Bolt. "But after 9/11, the Cup now has to travel locked away in it's case in the regular cargo hold. Poor Stanley."

Fortunately, the Cup was sent to Kosice, arriving in the next day. All schedule plans needed to be rescheduled or cancelled, but, eventually, Bicek and all of Slovakia celebrated their first Stanley Cup championship. Bicek was certain to make sure the party in the town square reconvened and that he took the Cup to the hospital.

 "It's a great honour to be the first player to bring the Stanley Cup to Slovakia," Jiri Bicek said. "With NHL stars like Ziggy Palffy, Peter Bondra and Miro Satan all from my country, it is hard for me to believe that I'm the first to bring it home. But I can tell you, I am very, very proud."

The 131st overall draft pick in 1997, Bicek's career never really amounted to much as far as NHL standards go. He came to North America and embraced the game, playing parts of seven seasons in the American Hockey League. Many European players would have retreated back to Europe rather than accept minor league life here. But Bicek wouldn't let his NHL dream die. And he was rewarded with the Stanley Cup!

The speedy winger played in 62 career NHL games, scoring 6 goals and 7 assists. He returned to Europe in 2004.

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