Jiri Dudacek

In the early 1980s, Jiri Dudacek was said to be the next great Czech hockey superstar. He was a super talent blessed with skating, shooting and puck skills that many said would have saw him and Dale Hawerchuk face off for the 1st overall draft selection in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, had Dudacek been readily available.

Of course, back in those days the Iron Curtain was still up and the Cold War was still very frigid. Players from Eastern Europe, Soviets, Slovaks and Czechs in particular, were rarely drafted until the very late rounds, because there was never any guarantee the players would be released to play in the National Hockey League.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Czechoslovakian hockey authorities had made a few concessions to veteran players. Fearing more top talent would defect, like Vaclav Nedomansky did earlier in the 70s, the Czechs tried to appease young and prime age stars with a future of freedom to play in western Europe and North America. Milan Novy, Ivan Hlinka and Jiri Bubla were a few of the players allowed to leave for the NHL.

Bowman Gambles

Buffalo GM Scotty Bowman figured it was only a matter of time before younger Czech and Slovak players would be allowed to come to North America. And he was right, but unfortunately for the Sabres he was about a decade ahead of himself. With his 1st round pick in 1981, 17th overall, he drafted Jiri Dudacek, shocking everybody at the draft.

Of course the Dudacek selection goes down in NHL draft history as one of the great busts of all time. It was a huge gamble, and it never paid off. The Czech authorities, still angry over the Peter and Anton Stastny defections a year earlier, made sure Dudacek wouldn't defect. By doing so, they ruined what could have been a great player, and a great decade for Czech hockey.

Dudacek was a rising star in the Czech leagues. At 16 he was already playing for Kladno in the top league. By the time he was drafted by Buffalo, he had already starred in three world championships. He was also the leading scorer for the Czech national team at the 1981 Canada Cup. But he is probably best remembered by North American audiences for his dominating performances at both the 1980 and 1981 world junior championships.

Did Not Want To Defect

First the Czech authorities made sure Dudacek had no idea he was actually drafted by the NHL. Though he had heard rumors, it took Dudacek over a year to find out the news first hand.

Secondly, to ensure he never had a chance to defect, they removed him from tournaments in western Europe or North America.

According to December 18th, 2007 issue of The Hockey News, defection was never considered by either the Sabres or Dudacek. The Sabres had tried all diplomatic channels necessary, but to no avail. And Dudacek, whose father was a lieutenant colonel at the Department of Home Affairs and brother was a policeman, says he never would have defected.

Regardless, the Czech government could not take that chance. And by taking arguably their top talent off the national team, the Czech hockey team inexplicably struggled in the 1980s.

Dudacek was part of the Czech national team that came to Canada for the 1984 Canada Cup, but unlike in the 1981 tournament he was a non factor, scoring no points.

Promise Unrealized

Injuries would then take their toll on Dudacek, costing him to miss much time and to erode his abilities. He was cut from the 1988 Olympic team, a shadow of the player he was once expected to be.

Dudacek continued to play on the ice, even heading to Germany and France after the fall of communism in his country. Nowadays he has given up the game completely, as he toils away in a window making factory.

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