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Penguins Cup Chronicles: Jiri Hrdina

| Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010

When Jiri Hrdina found out he was being traded to Pittsburgh, he wasn't happy at first. Thirty-two at the time, Hrdina had known only Calgary after his arrival from Czechoslovakia after the 1988 Olympics.

"But at the end, I said, 'Well, I'm old enough to handle this situation and I'm going to try," he said this week from Prague, Czech Republic. "'If things do not work out, I will quit or finish out the first year and go back to Europe.'"

He wound up back in Europe eventually — after winning two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh and serving as a father figure for rookie Jaromir Jagr.

The team's talented first-round pick had grown homesick, which prompted the acquisition of Hrdina, a fellow countryman.

"I knew my role would be there to help out Jags a little bit, too, because that time of the year, the first year, the first three or four months for him was just really tough because he couldn't speak the language," Hrdina said.

Hrdina's greatest impact, beyond mentoring Jagr, may have been the two goals, including the game-winner, he scored against the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals.

"These were probably the biggest goals, except one in the world championships I scored against the Russians and we had a silver medal," Hrdina said. "These two goals helped the team. That was the first step, and we went to the other rounds. Seventh game, you can't score a bigger goal."

Q&A with jiri hrdina

On his arrival in the NHL:

I was drafted by (Calgary) in 1984. Because it was Communist times here in Czech Republic, I had to wait until I was 30 years old, and then they let me go. So I started in Calgary after the '88 Olympics when I was 30 that year. So I was 32 when I came to Pittsburgh, so I was old enough to come back and play here in Europe, in Germany or Switzerland, but I wanted to give a try and see what comes from that.

On Bob Johnson:

I heard stories. He had a great name as a hockey coach and a person in Calgary. I also met him on the ice when he was coaching the U.S. national team. The Czechoslovakian team, we played against them in '87 Canada Cup, something like that.

On his first meeting with Bob Johnson:

I remember coming down the locker room for the first day, and Bob took me to his office and showed me the tapes, actually, from that Canada Cup series against the U.S. I think I scored a goal in that game, and he said, 'See, that's what you have to do here in Pittsburgh for us.' We became pretty close, and he was a great coach and, like I said, a great person.

On his role with the Penguins:

Well I came there in December, so it was the middle of the year and the team was basically set up. Craig Patrick, he tried to do a few changes for the team to get better, so I was hoping to get more ice time and be one of the guys who's going to be doing these changes for the team, and basically that's what happened. I remember I played a lot of games, and I was on the power play, too, and playing with (Jaromir) Jagr and Bryan Trottier for a little while.

On his first memories of Jaromir Jagr:

When we played with the Calgary Flames here in 1989 in the fall after we won the Cup with Calgary, we had training here in Prague, and we played two games against the Czechoslovakian national team in Prague, and he was playing with (Bobby) Holik and (Robert) Reichel on a line. That was the first time I saw him. And of course when the season started that year, when he started, I was watching in The Hockey News the statistics of the players, so I knew a little bit about him.

On the change in Jagr's demeanor upon his arrival:

When I came to Calgary, the same thing that Hakan Loob for me, a Swedish guy, he tried to help me with the language and all these things, show me things. I tried to do the same thing with Jags and all of a sudden, he starts to be more happy, he could speak even around the locker room a little bit of Czech. He seemed to be more happy after from late December to start of January, and he started to play better, too.

On his role as translator:

I just took it as it came. It became normal for me. I came to Calgary, and I didn't know much about the NHL, except I saw a few games on TV and I thought it's going to be tough. There was a lot of good leaders on the team who really helped me like Jim Peplinski, Tim Hunter, Hakan Loob, and now when I could help even my countryman who spoke the same language, it was kind of natural and normal for me.

On his experiences in the Stanley Cup playoffs vs. the Olympics:

I always said after I retired that winning the Stanley Cup is so much harder and so much more work to do for it. The world championships or the Olympics, that's basically a tournament which lasts for two weeks and you can gain everything in one game or lose it in one game. ... Here, you have to win four series and four games, so that's incomparable, at least for me. I always said you can't really compare these two things.

On one of his two goals vs. the Devils in Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals:

Jaromir Jagr was flying on the left side with the puck, and he kind of threw it on the right, he was expecting me to be there, and I was there, and I was able to score the goal.

On missing all but two games of the Stanley Cup Final:

In Minnesota, I got hurt and I couldn't play the last game because I was hurt. I got cross-checked from one of the Minnesota players, and I start to pee blood and stuff, so I had some bruised kidneys so I couldn't go.

On the different Cup wins:

The first one is always the first one, you know. It's a little different. Of course, every time you win, it's a great experience and with teammates who had never won it before, it's great. I was probably the same happy like in Calgary or '85 when I won the world championship for Czechoslovakia.

On playing against Calgary, his former team:

It was always special in Pittsburgh, when we played Calgary because it was my old team, and I scored in my first game against them in Pittsburgh, so that was sweet revenge for me. That's the game that I remember.

Additional Information:

Jiri Hrdina

ACQUIRED : Dec. 13, 1990 • Calgary trades Hrdina for D Jim Kyte.

PENGUINS DEBUT : Dec. 16, 1990, vs. Detroit.

PENGUINS 1990-91 STATS : 37 games, 6 goals, 14 assists, 20 points, 13 PIM

PENGUINS CAREER STATS : 93 games, nine goals, 27 assists, 36 points, 29 PIM

WHAT HE'S UP TO NOW : European amateur scout for Dallas Stars

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