KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic – When Josef Reznicek made his debut in the Extraliga, Eurythmics released their big hit Sweet Dreams and Prince sang about 1999. Back in 1983, that year seemed light years away, but even a decade after, Reznicek was still going strong in the Czech top league.
This season the smallish defenceman exceeded the magic number of 1,000 Extraliga games. A feat that did not go unnoticed in the Czech Republic. However, the veteran has decided this was his last season. With six goals and 19 points he was the most productive defenceman on the Karlovy Vary team. As a bonus, the 42-year-old was given a chance to close his career with a league title. Much to everyone’s surprise his team beat favourites Slavia Prague in six games earning Reznicek his second title ever.
“This was my last season. I already my life without playing ice hockey,” he says. “But hockey will not disappear from my live. I am not sure in which capacity I will stay involved but after all these years it is impossible to live completely without hockey,” Reznicek smiles. Upon conclusion of the season he will carry on as a businessman. Currently, Reznicek runs a clothing shop in downtown Plzen.
He could also consider writing a biography as talking to the player is like reading a Czech hockey history book full of interesting anecdotes.
“I remember my first game back in 1983 very well. It was in Kosice and we got beaten 7-3.” It wasn’t so much the fact that he made his Extraliga debut that made a big impression on him. “The most important thing from that game that I recall is that we travelled there with a plane,” he remembers.
Soon after his debut with HC Plzen, Reznicek had to serve in the army and therefore was transferred to the national army team Dukla Jihlava. The defenceman oozed his time in Jihlava which was embraced with a pair of silver medals. “The years with Dukla were fantastic to me. Although I had played some games for Plzen I started my professional career in Jihlava. Although we twice lost the final it was a great spell that helped me to break into the Czechoslovakian national team.”
What was to become a dream come through for the defenceman turned out to be one of the biggest disillusions of his career. Czechoslovakia was eliminated in the quarterfinals and returned home without a medal. “There were many problems inside the team and the atmosphere was bad. That was very unfortunate since the World Championships are a great event.”
His appearance in the 1991 Worlds proved to be the only time he wore the national team colours. Despite having played in the German DEL and the Finnish SM-Liiga and being one of the most consistent defencemen in the Czech league, he never represented his country again. This might be due to his size.
Or better said, the lack thereof.
In an era where size became the new magic word, the 170 cm tall player was often literally overlooked.
Reznicek himself realized this but tried to limit his disadvantage. “It is no pleasure to hit bigger opponents but in order to stay in the league I had to adapt to learn to play with it, be clever and confident.” He was not afraid to lay out a big hit and accumulated nearly 1800 penalty minutes during his career.
Considering his size, it’s almost a miracle the greybeard escaped from serious injuries throughout the 26 years of play. “It’s a wonder. Health is the most important reason I was able to keep on playing until this season. It is important to listen to your body, to practise faithfully and relax when you can.”
With seasons passing by, Reznicek’s role also changed. He gradually became an offensive defenceman. “I never played offence except in football as a little boy. Perhaps I got my instincts from there,” he jokes. “Initially, my task was to close down the opposition and limit the shots on our goalie but then you are being put on the power play units, you score your first goals and gradually you get more confident going forward.”
After having notched 53 points in two seasons with Plzen, Reznicek moved to ES Weisswasser in Germany. Failing to make the post-season earned him the opportunity to finish the season with Olomouc. It was there that he celebrated his first title and the first of the independent Czech league. “It was really strange. I ended up there since I had never anticipated that. But we had a great team and everyone went euphoric when we won the title. It is a memory I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Despite his good memories, he returned to Weisswasser where he played three more seasons and now considers his second home. It lasted until his hometown team called him again. Back in Plzen, Reznicek stayed seven seasons with mixed success. In 2000, the team that consisted of young talented players like Jaroslav Bednar, David Pospisil and Dusan Salficky, captured the bronze medal and a bright future looked ahead. But results turned against them and the veteran players were made scapegoats. “We felt very much pressured during that season. It wasn’t a good feeling and when Sparta Prague offered me a chance to join them I couldn’t refuse it.”
Led by coach Alois Hadamczik, Sparta Prague had collected an all-star team but failed to win any silverware. David Vyborny, Petr Nedved and Karel Pilar all played for the team during the NHL lock-out but Sparta was ousted in the quarterfinals by Vitkovice Ostrava in five games. Nevertheless, Reznicek never regretted his spell in the capital city. “It was really nice to play hockey with such great players.”
At the age of 38 he opened the final chapter of own chronicle. Reznicek left Sparta Prague to play for ambitious Karlovy Vary. With the defenceman in the line-up the team slowly progressed in the Czech Extraliga. Last season it found its Waterloo in the final against Slavia Prague.
It wasn’t to be the end of the script the Czech answer to Chris Chelios had anticipated. He went on to become the first player in Czech history to play 1,000 games and finished a remarkable career hoisting the cup and with 1,039 games on his resume.
Sweet dreams are made of this.Notebook:
- When Reznicek completed his 1,000th game he was given a Skoda 1000. The car was displayed to fans at each home game.
- No less than 12 players on the roster of the reigning champion had yet to be born at the time of Reznicek’s debut in the Czech Extraliga.
- If not for his size, Reznicek was easily spotted by his jersey number. He wore the number nine since the age of 16.
- Karlovy Vary has already signed a replacement for Josef Reznicek. The club announced the arrival of a defensive trio. David Hajek’s comes off a career season with Kladno. Jan Mucha arrives from Ceske Budejovice while 20-year-old Martin Paryzek returns home after a two-year stint in the Ontario Hockey League with the Ottawa 67’s.
- Offensively the Czech CHL representative bolstered its squad with former Philadephia Flyers prospect Vaclav Pletka.