KLADNO, Czech Republic – He was a man of few words, but he accomplished a lot on the ice. Almost unnoticed, five-time World Champion and Stanley Cup winner Frantisek Kaberle hung up his skates this summer.
After a storied international career and nine years in the NHL, Frantisek played in the Czech Extraliga the last three years wearing the jersey of hometown team Kladno, Pardubice and Plzen. Considered the most prominent free agent of the Czech Extraliga, Kaberle instead chose to end a professional career that lasted 21 years.
“I decided to retire. It’s time to hang up the skates,” he told Czech agency CTK when the news spread on Thursday.
Fans in Kladno hoped the defenceman would come back as Kaberle moved to live permanently in his hometown and playing there was the only option he was looking at. However, he and his former club – owned by another Kladno great, Jaromir Jagr – were not able to agree on a contract.
“We were talking about a contract. But when I came back from vacation, they only wanted to pay me a third of what we had agreed on,” Kaberle said in an interview on iDNES.cz. “In some way I’m sorry I cannot play my last game at home. I always wanted to retire in Kladno. But I also have to say that I spent two wonderful years in Pardubice and Plzen.”
The decision to retire at 38 wasn’t difficult, he said, despite offers from other Czech clubs. “In addition I had various minor injuries, so I wasn’t really able to train in summer,” he added.
It’s a quiet end to a remarkable career. The news about Kaberle’s decision became public almost eight weeks after he had made the decision as Kaberle didn’t organize a press conference to announce his retirement.
Kaberle hails from a dynasty of defencemen. His father, Frantisek Kaberle Sr, and his younger brother, the Montreal Canadiens’ Tomas Kaberle, each brought home World Championship gold medals to their native country.
But none of them have become ice hockey world champions more often than Frantisek Kaberle Jr, who took home five golds in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2005. Only players from the golden Soviet era, led by Vladislav Tretiak with ten word titles, were more successful in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Frantisek shares the accomplishment with David Vyborny, his teammate on the five gold-winning teams.
In total Kaberle played 185 games for the Czech men’s national team, scoring 20 goals.
Born in 1973, he started his career in his hometown of Kladno where he worked up through the junior system to debut in the top Czechoslovak league as a 17-year-old. He won U18 European Championship gold with the CSSR team in 1991 and played two World Junior Championships in 1992 and 1993, winning bronze the second time.
After four pro years in Kladno he left his native country to play four years for MODO Örnsköldsvik in Sweden. During that period he won his first two world titles and improved his skills. In his last year in Sweden he notched 40 points in 58 games, a number he would excel some years later while playing with the Carolina Hurricanes.
After winning his second world title in 1996 it was time to take the next step as the interest from North America was growing. In the 1996 NHL Entry Draft the Los Angeles Kings picked him in the third round. In his rookie season he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers where he spent four years before the cancellation of the 2004/2005 season and added two more world titles during this time.
During the lockout he returned first to Kladno and later to MODO, and added his fifth world title in Vienna 2005 before playing four post-lockout seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.
His North American highlight came the year after the lockout. Frantisek’s first season with the team, and the eighth of the Carolina Hurricanes since the franchise had been moved from Hartford to Raleigh, ended up in the Stanley Cup finals only a few month after winning his first Olympic medal, a bronze in Turin 2006.
The Canes blew a 3-1 lead in the final series against the Edmonton Oilers, but then Kaberle scored the game-winning goal in game seven as the Carolina Hurricanes clinched the Stanley Cup with a 3-1 victory on home ice.
There are plenty of moments that fans on both sides of the pond remember about Kaberle. For his accomplishments he was inducted into the Czech Hockey Hall of Fame the same year it opened, in 2008.
Kaberle doesn’t have any plans for the future yet, but for now the father of two daughters, Franceska and Vanessa, wants to spend more time with his family. As for later he doesn’t exclude getting involved in hockey again, though he certainly would not have anything left to prove.