Frycer dead at 61
by Andrew Podnieks|27 APR 2021
After defecting from Czechoslovakia, Miroslav Frycer spent most of his years in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
photo: O - Pee-Chee / Hockey Hall of Fame
Miroslav Frycer, a star on both sides of the Atlantic in league and international play, died this morning, 27 April, in the Czech Republic. He was 61 but had had health problems for many years.

Frycer grew up in Ostrava and started his pro career playing for the local team, Vitkovice, in 1977. He made enough of an impression that he made the Czechoslovak national team for the 1978 and 1979 IIHF World Junior Championships, winning a silver medal in 1979 playing on a team that included Anton Stastny, Igor Liba, and Ivan Cerny.

Frycer also played at the 1979 and 1981 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, winning another silver and a bronze, as well as the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. But in 1981 he and his family – parents, wife, and 10-month-old daughter – defected to Canada to start a new life in the NHL. It was a daring escape, but ultimately one he felt he had to make.

He had made arrangements to play with the Quebec Nordiques. After an impressive start, he was acquired by the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline in 1982 for Wilf Paiement, and in total scored 24 goals in 59 games with the two teams in his rookie season. It was with the Leafs that he spent most of his NHL career, some six and a half years. He led the Leafs in scoring in 1985/86 with a career best 32 goals and 75 points.

In 1985, Frycer became the first Czech player to appear in the NHL All-Star Game, where he scored a goal, and on 8 January 1986, he was the first Czech to score four goals in a game, during a wild 11-9 Leafs win over Edmonton. 

He later played briefly with Detroit after becoming so disenchanted by playing for coach John Brophy that he demanded a trade. From there he played 14 games with Edmonton in 1988/89 and finished his career in Germany and Italy.

A talented right winger, Frycer was unable to handle the spoils of fame well. He started smoking at age 12, a habit he was unable to break even later in life as his health worsened. He became an alcoholic during his NHL career and eventually required liver and kidney transplants.

Soon after retiring he turned to coaching, mostly in the Czech Republic and Italy, winning a championship with Merano in the Italian league. He became head coach in Znojmo in 2017.

In 2018, Frycer published his autobiography with the help of author Lubos Brabec, aptly titled My Wild Hockey Life, an honest account of his career on ice and off it. He stopped drinking in 1999 and married his third wife, Lenka, and was coaching Orli Znojmo until recently.

He led a hard life, enjoyed the early years, but paid a steep price later on. Although he never regretted much, he also knew there were lessons for others that he could share.
“Some people who’ve had a drinking problem are embarrassed to talk about it,” he said after his book came out. “I talk of mine without shame. If what I have to say puts just one person off drinking – children, my friends, players in the dressing room – it will have been worth it.”