Roman Cechmanek, 1971-2023
by Andrew PODNIEKS|13 NOV 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Jukka Rautio
Roman Cechmanek, a champion goaltender with Czechia and a 212-game veteran of the NHL, died early Sunday morning at his home. He was just 52. He was supposed to play hockey with friends yesterday but cancelled because he wasn’t feeling well, and his son, Roman, found him in his apartment this morning. Cause of death is unknown but both foul play and suicide have been ruled out.
Almost immediately fans started to create a memorial for Cechmanek at the arena in Vsetin, where he had so many of his best career moments in the 1990s.
"He was full of energy, determined to help the local club in the development of youth hockey,” said Jaroslav Balastik, a former teammate at the 2007 IIHF Men’s World Championship and now agent who met Cechmanek almost every day at the arena.
“We spent a lot of time together on the national team," said retired goalie Milan Hnilicka, currently in Tampere as GM of the national team for the Karalja Cup. “We were healthy competitors, which benefited the team. We always tried to be better than each other. It helped the whole group tremendously. When one didn't work out, the other jumped in. It was a proper rivalry; we both wanted to be the best. But can’t believe it. At 52, you are still a young person. It’s crazy. I can't believe he left us so soon. Roman Turek, Petr Briza, Roman, myself, Dominik Hasek—we all respected each other. We spent a lot of time together.”
Cechmanek was a member of Czechia’s most famous team of all time, the 1998 Olympic champions who beat Canada in a shootout in the semi-finals and then Russia, 1-0, to claim their first Olympic gold. He was also a member of the 2002 Olympic team, but in both instances he didn’t see game action playing behind the legendary Hasek. Additionally, Cechmanek played in seven Men’s World Championships, winning two gold and two bronze medals.
Born in Gottwaldov, Cechmanek made a name for himself with Vsetin in the Czech league. He was as surprised as anyone when he was drafted by 171st overall by Philadelphia in 2000 at the age of 29. Nevertheless, he moved to the Flyers and in his rookie season became the team’s starting goalie, finishing the season with a stellar record of 35-15-6 and 2.01 GAA. He played in the All-Star Game that year and finished second in Vezina Trophy voting.
The next year, there was no let up, and he shared the William Jennings Trophy with teammate Robert Esche and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. Cechmanek played one more year with the Flyers before being trade to Los Angeles, and after one season with the Kings he returned to the Czech Republic, retiring in 2009.
“Beyond his numbers, which were outstanding, he was beloved by fans and teammates for his personality, distinct style, and pride in stopping the puck,” said Flyers’ president Keith Jones. “His passing at too young of an age is heartbreaking to us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
“Roman was an acrobat in goal,” added Ken Hitchcock, his coach in 2002-03. “He would use any part of his body to stop the puck. One of the characters of the game.”
But it was his time with the Czech national team where he established himself. Cechmanek had played in the 1991 IIHF World Juniors, helping the team win a bronze medal. He made his senior Men’s Worlds debut in 1995, playing one game, but two years later he played in eight of nine games, winning another bronze. This was his first of four consecutive years at the Men’s World Championship, and Cechmanek won a medal each time. A second bronze in 1998 preceded two gold medals in 1999 and 2000, and he also played at the 2004 and 2007 Men’s World Championships.
"Roman was usually number two, but that year in Russia [in 2000], he was number one and kept us in the running, especially in the semi-finals with Canada,” said another teammate, IIHF Hall of Famer Robert Reichel. “He won the World Championship for us in St. Petersburg.”
Indeed, in the 2000 semi-finals, Canada outshot the Czechs 24-17, but the Czechs won, 2-1, thanks to the goaltending of Cechmanek.
“He always created a good atmosphere in the dressing room, Reichel added. “He was never angry and never looked worried. We knew we could rely on him.”
He is survived by three children, sons Jakub, Roman and daughter Katerina.