The flagbearer for Slovakia at the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Ziggy Palffy, was a hockey hero to a small, hockey-mad nation for more than 15 years.
Now, the former LA Kings star forward is one of eight members of the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
Among those joining Palffy in the Class of 2019 are:
- Former NHL forwards Miroslav Satan and Mike Modano
- Women's hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser
- Boris Alexandrov, who helped the Soviet Union win the gold medal at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics
- Jorgen Jonsson, who helped Sweden win the Olympic gold medal in 1994 and 2006
- Konstantin Mihaylov, a goalie who played for Bulgaria at 28 World Championship tournaments
- Former USA Hockey executive Jim Johannson, who won the Paul Loicq Award for outstanding contributions to the IIHF and international hockey
In 311 games over five seasons with the Kings (1999-2004), Palffy recorded 150 goals and 340 points. He also picked up 19 points (9-10=19) in 24 career playoff games with the Kings.
On the international stag, it didn't take long for Palffy to make his mark.
After a sensational 1991 World Juniors, during which he scored a goal a game and helped Czechoslovakia win a bronze medal, Palffy was drafted No. 24 overall by the New York Islanders.
He played for the Czechs at the Canada Cup that fall and then opted to play for Dukla Trencin for two years before feeling confident enough to test the NHL. Even when he first came to Long Island, however, he was still not quite ready.
Palffy persisted, though, and after two years mostly in the minors his determination was rewarded. Making the Islanders at training camp in 1995, he had two dominant seasons, producing 177 points in 161 games.
During his minor pro days in North America, Palffy also played for Slovakia at the 1994 Olympics, an historic moment for the country that had to qualify to play in Lillehammer, its first ever tournament as an independent nation.
But the greatest moment in Slovakian hockey was yet to come. There was controversy first at the 2002 Olympics because NHL teams didn't release all Slovak players in timely fashion, and the team finished a disappointing 13th. Every Slovak player in the NHL and around the world knew their nation was world-class, and at the World Championship a few weeks later, they were determined to prove it.
The Slovaks beat all opponents they faced, including Canada, 3-2, in the quarter-finals. In the semis, against Sweden, the game went to a shootout, and Palffy netted the winning goal to take Slovakia to the gold-medal game.
The biggest moment for Slovakia came the next game when Peter Bondra converted a pass from Palffy with exactly 100 seconds remaining in the game, giving their country a 4-3 win over Russia to win the gold medal. It remains the defining moment of their hockey history.
A year later, Palffy announced his retirement, citing a lingering shoulder injury. Palffy returned home, recovered, and came back two years later, eventually playing at the Vancouver Olympics, his final international event.
His IIHF career is full of highlights. A three-time Olympian, Palffy led the 1994 Olympics in scoring. He was also tied with teammate Jozef Stumpel as top scorer at the 2003 Worlds, and in 12 NHL seasons he had 30 goals or more, six times. Over 684 career NHL games with the New York Islanders, Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins, Palffy totaled 713 points (329-384=713).
At home on both the NHL and international ice, Palffy was a fluid skater and natural scorer whose competitive nature was as impressive as his shot. But above all, he was one of the heroes of 2002, and a leader of a team that took tiny Slovakia and put it at the top of the hockey world.