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Frantisek Kaberle retires after storied career

by Michael Langr

He was one of the most successful players in Czech hockey history, winning five gold medals from the IIHF World Championships, an Olympic bronze and the Stanley Cup in 2006. Yet his retirement this summer was so quiet, no one noticed for more than a month.

Former NHL defenseman Frantisek Kaberle chose to hang up his skates last month, but he didn't make that decision public until Czech newspaper Aha! reported recently that instead of preparing for the 2012-13 season, he was helping his wife, Katerina, with arranging her new boutique in Prague.

"I was never fond of any great statements," Kaberle, 38, told on Thursday. "In July I decided not to play hockey anymore, but I did not want to organize any press conference or other things because of that."

Kaberle returned to the Czech Republic three years ago after spending nine seasons in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings (who drafted him in the third round of the 1999 Entry Draft), the Atlanta Thrashers and the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he won the 2006 Stanley Cup. He finished his NHL career with 29 goals and 164 assists in 523 regular-season games. He also had 14 points in 32 Stanley Cup Playoff games, all with the Hurricanes, including the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 of the Final against the Edmonton Oilers.

After playing 30 games for the Hurricanes in 2008-09, he spent the next three seasons with three different clubs in the Czech Extraleague. But when he couldn't work out a deal with his hometown team, HC Kladno -- which is owned and operated by Dallas Stars forward Jaromir Jagr -- he opted to retire.

"It's not about the age, it's not about my health," Kaberle said. "Of course, I can feel I'm getting older and I have some minor health problems here and there like all players of my age do. But that would not stop me from playing hockey. I could have continued if I'd wanted to. I've had some offers from other Czech clubs, but I wanted to finally stay at home. That said, Kladno was the only option for me. But we could not get a deal there. So I decided to quit."

It isn't the ending Kaberle would have wanted. Kaberle is a part of the one more famous hockey families in the country. His father Frantisek is a former top defenseman who was part of World Championship wins for Czechoslovakia in 1976 and 1977 and became a five-time Czechoslovak League Champion with Kladno. His brother Tomas, who plays for Montreal Canadiens, won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and a World Championship with the Czech Republic in 2005.

The young Frantisek grew up in Kladno, learned to play hockey there and spent played four seasons for Kladno in the Czech Extraleague. He played for Kladno in 2009-10, his first season back in the Czech Republic, but the relationship lasted just the one season, as he spent the 2010-11 season with HC Pardubice.

"I felt I was not wanted in Kladno anymore," Kaberle said. "We agreed on terms of the new contract. Then I left for vacation. But after I came back, they told me they had to cut my salary on one-third of what we'd agreed before."

At the same time, Kladno was in a difficult financial situation. But even after Jagr became owner and stabilized the economics of the organization in 2011, Kaberle still remained unwanted. He spent his last season with another Czech team, HC Plzen, owned by another former NHL player, Martin Straka.

"I always wanted to experience my last game at home in Kladno," Kaberle said. "But it did not happen and I have to say that in Pardubice and in Plzen I've spent wonderful two years.

"I also have a lot of great memories. I like to recall things from my first year among the adult team in Kladno, about my first steps in the NHL, about winning the Stanley Cup. My entire career was great and full of team success and I am really lucky that there are so many things I have accomplished. I've had great times playing hockey, but now it's over and all I am looking forward to is spending more time with my family."

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