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Jaroslav Jirik, first Czech in NHL, dies at 71

NHL.com @NHL
Jaroslav Jirik, the first Czech officially allowed to play in the NHL during the nation's era of communist government, has died. He was 71.

Czech officials say Jirik died Monday in a crash of his ultralight plane in the city of Brno, about 125 miles southeast of Prague. Police say Jirik's one-seater crashed shortly after takeoff from the Brno Medlanky airport and caught fire.

The Light Aircraft Association of the Czech Republic confirmed Jirik was killed in the crash.

Born Dec. 10, 1939, Jirik was the first hockey player from a communist country to be allowed by authorities to join an NHL club. St. Louis Blues Assistant General Manager Cliff Fletcher, under the auspices of GM Scotty Bowman, actually signed three Czechoslokian players -- including Jinik, a five-time 20-goal scorer in the Czech league who was 30 and the only one actually allowed to leave for the NHL.

Jirik was scoreless in three NHL games in the 1969-70 season; he spent most of the season with the Blues' Kansas City farm club, where he scored 19 goals in 53 games.

Jirik was invited to return to the Blues for the 1970-71 season, but opted to return to Czechoslovakia instead and played five more seasons in his homeland. After his playing career, he coached teams in the Czech and German leagues while also helming Switzerland's national team in the late 1970s.

Material from wire services was used in this report
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