As an Edmonton Oiler, Petr Klima was known as a ‘clutch’ goal scorer. The notion of Petr Klima as a good role model however, was a stretch.
Every year hundreds of European born teenagers relocate to North America to play junior hockey. They all come with dreams of NHL glory but many go back home after not being able to adapt to a new language and new culture.
Klima is doing his part to help Czech prospects better acclimatize to life in North America.
The Czech native is owner, general manager, and head coach of six independent youth hockey teams in the Detroit area. The teams are divided according to age groups (from 8 year olds to 13 year olds), and play in various leagues and tournaments across Michigan and Ontario. Earlier this year, Klima brought in five 13 year-olds from the Czech Republic to play on his ‘senior’ team.
“Instead of bringing the kids over here when they’re sixteen and seventeen, we want to bring them early so that they can learn the language, learn the culture, and learn the hockey style,” says Klima.
“So then, when they are sixteen and seventeen and ready for major junior hockey (in North America), they can just focus on playing hockey.”
Klima says that he plans to bring in a new ‘batch’ of 13 year-old prospects every year from the Czech Republic and from other parts of Europe. He and his wife will act as surrogate parents to these kids: they’ll house them, feed them, transport them to and from the rink, and in some cases even home-school them.
Klima defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1985; he knows first-hand the difficulties that foreign-born players face in North America.
“I remember when I came to the Detroit Red Wings in 1985,” he says
“The coach was talking for 25 minutes about the game plan and I didn’t understand one word.”
Klima played almost five seasons for the Red Wings before being traded to the Oilers in 1989; he was an integral part of the 1990 Stanley Cup team. While known as a consistent goal scorer, he endured constant criticism about being a lazy player and for being a bit of troublemaker.
Klima vehemently disagrees with the opinion that he was a lazy player. As for his bad boy reputation, he acknowledges that he had some troubles, in his early days, in Detroit, carousing with the likes of the late Bob Probert.
“We had some issues with alcohol and drugs,” admits Klima.
“We were partying maybe too much during those first few years.”
Klima was arrested twice, in the late eighties, for driving under the influence of alcohol, and subsequently spent three days in jail. Despite his past indiscretions however, it seems that Klima, now 46, is becoming a mentor and role-model to the next generation of Czech hockey players.
“I have seen so many players go back home (to Europe) because they get homesick, they don’t know the language, and they’re not confident,” he says.
“So I decided to help the players from Czech to give them a home, give them a good meal, and a good education. I want to give my players the chance to learn the language and culture, so they can succeed at junior and NHL. We’ll see in a couple of years if it was all worthwhile.”