DALLAS – Before Petr Klima or Sergei Fedorov escaped the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain, there was Vaclav Nedomansky.
A world-class player, Nedomansky dominated international competition for more than a decade before defecting from Soviet-ruled Czechoslovakia in 1974. Three years later he arrived in Detroit in the twilight of his playing career. Eventually, he played five seasons with the Red Wings, producing 108 goals and 247 points in 364 regular-season games.
In 1978, Nedomansky was the Red Wings leading scorer in the postseason, helping the franchise end a 12-year playoff series winless streak as they swept the Atlanta Flames in a best-of-three opening-round matchup. Nedomansky made the most of his only Stanley Cup playoff experience, collected three goals and eight points in seven games that spring.
The 1981-82 season was his last with the Red Wings and coach Wayne Maxner. Nedomansky finished his NHL career by splitting his final season between the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.
An Olympic silver (1968) and bronze (1972) medal winner, he was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame in 1997. He also won eight World Championship medals: four silver, three bronze, and one gold.
Now a scout with the Nashville Predators, Nedomansky, who will turn 71 years old on March 14, granted an exclusive interview with DetroitRedWings.com last Saturday at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Here is what he said about his time with the Wings, the Soviet Union and the 1978 Stanley Cup playoffs:
QUESTION: Do you keep in touch with any of your former Red Wings teammates? If so, who?
NEDOMANSKY: “Not really. I see some of them on the road and we just talk, but not every day contact. I see Paul Woods and Mickey Redmond, yeah, but it’s probably been five years since I was last in Detroit. I stay on the west coast, mainly, living in Los Angeles.”
Q. Which of the current Red Wings is your favorite? And why?
NEDOMANSKY: “I cannot comment on different team because I’m employed by Nashville. I don’t think it is proper to make comments about other players.”
Q. How about former Red Wings players?
NEDOMANSKY: “I finished a year before Steve Yzerman came to Detroit in ’82. Obviously I’ve followed hockey since I stopped playing even though I had some jobs overseas. I was scouting for the Los Angeles Kings for 19 years, so I’ve been involved very much since my playing career. This is my fourth year with Nashville.”
Q. What was your favorite memory as a Red Wing?
NEDOMANSKY: “Probably when Ted Lindsay traded for my from the World Hockey Association on 15 of November ’77, and another one would be when we played against Russian team in Detroit and we beat them. … Besides playing with the Wings I stayed there another 20 years. Detroit is a special place in my heart.”
Q. Game against the Russians had to be personal for you?
NEDOMANSKY: “Oh yeah, it was personal. Interesting, they wouldn’t play against us if I’m in the lineup. The team had decided if I cannot play than we wouldn’t play and they gave them (the Russians) an ultimatum to decide in 24 hours. The Russians said, ‘OK, then let’s play’. Dan Maloney was the captain at that time and it was very nice to see that the team was standing behind me like that. The Russians didn’t want to play against me because of the politics.”
Q. Which of the guys you played with was the toughest?
NEDOMANSKY: “Reed Larson was very tough, Dennis Polonich was tough, but his stature wasn’t so dominant. He didn’t win all of his fights. At that time game was played a different way, maybe more fighters than today.”
Q. Who was the funniest?
NEDOMANSKY: “It’s so far away that I don’t remember, but we had a very good relationship with all of those people. There were some very good, young players, like Mike Foligno, he was my rookie winger and Mike Blaisdell was a first-round draft choice back then. But later on when we started play better from bad team to a better team, coach Bobby Kromm was there. We played much better and made the playoffs and played the Canadiens when they were winning everything. I enjoyed all of those games.”
Q. Memories of beating Atlanta Flames in 1978 Stanley Cup playoffs?
NEDOMANSKY: “It was in the Olympia when we knocked off the Flames, I scored one and Bill Lochead scored one. I remember we won the last game of the season in Montreal on Dale McCourt’s goal. We then played them in the playoffs and in Game 3 after the second period we had power play and the Canadiens scored two goals and the series was over after that.”
Q. Who had the biggest heart?
NEDOMANSKY: “As a player you don’t think of those things, you just go out and play. You don’t think about heart or no heart, or who is tough or not tough. We didn’t do the community stuff that players do now. At that time, maybe because there was less money involved. We would go to the hospital and the skating parties at Christmastime, but not really the size of the charities that they have now.”
Q. What was your favorite restaurant in metro Detroit?
NEDOMANSKY: “I wasn’t really a restaurant guy. I would go to Carl’s Chophouse sometimes. I lived in Franklin (Mich.) and I stayed out there most of the time. Reed Larson was my neighbor and we would drive sometimes to the games together.”
Q. How has the NHL changed since you played?
NEDOMANSKY: “Probably the speed of the game and those playing now are big and strong and using their physical strength.”
Q. Toughest team (other than the Red Wings) when you played?
NEDOMANSKY: “It was known that Philadelphia always had tough players and it was tough to play there. That’s really the only team that I remember being difficult.”
Q. Who did you sit next to in the dressing room?
NEDOMANSKY: “If you walk into the locker room at Joe Louis Arena (pre-renovation) that was my seat straight across the room.”
Q. Which did you like best, Olympia or The Joe?
NEDOMANSKY: “It doesn’t really matter to me. It liked like Olympia was smaller and maybe there was more atmosphere. The same thing in the old Boston arena you could almost touch with your stick from the goal line to the corner. It was just a smaller size then. I spent all my time training and playing on much larger-sized rinks. It just took some time to learn.”
Q. What do you love most about the game?
NEDOMANSKY: “I played multiple sports growing up, I played soccer, basketball, tennis, track & field, and hockey. The combination of knowledge from other sports gave me good preparation for hockey, which is a sport that combines skills, speed and mind. I loved that and I’ve spend my whole life in hockey. You played sports by seasons back then. Hockey would start in August and only later, in the ’60s, when teams, which were actually pro teams they would practice during the summer, sometimes twice a day.”
Q. Who had the greatest influence on your career?
NEDOMANSKY: “Probably my very first coach, a coach in Czechoslovakia when I was 12 years old. There were no stadiums then, just skating outside on the lakes. … He doesn’t live anymore, but he brought out group of people from locally and he was such a great teacher and fun, and an honest man. That’s why I played and stuck with the sport.”
Q. What advice would you give to kids playing today?
NEDOMANSKY: “It’s all individualized and each person has a different idea on sports and on life. You cannot really give out the same advice. You have to scout and give different people different advice after you find out what they’re all about. But each person is different along those lines.”