Václav Nedomanský, known as Big Ned, was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Toronto on Monday night, exactly 42 years after he played his first game in the league for Detroit Wings.
His induction plaque was presented by Frank Mahovlich, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 1981 and who befriended Nedomanský from the moment he arrived in Canada in 1974.
“Coming to Toronto wouldn't have been so easy if my long-time friend Frank Mahovlich and [wife] Marie hadn't taken care of me right from the start.”
Mr. Nedomanský, who is now 75, also thanked the late Ted Lindsay, the Detroit Wings general manager, who brought him to the NHL, and many others for helping him start a new life abroad:
“This is the proper time to thank the country of Canada for giving me the chance to live my life the way I would like to live.”
Nedomanský was a key member of the Czechoslovak national hockey teams that won a silver medal at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble as well as an IIHF world championship in 1972. In total he scored 163 goals in 220 games for his country.
In 1974, in the prime of his career, he decided to flee Communist Czechoslovakia for North America, making his way from Switzerland to Canada.
Between 1974 and 1977, he played in the World Hockey Association for the Toronto Toros and Birmingham Bulls. In 1977, at the age of 33, he joined the NHL.
He went on to score 125 goals and tally 283 points in seven seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.
Mr. Nedomanský was not able to return to his home country until after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Following the end of his career, he worked as a coach in Germany and Austria, and until recently, he was a scout for Los Angeles Kings.
In his induction speech, he said he never regretted his decision to leave Czechoslovakia, hoping he made it easier for those who followed in his footsteps:
“I am just happy I opened the door for some European players who might continue in my steps. I hope they are going to improve the national hockey league. My dream of playing the hockey league has been accomplished.”
“I just wanted to tell them: Use your judgement and learn to say no. That’s all I can say. I am happy to be here. Love you my friends and see you around.”