Reichel’s lasting legacy
Reichel’s lasting legacy
Legendary star turned coach hopes to inspire youth
Inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame at last year’s World Championship in Prague, Reichel was arguably the most important player overall in the Czech Republic’s golden hockey era of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The cerebral Litvinov-born centre beat Patrick Roy on the shootout goal that gave the Czechs their famous 2-1 semi-final win over favored Canada at the inaugural “NHL Olympics” in 1998. He also captained the Czechs to World Championship gold in 1996, 2000, and 2001.
Going back further, Reichel's 40 career World Junior points with Czechoslovakia rank him second all-time behind Sweden’s Peter Forsberg.
In his coaching debut at the U18 level, Reichel, 44, recognized that his nation has a long way to go development-wise to revive those glory days.
“We had good games here against the Finns, Canada, the Slovaks, and Denmark,” Reichel told IIHF.com after his team fell 8-0 to the defending champion U.S. in the quarter-final on Thursday. “Obviously, some games we didn’t win. We lost in the shootout [to Finland]. We outplayed Canada but we didn’t score goals. But you have to win, basically. If you play well but lose, it’s not good for you. The guys played hard. Today we played against probably the best team in the tournament right now.”
The Czechs surprised everyone by capturing silver at the 2014 U18 after a medal drought that extended back to 2006’s bronze. Despite failing to bring home any hardware this year, Reichel said he had no regrets about the seventh-place finish.
‘It was a good experience for me, for [assistant coach] Patrik [Augusta], and for our team,” Reichel said. “Obviously we have lots of work ahead of us. The players have to get better. I said to them, ‘One game doesn’t mean anything. You guys have maybe another 10, 15 years ahead of you. You have to work hard, get stronger, and maybe one day you guys can win an Olympic gold medal or something else.’ It’s sports. In a few years, they may be stronger and ready to play in the men’s league. It’s about the future.”
Only seven members of this year’s Czech U18 roster were even born when Reichel celebrated his ‘98 Olympic gold with Dominik Hasek and Jaromir Jagr in Nagano, Japan. How does that feel?
“Well, at that time I didn’t know I’d be coaching these guys,” Reichel said with a smile. “I finished playing hockey and now I’m trying to bring something from what I did before and something from our Czech school, what we had. Hopefully one day they will say they got something from their coach too.”
Genetics is one thing Kristian Reichel definitely got from Robert. The 17-year-old centre, who is Robert’s son, finished with three assists in five games in Grand Forks. He also played 15 games in the Czech Extraliga this season, recording three goals and one assist. Robert is quick to point out that his son is here on merit, not because of any nepotism.
“Obviously, it’s always tough because people are saying he’s here because of me,” Reichel said. “But that’s not true. He’s already played in the men’s league in the Czech Republic. He produced lots of good stuff. I hope he can be a good player in the future.”
The most heralded prospect on the Czech roster is even younger. Filip Zadina, 16, led this team in goals, going 4-1-5. The slick Pardubice-born winger could be a top pick in the 2018 NHL draft.
“We put him on the first line and he scored lots of goals,” Reichel said. “He’s very young and he has to work hard because he can have a good hockey career. It’s up to him if he will keep doing stuff like he did.”
Reichel’s own prospects of moving to the NHL in some capacity are dimmer. Even though he never won a Stanley Cup, he had a career in North America that many would envy, with 630 career points in 830 career games for the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, and Toronto Maple Leafs. However, family is a priority.
“I have two kids at home and they’re going to school,” he explained. “It’s not so easy. Right now, I’m at home and working there. I don’t know what will happen after this tournament. Right now, my home is the Czech Republic.”
As that nation continues to rebuild toward the perennial contender status it once enjoyed in international hockey, Czech fans can be happy that Robert Reichel isn’t going anywhere else soon.
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