Petr Prajsler

Petr Prajsler risked his own life and the life of his wife and parents in order to live out his dream.

"I wanted to play in the National Hockey League" explained Prajsler, pronounced Prays-ler.

In order to do that, Prajsler had to defect from his native Czechoslovakia, which was still under strict communist control in 1987.

Prajsler said he simply drove to Yugoslavia for a brief vacation and then with help for the Los Angeles Kings, his agent and two immigration lawyers he acquired the proper documents to drive across the Austrian border, and into the freedom of the Western World.

"I was nervous" remembered Prajsler. "I was afraid maybe the Yugoslavians wouldn't let us go. If we would have been returned to Czechoslovakia with an Austrian transit stamp in our passport, that would have meant we wanted to leave illegally."

That of course would have led to strict punishment for Petr and his wife Eva, as well as his parents Jaroslav and Jana.

"We just showed our documents (to the Yugoslavian body guards) and they let us go." he said. "To go to a Western country, you need a visa. Normally they won't give a visa to an average citizen, but if you through a travel agency for vacation tickts, you might get it.

One in Austria Prajsler laid low and sent a letter to the Los Angeles Kings, who had drafted him 93rd overall in 1985. The Kings were surprised and quick to act.

"He really didn't want to talk when we first made contact" said Kings GM Rogie Vachon. "Finally we convinced him who we really were, that we were willing to sponsor him."

"We moved him to another place, to a tiny little town near Vienna. We tried to keep it as quiet as possible for security reasons. We didn't want someone to grab him in the middle of the night."

With the help of immigration lawyers Ron Bonaparte and Milton Glenian, Prajsler finally got his tickets out of Europe and to Los Angeles in time for training camp.

The Kings were excited to have him in camp.

"Our scouts saw him in the junior world championships in 1984. They said he was one of the best players in the tournament." continued Vachon. "He played for Czechoslovakia's best team (Pardubice) the past two seasons. They are the Edmonton Oilers of Czechoslovakia."

"He claims he's a stay at home defenseman, but he can handle the puck and he can skate. We're keeping our fingers crossed he can play."

In that quote is where Prajsler NHL dream started to die. The Kings were trying to make Prajsler something he wasn't - an offensive defenseman. Their unrealistic expectations ruined his career.

Initially the Kings sent Prajsler to the AHL's New Haven Nighthawks. Still learning english, the Kings felt Prajsler would be best off learning North American life in the minor leagues. Injuries hampered him to just two 1/2 seasons over his first three years. His third year was spent with the Kings where he scored 3 goals and 10 points in 34 games and appeared in 3 playoff games. The following year Prajsler played his first full North American season - but with IHL Phoenix not the NHL. He played well, notching 13 goals and 47 points.

The Boston Bruins signed Prajsler as a free agent in 1991-92 but again he spent all but 3 games in the minors. Prajsler quit North American hockey after that season despite a good year in the minors.

Prajsler's story has a good ending though. With the political freedom achieved in the now former Czechoslovakia, Petr was allowed to return hom to his family and friends without fear of punishment. He resumed his hockey career, and probably enjoyed himself a whole lot more.


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