Dopita turns down Panthers – a possible NHL star will not be discovered

By Robert Neuhauser
On September, 7th, 2000, was the game over. On that day Czech star Jiri Dopita signed a two-year contract with HC Slovnaft Vsetin of the Czech Elite league. Good news for National team coach Josef Augusta, bad news for the Florida Panthers staff. The negotations lasted for four months, no conclusion. The Czech National team captain stays at home. Panthers assistant coach, Czech Slavomir Lener, knows what they have lost. Lener tried hard to change Dopita’s mind (he found a good school for Jiri’s son) and guaranteed him a roster spot. Not to say, it was the center position next to superstar Pavel Bure, the famed Russian sniper. Not every player would be able to support Pavel. Jiri would. A great leader, Jiri is a superb mix of size (6’4”, 210 lbs.) and skill. Nearly 32 years old, Jiri is a mature player with lots of experience, who could easily play 5-6 years in the NHL. Regarded as one of the top players not playing in the NHL, Jiri is excellent in playing in front the opponents net from where he scores a lot of goals. He is a feared checker, almost unable to be knocked off the puck, and is a king along the boards. Jiri, nicknamed “Dopi” uses his size well and is one of the strongest players in Europe. He can hold two opponents only with his arms. You can see, he is a power forward, but highly skilled. Posesses great passing skills, very good vision and is confident. Vsetin center has respect in the locker room, is a natural leader and leads by example. He simply seems always to see a way how to get the puck into the opponents net or how to make a great pass.
No wonder that Jiri took part in the last victories of Czech hockey. He was a member of the teams who won the 1996 and 2000 World championships and the 1998 Nagano Olympics, missed only the World championship gold in 1999. Plays regularly for the National team since 1994.
In the Czech Elite league Extraliga he won league titles in 1994-99. The first title with Olomouc in the inaugural season of Czech Elite league (it was the Czechoslovakian league before) and then Dopi captained Vsetin to five consecutive league titles!
Jiri appeared on the radar screen of NHL scouts in 1991, when he was drafted by the Boston Bruins. He refused to play in the minor leagues and instead he chose to play for Eisbaren Berlin of the German Elite league DEL. The Bruins gave up their option right and after his success Jiri went to the New York Islanders with the 123rd overall pick in 1998. Both sides didn’t agree on a contract so when Florida was looking for a center for Bure, a deal was made. But Jiri didn’t like the contract and – stayed at home again. Finally this year the situation looked promising. Vsetin was in financial trouble and Jiri was willing to try it in the NHL. The rumors said that the contract was worth 1 million for one season. But somehow it failed. Jiri didn’t sign and after the Panthers brought in Igor Larionov, the situation was desperate. Jiri took time to think it over. Now it is clear. Vsetin’s problems are solved and Dopi wants to stay – bye, Panthers. One of the world’s best players won’t play in the wolrd’s best league. He loves his home, family, lifestyle and Vsetin teammates. He feels lucky in the Czech Republic, can play for the Nats and says, he wouldn’t miss America. He just feels comfortable right now. I don’t think he’ll change his opinion at the age of 34. Jiri has the visage of Mark Messier. If he came to the NHL earlier, there could be two hairless superstars.