The Flyers can fly high with Jiri Dopita

By Robert Neuhauser
We’ll probably not exactly find out which reason forced Jiri Dopita, arguably the best forward
outside the NHL, to try his luck on the other side of the pond. But one thing is for sure.
After refusing offers from the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and lastly the Florida
Panthers, Jiri joins former Vsetin teammate Roman Cechmanek in Philadelphia. Jiri Dopita,
nicknamed Dopi (read Dopey) will celebrate his 33rd birthday in December and this native
from Sumperk, Czech Republic can’t be labelled as one who is entering his prime. But he can
provide immediate help and boost the Flyers offense for the next 4-5 years.

Jiri started to play hockey and handball in his native Sumperk in mid-70’s. It was soon clear
that this guy has a very good hockey sense and talent and Jiri stayed in Sumperk only till
he was ready to play in the elite junior league. HC Olomouc has brought him into the system, but
he didn’t make his Czechoslovakian 1. liga (elite league at that time) debut in Olomouc jersey. He
had to enter the army for two years and he played in his debut among the seniors for the army
team HC Dukla Jihlava. That was in the 1989-90 season. Jiri split the two army years between
HC Dukla Jihlava and VTJ Tabor and returned to Olomouc as the 1992-93 seeason passed the
halfway mark.

Jiri Dopita was originally a Boston Bruins’ draft choice back in 1992, 132nd overall. At one time
it seemed that Jiri will accept their offer and fight for a roster spot with the Bruins, but
finally Jiri refused the Bruins offer and chose to play for Eisbaren Berlin (Berlin Ice Bears)
of the German DEL in 1993-94. Meanwhile the former Czechoslovakia broke and the new Czech Extraleague was
founded. Jiri wanted to play home again, he likes the Czech hockey and his native land very
much and he joined HC Olomouc again for the playoffs of the inaugural season of the Extraleague. It was also his gritty
effort and fearless play as a power forward which helped Olomouc capture the first Extraleague
championship crown. At that time the natural center showed all the upside which makes him
one of the best power forwards in the world now. At 6’3”, 220 lbs. Jiri posesses great side
and is very strong on his skates. He uses his strength not to deliver booming hits often, but
to get away from opposing defensemen and play well in traffic. Jiri likes to control the puck
with his stick in one hand while with the other hand he fends off the opposition. He is very
stabile on his skates and very tough to knock off. His size is very useful in front of the net,
where Jiri often stands and looks for loose pucks and rebounds and the defensemen have a tough
time to make him leave this area. But Jiri is great also along the boards, even if he doesn’t
make big hits often. He fights for pucks and his vision and hockey sense allows him to pass
the puck wisely to a teammate or fire it at the net. Jiri plays with heart and determination
and is very intense. He hates to see when a weaker teammate gets pounded by someone’s dirty
play and he isn’t afraid to drop the gloves even if he does so only when it is really needed.

This past season Jiri received fighting major and game misconduct penalty only once when
he took on Robert Dome of HC Vagnerplast Kladno, who recently signed with the Penguins. After
receiving two minors for roughing each Dopita and Dome finally dropped the gloves and went for
a whirl. First they were just holding each other but then Dome with quick punches tried to bring
Dopita down, who managed to stay on his skates, started to holding Dome in a way that Dome’s punches
weren’t effective and then delivered some tough punches of his own to finish the fight. Dopita
won the fight and Dome probably forgot that he took on a guy who took boxing practices when
he was younger.

Jiri can also play defensively very well and is very needed in important game situations. He
is a respected leader and a character guy. A great captain for any hockey team.
Like I said, Jiri was instrumental in the Olomouc run to the inaugural Czech Extraleague
championship title (he was also needed when the game was off, at one moment one spectator
threw a rooster (a symbol of the Olomouc team) onto the ice and for some time players and offcials
were just skating around him and didn’t know what to do till Jiri took the rooster and threw
him back into the stands). At that time it wasn’t likely that Jiri can make a NHL career, more
likely a star career in the Extraleague. In 1994 Jiri also played his debut at the WHC and he didn’t
miss any WHC till 1999. But he had to decide about his future.

He wanted to join the Vsetin team (at that time under the name
HC Dadak Vsetin), but played most of the 1994-95 season for Eisbaren Berlin.
In 1994-95 Vsetin played its first season in Extraleague but the squad coached by Horst Valasek
and captained by Rostislav Vlach (Los Angeles Kings 1987 draft choice, 217th overall) captured the title.
A new dynasty was born. From that year
till the 1999-2000, when HC Sparta Praha dethroned them, Vsetin team ruled the Extraleague with
five consecutive Extraleague championship titles. Jiri Dopita joined the succesfull squad full time
in 1995-96 and soonly became the local hero and idol of the small Vsetin city, but he was recognized
by people from the whole country.

This drastically increased when Jiri was a member of the team which won the World Championship
in Austria in 1996, where Jiri recorded 3 points for 2 goals and 1 assist. He couldn’t play
in the semifinal and final game because of intestinal ache. In the summer of 1996 Jiri was a member
of the Czech World Cup team, which ended with 3 losses at the last place and a disastrous 1:7 loss against Germany.
All the stars on the team couldn’t make a compact squad, but Jiri finished as the leading
scorer of the team, with 1 point (goal) in two games.

In 1996-97, Vsetin won the Extraleague as usual with Jiri being the leading scorer and and the
WHC Jiri contributed to the bronze medal success with 4 points (3g+1a) in 9 games. Rumors
concerning Jiri and the NHL were there again but the Bruins dumped his rights so Jiri had to
be drafted again. The following year Jiri took over the C on his Vsetin jersey from Rostislav
Vlach, won the title and Vsetin scoring, but that wasn’t so important. Jiri flew with stars
like Dominik Hasek and Jaromir Jagr to Nagano and contributed to the golden medal success.
Jiri had a power forward role on the team and he could also easy play against NHL top stars.
Jiri recorded 3 points (1g+2a) in Nagano and after another bronze medal at the WHC it was
clear that we’ll hear his name selected at the NHL Entry Draft. The New York Islanders selected
him with the 123rd overall pick in the fifth round and contract negotations began. Jiri felt that
he likes the mighty Czech team Vsetin more and signed a contract with Vsetin.

The 1998-99 was something different for Jiri. He captained his Vsetin to another title, but
he wasn’t the leading scorer. Pavel Patera’s 53 points in 52 games were 2 better as Dopita’s
51 points in 50 games. Besides, an injury prevented him from playing at the WHC and he couldn’t
contribute to the golden success. The Islanders meanwhile traded his rights to the Florida
Panthers and assistant coach Slavomir Lener tried to bring one of the stars he coached in
Nagano to his team. Jiri had also to take his family into account and he signed with Vsetin
again. Jiri said that he wasn’t willing to move with his wife Hana and son Jiri to North America,
where the whole family had to learn a new language and get used to another lifestyle when
they have everything they need in the Czech Republic.

In 1999-2000 it was the first time when Vsetin was defeated in a playoff series. HC Sparta Praha
swept them 3-0 in the finals and Jiri could hoist only a small trophy over his head instead
of the huge cup for the Extraleague winner. Jiri, who has Mark Messier looks, was surely
disappointed, even if his 59 points (30g + 29a) in 49 games were once again team-leading. The
WHC was then something sweet as Jiri had a gold medal around his neck again. This time he
recorded 11 points (4g +7a) and finally became the team’s leading scorer. That was something
for the Panthers, looking for a center for the line with Pavel Bure. Slavomir Lener tried
really hard, he found a good school for the small Jiri, a comfortable house, everything the huge
center would think of. But he didn’t change his mind after all. In Vsetin the team was preparing
for a revenge and Jiri once again has put his family and home land before the uncertain future
in the famous NHL. It was tough for him and he decided in late August to stay.

On the hockey
side, Jiri was surely satisfied. He had another WHC gold around his neck and was one of the main
contributors. Jiri isn’t a pure sniper who stands often in the lights, but his great all-round
play with defensive awareness and a nice scoring touch make him a lock on the Czech WHC teams
at this time. This time he recorded 3 points (2g +1a) in 9 games to help to the victory.
In Extraleague, Vsetin crushed Sparta Praha in the Extraleague finals and
the revenge was done. Jiri could hold the big cup. But it isn’t the Stanley Cup. And this time
Jiri felt that it is time to try the luck. Vsetin faces tough financial problems, the owner
sits in jail, it wasn’t certain that the players will get their salaries. And, Jiri’s son
was often verbally assaulted from the other players and their parents while practicing and playing
for the 4th grade kids team of Vsetin. The uncertain situation in Vsetin and the bad behaviour
of the other people to his son made this patriot change his mind. The Panthers traded his rights
to the Philadelphia Flyers for a draft pick and Jiri signed with the Flyers.

Now he is still practicing with the Vsetin team, but is heading NHL. Everything looks great
for him, he’ll meet Roman Cechmanek again, but Jiri stated that he wants to play in the NHL
only if he gets solid ice time. In Philadelphia, Keith Primeau and newly acquired Jeremy J.R.
Roenick will play the top two center positions. That leaves Jiri Dopita and Kent Manderville
to center the 3rd or 4th line. Not something what Jiri would like to. Playing on a checking
line wouldn’t make much sense, because Jiri needs somebody who can understand his smart passes
and someone who brings him also the puck. But the Flyers coaching staff surely knows this fact.
Let’s hope that Jiri can do well with the Flyers and that he’ll enjoy playing for the former
Broad Street Bullies! This character guy only misses NHL recognition in his great career. Good

Jiri Dopita
Team: Philadelpia Flyers
Born: December, 2nd, 1968
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 220 lbs.
Shoots: L

Stats GP G A P PIM
1996-97 HC Petra Vsetin 52 30 31 61 55
playoffs 10 7 4 11 12
WHC 9 3 1 4 4
World Cup 2 1 0 1 2

1997-98 HC Petra Vsetin 50 21 34 55 64
playoffs 10 12 6 18 4
1998 Olympics 6 1 2 3 0
WHC 8 3 1 4 6

1998-99 HC Petra Vsetin 50 19 32 51 43
playoffs 12 1 6 7 –

1999-00 HC Slovnaft Vsetin 49 30 29 59 83
playoffs 9 0 4 4 7
WHC 9 4 7 11 16

2000-01 HC Slovnaft Vsetin 46 19 31 50 53
playoffs 14 8 13 21 18
WHC 9 2 1 3 4