Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jan Ludvig

Jan Ludvig's journey to the National Hockey League was not at all standard.

Born in Liberec, Czechoslovakia in 1961, it was not exactly common for young Czechs or Slovaks or other Eastern Bloc kids to be allowed to leave their countries to pursue a life in the political west, until the 1990s. Sporting stars in particular were cracked down upon harshly. However in the early 1980s a few young hockey stars such as the three Stastny brothers (Peter, Anton and Marian) were risking their lives and futures by escaping the grip of their communist country in order to pursue a dream - to play hockey in the best league in the world.

Ludvig left Czechoslovakia in May 1981 by using a tourist via to go to Yugoslavia. He would spend 5 months in an Austrian refugee camp before he was allowed to emigrate to Canada. He ended up in Edmonton, and the 1979 top forward at the European Junior Hockey championships began playing junior hockey in Canada in nearby St. Albert before crossing the Rocky Mountains to play in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Jan defected at an earlier age than most other defectors of the 1980s who left for hockey. Ludvig struggled with the adjustment to a totally different style of life away from the rink. He felt at home while on the ice, and it showed as he turned in 31 goals and 65 points in 37 games as an overage junior.

Jan was never drafted, but instead signed as a free agent with the New Jersey Devils in October 1982, and stuck with the team for most of the season. He struggled as a rookie (scoring 7 goals and 17 points in 51 games) but responded well with a 22 goal, 54 point second year campaign.

Despite some creative talents as a skill player, Jan could never duplicate his sophomore success. He struggled for the following three seasons until a trade took him to Buffalo late in the 1986-87 season.

Jan's time as a Sabre was not particularly great, as knee injuries hobbled him. In each of his only two years in Buffalo he played only 13 games. In that time he scored just 1 goal (oddly enough against his former teammates in New Jersey) and 8 assists. He was forced to retire at the end of the 1988-89 season.

Jan retired with 54 goals, 87 assists and 141 points in his 314 games in the National Hockey League.

Although his hockey career never came close to matching that of the Stastny brothers, Jan, who later scouted for the New Jersey Devils, can be proud of his accomplishments and hopefully say all the troubles were worth it.


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