File this under “unexpected, but cool.”
On Wednesday evening, the Guildford Phoenix from the United Kingdom signed former star soccer netminder Petr Cech to serve as their third goaltender. A long-time hockey fan, Cech is expected to debut on Sunday, surely making the game one of the biggest matches in NIHL 2 league history.
On the soccer pitch, Cech was as good as they come: the 37-year-old won five FA Cup championships, four Premier League titles, a Champions League trophy and numerous top goalkeeper awards. Since retiring earlier this year, Cech, born in the Czech Republic, serves as a technical and performance advisor with Chelsea and will now add further hockey training to his schedule. In the words of The Hockey News web editor Jared Clinton, Cech “was mad good.”
Is the signing a publicity stunt? It sure looks that way, but it’s one that can shine a bright light on hockey in the United Kingdom. In May, Great Britain pulled off a miracle victory after coming back from a 3-0 deficit against France in the final game to keep the team in the top tournament in successive years for the first time in 1951. In 2018, Liam Kirk became the first player raised and trained in England to be drafted into the NHL when the Coyotes took him in the seventh round (189th overall).
Cech’s hockey skills are still yet to be determined. For now, his focus is still on Chelsea, and hockey will fit in when possible. Will he play more than a game or two this season? Who knows, but with all the major British and Czech publications talking about the signing, it’s proving to be an effective stunt by the club. It’s also not the first time hockey and other sports have had athletes cross over: let’s look at 10 of the most notable examples of multi-sport athletes in hockey – whether it be for a publicity reason or due to good, old pure athleticism:
Manute Bol – Basketball
Elite Prospects lists Bol, 7-foot-7, as the tallest player to ever play the sport at a competitive level. One of the best shot-blockers in NBA history, Bol was a popular figure in the world of basketball and helped bring attention to minor-pro hockey after he signed with the Central League’s Indianapolis Ice in 2002. It was just for one game, but it was a perfect publicity stunt for a small-market team. Bol had never worn skates in his life – he wore shoes instead, partly because there weren’t skates that could fit his feet – but he drew the loudest reaction from the crowd when he took to the ice on Nov. 16, 2002. Bol didn’t play a shift, but his popularity helped generate money for his foundation, Ring True, an organization dedicated to helping provide relief to Christians in Sudan.
Jack Caffery – Baseball
Caffery’s NHL career didn’t last long. He had five points in 54 games over three seasons. But he’ll forever be credited as the player who invented the backward grip that centers use today to win faceoffs back to the point. During, and after his career, Caffery also played minor-pro baseball in the Milwaukee Braves organization, finishing with a 4.17 ERA after six seasons. He wasn’t particularly successful in either sport, but playing at a high level at two sports during the same time period in the late 1950s-early 1960s is impressive on its own.
Hayley Wickenheiser – Softball
One of Canada’s most decorated hockey players of all-time, Wickenheiser won Olympic gold four times and seven World Championship titles with Canada. But did you know the Hockey Hall of Famer represented her country in softball at the 2000 Summer Olympics, too? Prior to the Olympics, Wickenheiser played in the Canadian Midget Nationals and Senior Nationals, winning multiple awards along the way. Canada came dead last in Sydney, but Wickenheiser led Canada with the team’s highest batting average in her last competitive softball tournament before focusing on hockey. It worked out for her, wouldn’t you say?
Teemu Selanne – World Rally Championship
The ‘Finnish Flash’ has always had a love for fast cars, so it was natural that he took up the sport during his downtime in the NHL. While a member of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Selanne – sorry, Salama – raced under the pseudonym ‘Teukka Salama’ (which translates to ‘Teddy Flash’ in English) at the 1997 and 1998 editions of the World Rally Championship event in Finland, with a career-best finish of 24th in 1998. The crazy thing about it is that rally racing is among the most physically demanding and challenging forms of motorsport – it’s not something you just jump into and can be good at right away, whether you’re the driver or in-car spotter. He’s just THAT good at everything he does.
Patrice Brisebois – NASCAR
Keeping the racing theme going, Brisebois, a member of Montreal’s 1993 Stanley Cup championship team, raced in 14 NASCAR Pinty’s Series events, the top stock car racing series in Canada. Success was limited, though he finished a career-high 12th at the famed Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2009 in just his second attempt. Brisebois would eventually claim victory elsewhere, joining forces with co-driver Emmanuel Anassis to win a Lamborghini Super Trofeo series race in Texas in 2017. Fellow Canadiens alumnus Marc-Andre Bergeron has also dabbled in racing, becoming a two-time NASCAR Pinty’s Series championship car owner in 2017.
Bill Ezinicki – Golf
Known as ‘Wild Bill’, Ezinicki was one of the hardest players to play against during the 1940s thanks to his hard-hitting nature. Ezinicki played in 368 games between Toronto, Boston and the New York Rangers, tallying 184 points and a whopping 707 penalty minutes. The Winnipeg native won the Stanley Cup on three occasions with the Maple Leafs and would retire in 1952 at the age of 27, only to play 16 games with the Rangers a few years later. In the mid-1950s, Ezinicki embarked on a successful golf career, winning 10 events from 1956-64. He was later elected to the New England section of the PGA Hall of Fame in 1997.
Sven Tumba – Soccer, golf, waterskiing
Tumba never skated a game in the NHL, but few can argue just how influential he was in his native country, Sweden. An eight-time Swedish League champion, Tumba was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame after setting the Swedish national team scoring record of 186 goals in 245 games – a record that still stands. Everything you could win in hockey back home, he won. He’s even credited with creating hockey’s first helmet, the SPAPS helmet. After he retired from hockey in 1966, Tumba turned his focus to golf, helping introduce the sport to the former Soviet Union. Among his achievements in golf, Tumba represented Sweden in the 1973 World Cup and was named as the most influential person in Swedish golf history. If that wasn’t enough, Tumba represented Sweden in an international soccer game in 1956 and became the Swedish waterskiing champion later on.
Dave Semenko – Boxing
Semenko will forever be remembered as Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard during his time in Edmonton, quickly becoming known as one of the NHL’s toughest players. So tough, in fact, that Larry Messier, the uncle of Oilers superstar Mark Messier, helped set up a boxing match between Semenko and Messier’s biggest professional relations clients, none other than legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. Semenko accumulated 1,175 penalty minutes in nine seasons, but the battle seemed skewed towards the world’s most accomplished boxer. On June 12, 1983, the two battled it out in front of thousands of fans in Edmonton, with the just-for-fun fight ending in a draw. Semenko got a few solid punches in, but he mostly did a solid job holding his own against Ali during a flurry of punches in the final minute of the third round. Could you imagine an NHL team letting a player take part in a boxing match of this magnitude today?
Gerry James – Football
Currently a dart mastermind in British Columbia, James has the distinction of being the only athlete to play in the Grey Cup and Stanley Cup final in the same season. In 1959 while a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, James won his second of four Grey Cups before turning his attention to the Toronto Maple Leafs in an eventual losing effort a few months later. Two years prior, James, a running back in football and a winger in the NHL, pulled off an extraordinary feat when he played in the Grey Cup final in the afternoon before playing in the season-opening contest with Toronto later that night. James won the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian award twice and was named to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1981, but he never managed to take home the NHL’s top prize.
Lionel Conacher – Just about everything
Few athletes can say they had as rounded of a career as Conacher, a champion in nearly every sport he took part in. As a teenager, Conacher won multiple boxing and wrestling championships, even fighting against legendary heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey. Later, he went on to help the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team win the 1926 International League title, and even won a lacrosse championship in a league run by NHL owners, the International Professional Lacrosse League. But Conacher will be forever remembered as being the first player to win the Stanley Cup and the Grey Cup during his career (Carl Voss would go on to do so as well). In 1921, Conacher was a member of the Toronto Argonauts’ championship team before winning the Stanley Cup twice with Chicago and the Montreal Maroons. By the end of his career, Conacher was named Canada’s greatest male athlete of the half-century in 1950 and was inducted into multiple halls of fame, including the Hockey Hall of Fame. To top it off, Conacher dabbled in a career in politics before passing away during a softball game between MPs and parliamentary media members.
Other notables: Jon Mirasty (MMA), Peter Zezel (Soccer), Grant Fuhr (baseball, golf), Mark Scheifele (golf).
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