Jirik, 1st Czech to be allowed by communists to play in the NHL, dies at 71

PRAGUE – Jaroslav Jirik, the first Czech who was officially allowed to play in the NHL during the country’s communist era, has died. He was 71.

Officials say Jirik died Monday in a crash of his ultralight plane in the city of Brno, some 200 kilometres southeast of Prague.

Police say Jirik’s one-seat plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the Brno Medlanky airport and caught fire.

The Light Aircraft Association of the Czech Republic confirmed Jirik was killed in the crash.

Association president Jan Brskovsky said Jirik was “an experienced pilot” and the exact cause of the accident is not immediately known.

Born Dec. 10, 1939, Jirik was the first hockey player from a communist country to be allowed by authorities to join an NHL club.

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The right-winger played only three games for the St. Louis Blues in the 1969-70 season and spent most of the campaign with the team’s minor league affiliate.

Jirik scored 83 goals in his 134 international games for Czechoslovakia, winning the silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble and bronze at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics.

In 450 games in the Czech league, he scored 300 goals.

After his playing career, Jirik coached several club teams and took charge of the Swiss national team from 1977-80.