This Week’s Video: Petr Klima-Amazing 1988 Playoffs!
Game Dates: 1988 Campbell Conference Playoffs
Notable Nostalgic Names To Look For: Adam Oates, Brent Ashton, Harold Snepsts, Bob Probert, Al Iafrate, Jim Nill, Todd Gill, Gerard Gallant (wearing the captain’s ‘C’ for an injured Steve Yzerman), Borje Salming, Bob Cole and Harry Neale on the call.
Uploader: Patrick Alarie
Cultural Significance: Petr Klima’s story is a touching one. One of the first Eastern Bloc defectors in NHL history, Red Wings assistant general manager Nick Polano went through peril to sneak him into the U.S.
As told by Klima—and corroborated by Polano—in the book, "Breakaway: From Behind The Iron Curtain to The NHL – The Untold Story of Hockey's Great Escapes" by Tal Pinchevsky, the Czechoslovakia national team was playing a tournament in Rosenheim, West Germany; a rare opportunity Klima found himself in the western world. With Czechoslovakian authorities fearing he would defect, they initially wouldn’t let him make the trip with the team. His club coach, Frank Pospisil made an appeal which got him into the game, but on the condition he surrender all his personal identification.
The Red Wings had drafted Klima in 1983 and were covertly communicating with him through European intermediaries. Finding out he would be playing in West Germany, Polano took the chance to pounce.
Mike Ilitch loaned Polano his private jet and grabbed an interpreter, only with the crude plan of finding Klima, then bolting to an embassy for safe haven. After a week of exchanging messages, a car was sent for Klima in the middle of the night. After speeding across a stretch of the autobahn, he was instructed to walk a half mile to freedom, meeting Polano.
Laying low for a couple weeks, Klima emerged ready to make his NHL debut in 1985, an end result he was so thankful for, he chose the no.85 to memorialize his defection.
Klima burst into the NHL with fluid skating, smoother than silk hands, and boundless creativity. To older Red Wings fans, he would seem a forerunner to Pavel Datsyuk. He also was a philosophical revelation. This was 10 years before the Russian Five, before Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstintinov, before it was widely acknowledged Europeans were capable of the NHL grind.
Unfortunately, Klima succumb to the notorious hard partying of the incredibly talented and youthful Red Wings of the late-80s.
Klima was arrested and charged with drunk driving three separate times in both 1987 and ‘89. He was also brought up on charges of escape from lawful custody and driving with a suspended license in the 1989 arrest.
He served most of a 35 day sentence in an Oakland County jail before being transferred to rehab. Following rehab, Klima was a centerpiece in a blockbuster trade that notably sent him and Adam Graves to Edmonton for Jimmy Carson.
The trade was a dud for the Wings, with Carson never again living up to his 50 goal rookie season, but Klima went onto have a 40 goal season for the Oilers and scoring the winning goal in triple overtime in game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup finals.
After sub-par to middling seasons with the Lightning, Kings and Penguins plus a second stint with the Oilers, Klima found himself playing in a German league by 1998. This time only a phone call by Ken Holland got him back to Detroit.
Klima returned to the Red Wings in February 1999 and scored on his very first shot against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. It ended up being his last career point in the NHL. He retired after 13 games.
Today, Klima’s twin sons Kelly and Kevin are playing with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. When he’s not following them, he can be seen going bar down in Red Wings alumni games.
Klima had his flaws off the ice, which he has since expressed regret and taken accountability for. On the ice, Klima was iconic in many ways. From his free form style of play, to his brave defection which opened the door for so many Eastern Bloc players.
He could’ve been a superstar. Unfortunately that was lost in his vices. But take the opportunity to watch and appreciate what Klima brought to the game; raw talent and creativity personified. And despite all his troubles, still a Stanley Cup champion and six time 30 goal scorer.
If I could go back in time, I’d chose Joe Louis Arena circa 1988 to watch the explosive Red Wings teams of that era. Klima was an integral part of that.
Follow the rabbit hole in the 'recommended videos' section on You Tube and let me know what old Red Wings videos you dig up in the comment section.
I’ll chip in right away with this Vernors commercial starring Klima!