A funny thing happened to me this week. Christmas is over and I’ve been enjoying my gifts when I can. One such gift – from a good friend who knows me well – was the gift of hockey, in the form of the entire collection of CBC’s Hockey: A People’s History, conveniently packaged on a USB stick. Apart from taking me back to my roots, I learned a few things about the game and it’s origins in Europe that surprised me.
The most bizarre thing I learned this week was that a Canadian named Mike Bukna is considered the father of Czechoslovakian hockey. Being a proud Canadian living in the Czech Republic, this blew my mind. I hit the streets to ask some friends, colleagues, and coworkers if they’d ever heard of the man.
To nobody’s surprise, not a soul in Prague had ever heard of him. Not one to give up, I went further and asked some genuine, hardcore Czech hockey fans from Kladno.
Kladno, a city 25 km outside of Prague, is considered to be the cradle of Czech hockey (especially by those in the region). It’s the origin of your Jagrs, your Plekanecs, your Ondrej Pavlecs, and the Kaberle family. If anyone was going to know about Mike Buckna, it would be someone from Kladno. Sadly, in spite the rich hockey history of the city, no one seems to have ever heard of this Bukna character.
Though he was a pretty cool guy.
Mike Bukna was born and raised in Trail, BC – a town no one has ever heard of unless their car broke down. Yet, in spite of being home to only 7000 inhabitants, they have this insane ability to produce professional athletes.
Their hockey roots are nothing to scoff at either. The Trail Smoke Eaters were, at one time, one of the premier amateur hockey clubs in the entire country. Their trophy case includes two Allan Cups as Canada’s best amateur team, along with two World Championships – giving them as many world titles as both the USA and Finland.
Mike Buckna was an alumnus of the Trail Smoke Eaters. He also had Czechoslovakian ancestry, which drew him back to Prague in 1930s. While there, he turned in a stint as a player-coach for the country’s national team, teaching them a “Canadian-style” game: one that encouraged skill, but also recognized that momentum, will, and heart were just as important. He promoted the idea that a multiple-goal deficit didn’t mean the game was over. In hockey, if you push back hard enough and score one goal – sometimes that’s all it takes to turn the game around. Instead of giving up like a bunch of Russians.
Oh, and how to finish your checks hard. Europeans weren’t doing that very well back then. Well … worse than they do now.
Buckna’s first success came in the form of two European silver medals for the Czech team in 1938 and 1939. Unfortunately, a guy named Hitler decided to occupy the country shortly thereafter, sending Buckna scattering for a safer haven to play hockey. So, he returned to Canada.
But, like all good …and then we beat Hitler stories, Buckna returned to Czechoslovakia in 1946 and simply took over the country’s system, bringing it to respectability from the bottom-up. All over the country he organized minor hockey leagues, set up hockey clinics, coached junior teams, and became the coach of the national hockey team. In 1947 he coached the Czechoslovaks to the country’s first ever World Championship, and coached two European championship winning teams.
Not bad, for a kid from Trail that no one’s ever heard of.
Hell, he even coached at the 1948 Olympics, losing only one game to Canada and becoming a silver-medalist. Once again, due to an occupation – this time Russian – Mike Buckna went back to Canada, and the Russians took over the country’s hockey programs.
He is considered the Father of Czechoslovakian hockey. So, the next time a Czech team does well in an international tournament, or a Czech player scores an OT winner, or nabs a scoring title, as a proud loud Canadian I’ll do my best to tell the tale of Mikey Bukna.