Former NHLer Hlinka killed in crash

Former NHLer dies in Monday car crash in Prague

Members of the Czech Republic national hockey team remain in shock over the death of head coach Ivan Hlinka.

Team spokesman Pavel Bara confirmed Monday that Hlinka died from injuries sustained in a car crash.

He was 54.

"Ivan was a quiet guy, a good guy." said former Vancouver Canucks teammate Dave (Tiger) Williams.

Hlinka's car reportedly collided with a truck near Karlovy Vary, 110 kilometres west of Prague, at about 11 p.m. local time.

He passed away approximately 2 1/2 hours later.

Hlinka, who stepped away from coaching in 2003 because of heart problems, was scheduled to open training camp Wednesday for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Vladimir Ruzicka, a former NHL player and close friend of Hlinka, has been named as the Czech Republic's new head coach. Ruzicka captained the Czech's gold-medal winning team at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.

Hlinka, who coached the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2000-2001, was fired on Oct. 15, 2001, following an 0-4 start.

"On behalf of the entire Pittsburgh Penguins organization, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to Ivan's family," Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said. "Ivan Hlinka was a tremendous ambassador for the game of hockey.

"He was a great hockey player, a player that many of the current Czech players idolized growing up. He brought a wealth of hockey knowledge and enthusiasm with him to the rink every day.

"His contributions to the Penguins organization during his time in Pittsburgh will never be forgotten."

Hlinka won two world championships and three Olympic medals as head coach of the Czech Republic.

As a player, he totalled 42 goals and 123 points in 137 games with Vancouver from 1981-83.

"We got him at the tail-end of his career," Williams said. "Too bad we didn't get him earlier."

"He and (Jiri) Bubla and the Stastny brothers (Anton, Marian and Peter) opened the door for Czech players like (Borje) Salming and (Inge) Hammarstrom did for Swedish players."

Hlinka was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame two years ago and honoured as the best Czech player ever at this year's world championships in Prague.

with files from CP Online