JOSEF MALECEK

 
Born: Prague on June 18, 1903

Died: Long Island, New York on September 26, 1982

Nickname: "Pepi", ”Pepa”

Position: Center (switched to Defense in 1941)
 

Shoots: Left

Height: ca 176 cm

Weight: ca 67 kg

 

Clubs::
AC Sparta Praha 1914-27,
LTC Praha 1927-43,
Vysokoskolsky SK 1943-44,
OAP Slovan Bratislava 1943-45,
SK Slovan Bratislava 1945-48,
HC Davos 1948-49 & 1949-50 (Trainer),
HC Crans- Montana 1949-52,
Krefeld, 1952-53,
Zurich 1953-54,
E.S.G.Hannover 1955-56 (Trainer)


This European giant of the 1920's and 30's finally recieved a much deserved honour when he was
inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2003. Malecek had been ignored for many years and it wasn’t
until a few hockey historians brought up his name to the surface a few years ago that his star shined
again for a short while.

So who was Josef Malecek ? Only a few people today recognizes his name and those are the really initiated hockey people. He was born on June 18,1903 in Prague, Czech Republic. Malecek grew up in a sports oriented family. Malecek's father Josef Sr and two uncles were among the people who founded the classic club AC Sparta Prague. Both of the uncles,Ota and Karel Malecek came up with the club logo in 1893,still used today. On top of that Karel was Sparta's first ever football trainer between 1907-11. Malecek Jr. grew up up just around the corner of the Letna field where many classic
football games were played over the years.

Josef Malecek was one of the most versatile Czech athletes of the 20th century. He ran 100 m in less than 11 seconds and was a Czech recordholder at 400 m hurdles as a 16-year old. When he was 17 he played league football for AC Sparta Prague. He also represented Czechoslovakia in field hockey and tennis. As a field hockey player he was on the national team in 1946 as a 43-year old.

As a tennis player Malecek was tutored by his good friend Karel Kozeluh,the best tennis player in the world for a few years during the 1920's. Malecek himself won the Czech titles in doubles (1930) and
mixed (1938).
Malecek went on to compete in tournaments around the world (i.e. Wimbledon) and played for Czechoslovakia in the Davis Cup between 1929-36. To further underline how good Malecek was in tennis is that the two other Czech Davis Cup players at that time, Jan Kozeluh and Roderich Menzel were both ranked among the 10 best tennis players in the world, so it was no easy task to earn a spot on the Davis Cup team. Malecek was also a top notch cyclist and golfer.

But ice hockey was his favorite sport, according to him it was "a love affair" between him and hockey for his entire life. He started skating and playing hockey at the age of five. Malecek showed incredible talent from an early age. The Prague crowd first got to see his skills when he as a 12-year old in January 1916 played for Sparta Prague's junior team in a tournament called "Turnaj o Pohár Spolecenského Klubu". Malecek was by far the youngest player in the tournament, the second youngest was his linemate and future international Jiri Tozicka who was barely 15. Most of the players in the tournament were in their 20's and 30's.
Malecek's team was of course outclassed (1-22) by the tournament winner CSS (Ceska Sportovni Spolecnost),probably the best Czechoslovakian hockey team at that time.

Malecek played on Sparta's senior team between 1920 and 1927. He quickly established himself as the star of Czech hockey and made a name for himself around European hockey circuits. Malecek was only 18 years and 7 months old when he represented his country for the first time during the European Championships held in St.Moritz 1922, which the Czechs won. He was only used sparingly in the tournament and in 1938 Malecek talked about his brilliant career on Czechoslovakian radio and said that he only played when one of the regular players got injured.
Malecek himself was in fact only abscent from the national team once in a 17 year span. That occured when he broke his leg in a skiing accident at the Tatra mountains just prior to the 1932 World Championships. The doctor advised him to walk a lot in order to strengthen his leg.

It was at this time that Malecek dicovered golf. He became one of the first licenced golf players in thecountry but didn’t play seriously until later on in life.

Malecek's national team resumé is impressive. Of the 129 international games that Czechoslovakia played between 1920-39, Malecek suited up for 107, scoring 114 goals in the process.
He also won 4 European Championship titles and was the scoring champion on four occasions (1925,29,33 and 1935). No other player before or since has won the scoring crown more times.
Malecek represented Czechoslovakia in 16 world and European Championships (1923-31,33-39) and three Olympic tournaments.
1924,28 and 36.

During the 1927 European Championship tournament the organizers presented a new trophy that was handed over to the champions.
It was a statue of Josef Malecek, quite an honor for a 23 year old

player. He gradually became the team leader both on the club level and on the national team as the older generation of players retired. It was during the 1928 Olympics that he fully blossomed into his role as team leader.
In 1929 Malecek won his second European title with the Czechs in Hungary and was hailed as the best player in Europe by various newspapers. The Czech newspaper SPORT wrote:

” It was the ultimate excellence in a hockey rink. He dazzled the crowd in a way so that even the most
rabid Hungarian had to admit that he was the King of the tournament. His amazing movement and puck skills in combination with his incredible way to constantly set up his teammates was a thing of beauty.”

Radio broadcasts from hockey games by Josef Laufer became a regular occurence in the Czech households during the 1930's. Malecek quickly became a national icon and in 1933 one of the biggest daily newspapers in the country (Ceske Slovo) proclaimed Malecek as the most popular athlete in the country. Thousands of kids around Czechoslovakia grew up idolizing the slick center who wore # 5 on his back. Malecek became the first hockey player who was used in various commercials, be it tires or building material. He was also a popular hockey instructor around Prague and other Czech cities.
Malecek quickly became not only the most popular sports figure but one of the most popular celebrities bar none in Czechoslovakia.

But there was also some criticism of Malecek in later years. There was a lot of resentment towards
Malecek from people involved with his old club Sparta Prague. They could not forgive him or the other veterans for jumping the ship in 1927 to play for the newly formed LTC Prague club. In 1936, almost 10 years later some of the newspapers and writers who had strong Sparta connections critisized Malecek and the other veterans prior to the 1936 Olympics. Malecek turned his back on the newsreporters and some of the players.

The LTC Prague team quickly became the main attraction in sports circles around Czechoslovakia and often toured the country where they played exhibition games to show their skills. During one of these tours Malecek was carried away on the shoulders of exctatic Brno fans who had just seen him score 15 goals against their team (January 23,1933). That season Malecek was at the peak of his career and scored a whopping 148 goals in only 46 games.

IIHF Hall of famer Vladimir Zabrodsky,the European hockey giant of the 1940's and 50's was one of those kids who grew up idolizing Malecek. He was fortunate enough to later play together with the aging Malecek. Zabrodsky described him as a hockey genius and a "once in a life time athlete".
"Whatever sport Malecek tried, he excelled at it. It was almost scary how much talent that man had", Zabrodsky said in an interview made 2001.

At the turn of the Millenium, a poll was made in the Czech Republic to determine the best Czechoslovakian player of all time and Malecek was the only pre WW II player to make the top 10, although most people had never seen him play.

What made Malecek such a great player ? Well,first of all he had a well developed hockey sense. He was at the right place at the right time. He often challenged defenders by making dashing rushes up the middle of the ice, or from the left side where he let go of his feared shot. He was the offensive catalyst on the National team,Sparta and LTC. Malecek was a good skater who moved smoothly over the ice. His accurate shot was probably his biggest asset together with his uncanny ability to slip through any defense. He could also dictate the tempo of a game in a masterful way.
He wasn't big, about 176 cm and 67 kg but he wasn't afraid to use all of his weight when needed. The fact that he always bounced back from all the heavy hits that he constantly received made him even more dangerous.

Malecek pushed the elegant yellow and blue LTC Prague team to great accomplishments.
They were extremely tough to beat,especially on home ice.
During the 1930's LTC was among the best teams in Europe together with HC Davos and Berliner SC.
A few French and British clubs loaded with Canadian players were also frontrunners for the title:
Best team in Europe.

LTC themselves had one or two Canadian players on their team during this era. Most notably Howie Grant and Mike Buckna. But Josef Malecek didn't take a backseat to any European hockey player. Malecek was feared by every opponent as soon as he stepped on the ice.
Teams tried to stop Malecek by assigning players to shadow him. On most nights they failed miserably. Malecek also had a great supporting cast in his wingers Jiri Tozicka and Karel Hromadka. They were among the best lines in Europe and if they left a game without a goal it was almost a sensation. They were only rivaled as a top line by HC Davos slick Cattini brothers and Bibi Torriani as well as the Berliner SC trio Gustav Jaenecke,Rudi Ball and Herbert Brück. These three lines were probably the best lines in Europe at that time.


LTC took many fine scalps with Malecek as their trigger man. They won the prestigious Spengler Cup four times when he played there (Currently the oldest European hockey tournament).
LTC also managed to beat such strong team as the Saskatoon Quakers (1-0), and tied the Ottawa Shamrocks (1-1) and Sudbury Wolves (1-1) The Swedish national team was unable to beat LTC in the three games that they played against each other in the 1930's. LTC lost only one league game during a 13 year span.
Several of the touring Canadian teams invited Malecek over to Canada in the early 1930’s.
They thought he was good enough to play professional hockey over there, it was an offer that no other
European player got at that time. Malecek politely declined all offers but was honoured.

He didn’t want to leave Prague because of his fine status there. He was a successful businessman and ran the most popular sports store in the whole country together with two tennis players.
(Hecht & Vodicka) The store was in the heart of the city at Jungmannova Ulice 19.
Malecek was for example the first one to import the CCM brand of hockey equipment from Canada.

 

Nobody knows exactly how many goals Malecek scored during his career, but we know it was more than 1000 goals. He was hockey's first player who reached the 1000 goal plateau. At this moment Malecek has been tracked down with 1005 goals in 483 games with hundreds of unscored games to check.


Even late in his career Malecek was able to play at a very high standard. When the famous Trail Smoke Eaters toured Europe in 1939, (winning the World Championships) they played a total of 56 games. One of their players, Dick Kowcinak was interviewed in the Polish newspaper ’Warszawsky Przeglad Sportowy’ during the tour. He was asked who he thought was the best player the Smoke Eaters had met during their European tour through nine countries.

"The best player so far has been Josef Malecek,the Czech forward. He is what we back home call a "hockey brain" ", Kowcinak said.Not a bad compliment for someone who was 35 at that time.
But time and age was catching up with Malecek. A new generation of players were coming up through the ranks in LTC. Malecek started to feel uncomfortable and decided to move to Bratislava where he got an offer to train and play. ” I was virtually chased out of Prague to Bratislava in 1943”, he later wrote in his memoars and continued. ”
I accepted an offer from general Catlos to train and play for OAP Bratislava. I played for two clubs at the same time, OAP Bratislava and Vysokoskolsky Sportovni Klub. I stayed and played in Bratislava until 1948, I only returned to LTC Prague as a tennis trainer.
In Bratislava I was able to combine my hockey playing with business. I opened up a second sports store, the first outside of Prague.”


As a player Malecek had switched to defense in 1941and anchored the blueline. He wasn't as spectacular anymore but from time to time he excited the crowd with a rink length rush like in the good old days. In 1947 Malecek was brought in to assist and consult the Polish national team for their preparation during the World Championships held in Prague.

Malecek decided to leave his country when Czechoslovakia fell into a communist leadership early in 1948. He tried to cross the border with a fake passport under the asumed name of Robert de Acquire, from Peru. The border guard wasn’t so easily fooled as he immediately recognized who he was dealing with. ”Mr.Malecek”, the guard said with a crooked smile.”You’re certainly the last Peruvian ever crossing this border !”. It wasn’t easy to slip through as a former celebrity, but in this case it was to his advantage as he was let through without any hassle.
 

He quickly recieved an offer from Switzerland and moved to Davos where he worked as a tennis trainer and also became a hockey playing trainer for a while in HC Davos 1948-49 and 1949-50.
Malecek then continued as a playing trainer in Crans-Montana (Switzerland) 1949-52 before moving to
Germany where he continued to play for Krefeld in 1952-53. He also doubled as a tennis coach in Krefeld. After a final playing season in Zürich (Switzerland) in 1953-54 he finally hanged ’em up, 51 years old. Malecek’s last hockey involvment was in 1955-56 when he coached Hannover (Germany).
He was also a tennis trainer there.

In the mid 1950's he moved to USA and New York. He worked as a sports commentator and editor for Radio Free Europe. Later in life he became the honorary chairman for the Association of Czechoslovakian athletes abroad.

He lived in Bay Port,Long Island until his death on September 26,1982, at the age of 79. Malecek succumbed due to heart failure as a result of the distress that the death of his second wife caused him.  Unfortunately, by that time this hockey legend had been long forgotten for his hockey heroics.
Thanks to some dilligent research and lobbying by few hockey historians his name was brought up to surface again in later years, and he was eventually inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2003.
A well deserved honor.

© SIHSS, Patrick Houda 2004