Remembering former Detroit Red Wings forward Petr Klima

This was not the news that Detroit Red Wings fans wanted to hear today, with the unfortunate news release of former forward Petr Klima having died unexpectedly at the age of 58. Right now, no cause of death has been listed. Fans will remember Klima's career with Detroit fondly, as he provided a constant flow of offense with three straight 30+ goal seasons upon arrival after his historic defection from Europe.

Petr Klima

The Red Wings helped Petr Klima secretly defect from Europe

The Red Wings had their eyes on Klima, who was playing with HC Dukla Jihlava, for some time. Before long, he became the first Czech player to defect directly to a U.S.-based team thanks to assistance from the Red Wings along with then-United States attorney general Edwin Meese. The story goes that Klima managed to sneak away from a team dinner in West Germany to meet up with Red Wings executive vice president Jim Lites and assistant coach Nick Polano.

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In fact, Klima's defection to North America was being planned as early as 1983 when Detroit scout Alex Davidson secretly met with him. Klima even signed a contract with the Red Wings in secret while in Vancouver with the Czechoslovak team.

Upon his arrival in North America, Klima would decide to wear the jersey No. 85 in honor of the year he defected, the exact same way that the Soviet-born Sergei Fedorov would do years later with No. 91 in honor of the year of his own defection.

″I like fun and I like Rambo,” Klima said shortly after his arrival in North America. “I like music. I like cars and I like pizza. I don’t know if I like hockey more or pizza more.″

Klima would go on to play four years with the Red Wings, reaching the 30-goal plateau three straight years.

Petr Klima would have his share of problems before being traded

Unfortunately, Klima's time in Detroit wasn't all smooth sailing. He would be suspended along with fan favorite Bob Probert for violation of team rules; he was also told by team management he would not be returning to the team until he was able to get his drinking problem under control. Thankfully, he was able to do so, and would soon be back.

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He would be eventually traded to the powerful Edmonton Oilers during the 1989-90 season and would help them to the Stanley Cup later that year, their first and only championship in the post-Wayne Gretzky era. Edmonton's Cup win may not have been possible without Klima having scored the game-winning goal in overtime of what was at the time the longest Stanley Cup Finals OT game in history against the Boston Bruins:

Klima would finish his NHL career with a brief return to Detroit

Eventually, Klima would bounce around the NHL with stops with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and once again the Oilers before returning to Detroit during the 1998-99 season, appearing in 13 games and scoring one goal in his brief comeback effort in the Motor City.

His final National Hockey League goal would come at the historic Madison Square Garden in February of 1999:

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Upon his retirement from the NHL in 1999, he would play two more years in his native Czech Republic.

Wrapping It Up – Petr Klima will always have a special spot in Red Wings' history

Klima made history by being one of eventually many high-profile players to defect to North America in a time of uncertainty around the world.

Red Wings fans will remember his goal-scoring tenacity as well as his expressed appreciation for the team assisting in his life-changing move to the NHL. We send our condolences to his family and friends upon today's sad news of his passing at the young age of 58.

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