Usually composing these top ten lists is a great deal of fun for me. Sadly, with the tragic passing of former Hurricane Josef Vasicek last Wednesday, this list presents a tougher challenge. While we as a Caniac nation will always feel saddened and grief-stricken by his loss, it is only right to begin to celebrate the life that he lived and the name he made for himself here in Raleigh.
That being said, it is my great honor and privilege to present this week's top-ten list of moments in Josef Vasicek's Carolina Hurricanes career.
#63 / Center / Forever in Our Hearts
Sep 12, 1980
Died: Sep 7, 2011
10. Getting traded back to the Hurricanes
The Hurricanes had previously traded "Big Joe" Vasicek to the Nashville Predators shortly after winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Vasicek was coming off an injury-filled year with the Canes and Carolina was able to trade in his potential for a proven tough guy and goal scorer in Scott Walker. Things worked out well for Walker and the Canes, however Vasicek struggled in Nashville.
On February 9, 2007, the Predators decided that their marriage to Vasicek was simply not working out. They found a willing trade partner in his original club, the Hurricanes. The Canes were trying to unload some baggage of their own as they sent Eric Belanger (who reportedly clashed with then-coach Peter Laviolette) packing to Music City in return for the fan-favorite Vasicek.
9. First NHL Game
After two productive seasons with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Vasicek was ready to compete for an NHL roster spot. He had a great training camp and preseason and earned his right to play with the big kids. His first NHL game would come on the opening night of the 2000-02 season against the division rival Washington Capitals. Although he was held scoreless that night, it would mark the first game of his career. The Caps and the Canes played to a 3-3 tie, introducing Vasicek to the level of competition he would be facing each night. He maintained a good performance throughout the rest of the season, earning a permanent roster spot with the Canes.
8. First Playoff Game/Goal
Vasicek played in his first playoff game at the conclusion of the 2000-01 season. The date was April 12, 2001 and Vasicek was just a 20-year-old kid who was trying to help his team win a Stanley Cup.
The challenge ahead of them was certainly tough. The Hurricanes barely squeaked into the postseason as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They faced last year's Cup Champion New Jersey Devils (little did they know what a playoff rivalry it would turn out to be). The Devils easily defeated the Hurricanes in the first game of the series 5-1, proving that getting past their team would be tough to do.
Normally a 5-1 loss is not something to store in the memory bank, but Vasicek would. He scored the only goal for the Hurricanes against the world-class Martin Brodeur. Vasicek would go on to add another tally to his scoresheet in the series, ultimately won by the Devils in six games.
7. Leading the team in goals, points
Trivia question: Which of these players once led the Hurricanes in goals? A. Ron Francis or B. Josef Vasicek?
The answer would be B. Josef Vasicek. Yes, that's right, Vasicek accomplished that feat during the 2003-04 season, notching a mere 19 goals and 45 points. Those totals were good enough to lead his team, three points ahead of Erik Cole and 14 ahead of rookie Eric Staal. While the team itself was not a very good one (28-34-14-6) Vasicek showed them that he could be looked to as a leader and a goal-scorer. It would be hard to score more than 19 goals when no one on the team had more than 26 assists.
6. First NHL Goal
NHL players always say that they can never forget their first-ever goal in the National Hockey League. Some have to wait forever to get that monkey off of their back; and when they finally do notch it, they want it to be an important one.
Vasicek would only have to wait only three NHL games before he would find the scoresheet. His first NHL goal came on Oct 13, 2000 against Trevor Kidd and the Florida Panthers. The goal would be even more meaningful as it gave the Hurricanes a brief 2-1 second-period lead over their division rival Panthers. Pavel Bure would score moments later to tie the game, but Vasicek's first NHL goal will always be a big one, helping the Canes to a 2-2 tie and a very important point.
5. October 28, 2003
Not many of the games during the 2003-04 season were ones to remember. The team was fairly competitive during the first part of the season, even gaining points in five straight games during October. One of those late October games was against the San Jose Sharks. The game was a fight-filled affair as both team combined for 29 penalties totaling 137 PIM (including 10 Fighting majors). Through the blows and the brawls emerged a player ready to make a name for himself that season, Josef Vasicek.
The Hurricanes would end up winning the game 3-0 thanks to Big Joe and goaltender Kevin Weekes. Vasicek scored his first ever hat trick in the game, supplying all of the offense necessary to win the game and beat the Sharks in front of a happy home crowd.
4. Scoring in the Stanley Cup Finals
One of Big Joe's Biggest Moments. The Hurricanes and the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena were being introduced to the hockey world who had, for some reason, not taken much notice of them before. Their series with the heavily-powered Detroit Red Wings was tied 1-1 and the Canes, as well as their home arena/fans were gathering respect by the second.
The game was scoreless for almost 15 minutes before Vasicek brought the house down. He grabbed a loose puck and dangled it around Red Wing defenseman Steve Duchesne. He out-waited another all-world goalie in Dominik Hasek before slipping the puck into the back of the net for a 1-0 Hurricanes' lead. Vasicek showed poise, patience and a ton of strength by fighting past the defense and sneaking a puck in the Red Wing net. The spotlight turned to him as announcers Gary Thorne and Bill Clement praised the Czech winger for his ability.
Josef Vasicek goal- Game 3 2002 Stanley Cup Finals (via Derek70388)
3. First game back from injury in 2006
Unfortunately for Vasicek and Canes fans, the greatest season in Carolina Hurricanes history has very few memories of the "Czech Condor." A serious knee injury knocked Vasicek out for most of the 2005-06 season, but it wasn't looked as a huge concern as the team was performing so well without him. Vasicek finally returned to good health and fought his way back into the Hurricanes' lineup on April 3, 2006 against the Washington Capitals. That game will be remembered for some shaky goaltending on both sides of the rink, with neither Olaf Kolzig nor Martin Gerber stealing the show.
Vasicek looked a little shaky and slower than normal at first, but he began to find his rhythm and discover his flow as the game wore on. After the first period of play, the Canes trailed 2-1. Vasicek then threw a puck out in front that was deflected behind the net to Justin Williams. Williams shoveled the puck out in front to a wide-open Rod Brind'amour who buried the puck on his backhand to tie the game. Just over five minutes later, Vasicek found himself in a similar spot on the ice; he did the same thing as before by throwing the puck in front of the net. This time Kolzig tried to flick the puck away, instead whiffing and allowing Big Joe to add a goal to his current assist. The RBC Center erupted with cheers, not only because the Canes had taken the lead for the first time, but because the ultimate good guy had scored in his return.
About four minutes after the feel-good goal, Vasicek found himself on a three-on-two break with line mates Brind'amour and Williams. He dished the puck to Brind'amour, whose shot got caught up in the crease and was hammered into the back of the twine by Williams. The Canes had a two-goal lead and Vasicek had just tallied three points in ten minutes.
The game would somehow be tied up again at 4 midway through the third period thanks to some of the shaky goaltending mentioned previously. That's when Vasicek decided to strike again. Aaron Ward was leading a charge down the right side as he left a nice pass for Williams. Williams' shot was from a bad angle, but there was Vasicek in front of the net to bang home the rebound. The RBC Center turned from loud to jet-engine loud. Vasicek's four points would help the Hurricanes win the game 6-5 in overtime. The crowd couldn't have been more thrilled for Josef Vasicek, both as a player and a person.
2. Delivering in Overtime
It had been a year removed from the Hurricanes early playoff exit at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. There was still a taste of bad blood between the two teams and the Canes wanted revenge. As the series got underway, Carolina appeared ready to strike as the team earned identical 2-1 wins in their first two home games. When play shifted to New Jersey, the Hurricanes looked outmatched, losing Games 3 & 4 by scores of 4-0 and 3-1 respectively. A pivotal Game 5 was set to be played in the ESA on April 24, 2002.
A win for the Devils would all but assure that the road to the Stanley Cup would go through East Rutherford again. A win for the hometown Canes would make a statement to the Devils and to the hockey world that this was not a team that would roll over to the opponent and give up. After three periods of play, the score remained tied, thanks in large part to Jeff O'Neill's willingness to shove the puck through, not past but through, Martin Brodeur in the dying minutes. That's when the Canes third line of Vasicek-Martin Gelinas-Jaroslav Svoboda would connect for their second goal of the game. Vasicek would find a loose puck feet away from a toppled Brodeur and he made no mistake about it. With the flick of a stick the Canes had a 3-2 series lead. They used that lead to propel themselves to a 1-0 win in Game 6 and eventually a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
1. Lifting Lord Stanley
Kids on ice rinks in their backyards never pretend to negotiate a new contract. Wether that rink is in Nova Scotia, the Soviet Union, or a little town in Czechoslovakia called Havlickuv Brod, kids never imagine themselves starring in Reebok commercials or doing radio shows for the NHL Network. Hockey players grow up with one dream. That dream is always to win the Stanley Cup. Josef Vasicek would be no exception.
Vasicek was a part of the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes team that captured Lord Stanley's Cup on June 19, 2006. Vasicek was not active for the clinching Game 7 against Edmonton, he actually only played in eight of the team's 25 games - earning only one minor penalty along the way, but that doesn't mean that he was not important to the success of the team that night.
When Josef Vasicek received the Stanley Cup and lifted it high over his head, his importance to the team was felt throughout the arena. Vasicek was a staple of the team for many years and not only showed up to play when times were good and wins were flowing, but also when the stats looked rough. Many throughout the media have claimed in the past week that there was not a nicer human being in the locker room that Vasicek and that the hockey world has lost a great player as well as a great person. Without Vasicek would the team have won that Stanley Cup, maybe. But Vasicek proved his value to the club in the years prior to their championship. He helped lay the brickwork and foundation for the Hurricanes to be successful. He helped get the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 and almost helped them take a series lead that same year. He guided a young and talent-depleted team in the trying years after that. He never once complained about ice time, coaches, management, money or anything else for that matter
A genuine nice guy who we lost far, far too early. #63 will always live on in our hearts and minds.
God bless all of those affected by the tragic plane crash last Wednesday, including especially the families of former Whaler Brad McCrimmon and Cane Josef Vasicek.