If you’re fortunate enough to have a former 40-goal scorer in the National Hockey League as your coach, chances are the offensive side of the game is
That is not to suggest the defensive responsibility of the game is compromised or neglected, but in reality scoring goals is more fun and entertaining than
For Robert Reichel, finding a balance to be adept on either side of the red line is a challenge he accepted five years when he became involved with the
Czech Ice Hockey Association.
“We try to play both ways,” says Reichel, who is back in Canada this week coaching the Czech Republic’s national under-18 team at the 2015 World Junior A
Challenge. “Offensively we like to create lot of chances, but we’re working with players that are very young. So you try to teach them good things about
the game in both ends.”
Reichel spent 11 seasons in the NHL, and another six at the end of his career with his hometown HC Litvinov, serving as captain until retiring at 39
following the 2009-10 season.
As a graduate of the Czech amateur hockey system himself, his career was filled with countless individual honours at several levels. He won three IIHF
World Championship gold medals, and an Olympic gold, and was inducted into both the Czech Hockey and International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fames
His skill was unquestionable and he had a profound ability to shot the puck and score goals. In consecutive seasons with the Calgary Flames (1992-93 and
1993-94) he produced 40 goals, and six times in the NHL managed 20 goals or more.
“He was offensively gifted,” says Trevor Kidd, a former teammate of Reichel’s both in Calgary and later with the Toronto Maple Leafs. “He was a great
Kidd remembers Reichel as a solid teammate, very private and for an unusually strange curve on his stick, something he said reminded him of a boomerang.
But regardless of its shape, the former NHL goaltender also recalls it didn’t hamper Reichel’s ability to use it with proficiency.
“It was hard for a goaltender to pick up the puck off his stick because the curve was so different. He had a great shot and was a tough guy to read in
tight on the net.”
As a centre, Reichel was quick, creative and determined even though he only stood at five-foot-10 and 183 pounds. He finished his NHL career with 252 goals
and 630 points in 830 games, which also included stops with the New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes.
Now at 44 and into his fifth season coaching various Czech development teams, he finds himself back in Southern Ontario as a coach at the World Junior A
Challenge, which is co-hosted this year by Whitby and Cobourg. It was in Toronto where he played his final NHL game in 2003-04.
“I’m very happy to be back in Canada and Toronto,” he says. “I always enjoyed being here. It’s been a very nice experience for our team, especially for
Reichel returned to his past earlier this week when, on an off-day for his team, they attended the Maple Leafs’ game against the Tampa Bay Lightning as a
Entering the coaching fraternity wasn’t something he went searching for upon retirement. In fact, he shrugs off the notion that playing for as long as he
did automatically made him a beacon of leadership in the Czech Extraliga, thus it was a natural progression to move behind the bench.
To be precise, it was the Czech Ice Hockey Association that recruited him. Eventually he agreed to the offer and began coaching in the elite national
program in earnest back in 2011-12.
“I’m so far enjoying every moment of being part of the Czech federation and it’s always something special to work for the national team.”
During his young coaching career, he’s managed to work his way through the grassroots national system from U16 to the U18 team currently competing at the
World Junior A Challenge. Essentially, it’s the same group of young Czech kids he’s had all the way through.
“We start working with them when they’re young,” says Reichel, who won a bronze medal at the 1990 IIHF World Junior Championship with what was then known
as the country of Czechoslovakia. “We’re in the final year of preparing them for the world championships.”
“We like to have players in the NHL, too. But our goal is preparing them for our national team. It’s really the same thing.”
Part of his group progressing though their teenage careers is Reichel’s 17-year-old son, Kristian, who has joined him as a member of the Czech contingent
in Cobourg and Whitby.
And like any relationship when a father coaches his son, the dynamic never changes regardless of the country.
“My son is working very hard and trying to do his best to what I tell him,” says Reichel. “It’s always a little tougher for him. I said to him ‘If you’re
not working hard, you’re not on the team.’ He knows that.”