This post was originally written in 2009 by Michael DiFranco and has since been updated.
Roman Cechmanek was one of these European players whose star risen as fast as declined. He was not a widely known draft pick, burst onto the scene in the NHL later in his career and had several solid to great seasons in the NHL. Then all of a sudden he disappeared.
Roman Cechmanek was born on March 2, 1971, in Gottwaldov, then Czechoslovakia, the city that today is called Zlin in the Czech Republic. Notable Zlin alumni are former first overall pick Roman Hamrlik and forward Michal Grosek. Cechmanek started his professional career with his local team in Zlin, then changing a few teams before finally settling with Vsetin of the Czech Elite League. He would go on to play with Vsetin for five seasons, winning championships in each season. He was named the best goaltender in the Czech Elite League during the 1994-95 season and the following four years. He also won the Olympic gold medal in 1998 in Nagano as third-string goalie for the Czech Republic. Never declaring much interest to play in North America, Cechmanek was never drafted until the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, at 29 years old, by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 6th round, 171st overall.
Cechmanek had instant success once he came over to the NHL, making his debut during the 2000-01 season. Playing for a Flyers team that seemed to eat up goaltenders like Lay’s potato chips, Cechmanek won the starting job from Brian Boucher who in as recent as the prior season simply carried the Flyers to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Cechmanek would be selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game in his first season and finished second in voting for the Vezina Trophy. He finished the season with a 2.01 goals-against average (GAA), a .921 save percentage and a 35-15-5 record. He was also 2nd in the league in shutouts with 10. Unfortunately, he had a disappointing playoff, including an embarrassing 8–0 loss in the final game of the series against the Buffalo Sabres. Cechmanek wasn’t completely to blame, however, as the entire team was disappointing.
Cechmanek would return as the Flyers starting goaltender the following season and had another solid season finishing with a 2.05 GAA, .921 save percentage and a record of 24-13-6. In his second playoff run, Cechmanek would play very well in the first round against the Ottawa Senators. Unfortunately, the rest of the team didn’t help him as they only scored 2 goals in the entire 5 game series, a record low for the league. Cechmanek was upset with his team’s performance and showed it publicly with displays of anger and frustration on the ice.
The following year, 2002-03, Cechmanek had another good season, sharing the William M. Jennings Trophy with Martin Brodeur and teammate Robert Esche for lowest GAA in the NHL. While have a good season overall, finishing with a 1.83 GAA, a .925 save percentage and a record of 33-15-10, he was not as consistent as the team would have liked throughout the year. Despite some excellent games, he had an equal number of horrible ones. The playoffs would provide the same story. Cechmanek pitched two shutouts in a second round loss to Ottawa but he let up many soft goals in the series as well, and in a city that is always quick to blame the goaltender, shouldered the majority of the blame for the loss. After the end of the season he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a second round draft pick.
Although finishing with decent numbers, a 2.51 GAA and a .905 save percentage, he played for a very mediocre Kings team and finished with a record of 18-21-6.
The following season would be canceled due to the lock out. Since he had played for a mediocre Kings team in his last NHL season, and was considered a disappointment, he was forgotten by time the players returned from the lock-out for the 2005-06 season. However, like many NHL players, Cechmanek played in Europe during the lock out, returning to the Czech Republic to play with his old team HC Vsetin.
Cechmanek was also given the opportunity to play for his home country during the 1991 World Junior Championships, six World Championship teams (1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2007), the World Cup in 1996 and the 1998 and 2002 Olympic teams. Although he served as the back up to Dominick Hasek, he was part of the 1998 Olympic gold-medal winning team. His other appearances were in the 2004 and 2007 IHWC, also with the Czech Republic team.
Instead of returning to the NHL after the lock out, Cechmanek would choose to stay in Europe. The following season he would play for two teams, HC Karlovy Vary of the Czech Elite League and the Hamburg Freezers of the DEL. He would begin the 2006-07 season with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Elite League but left the team during the season to return to the Czech Republic and has been playing for HC Ocelari Trinec in the Czech Extraliga for the past 3 seasons.
Cechmanek is still playing hockey!