Roman Cechmanek was one of these European players whose star rose 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.
Cechmanek and his Early Career
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, defenseman Karel Rachunek, and forward Michal Grosek. Cechmanek started his professional career with his local team in Zlin, then changed 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 the backup 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.
Rise and Fall
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 Final.
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 played well under the expectations.
Cechmanek would return as the Flyers’ starting goaltender the following season and had another solid year, 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.
Philadelphia Flyers (2001-02)
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The following year, 2002-03, Cechmanek had another good season, sharing the William M. Jennings Trophy with the Devils’ Martin Brodeur and teammate Robert Esche for the 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 lockout. 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 spent the season in Europe, 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 in Saskatchewan (when he was still playing for Team Czechoslovakia), six World Championship teams (1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, when he won the Best Goalie award, 2004, and 2007), the World Cup in 1996 and the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Games.
Instead of returning to the NHL after the lockout, 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 next three seasons. Following the 2008-09 season, Cechmanek retired from hockey at the age of 38.
Cechmanek – Life After Hockey
Just as most of other pros, Cechmanek tried to start a coaching career, but he’s yet to coach a high-level team as he mostly worked in the Czech minor and junior leagues. However, as it happens sometimes, his post-career has been pretty tumultuous because of financial problems.
According to the Czech website blesk.cz, the situation is as follows. Cechmanek made roughly 240 million Czech crowns as a hockey player (more than $10 million at today’s exchange). He then invested in real estate and in his business. He started too many projects at once and, allegedly, none of them generated any profit. Cechmanek’s debts went up to 100 million crowns (about $4 million). His property was seized and later sold in a public auction. Ivo Valenta of Synot Real Estate, Czech businessman and senator, was the buyer. Cechmanek even had to sell his own house. He still lives there, but as a tenant – not the owner. He’s been under fraud investigation because he didn’t pay the companies for work, probably despite knowing he wouldn’t be able to afford the payment.
In spite of all these problems, Cechmanek will always be remembered as a player with flashes of brilliance, but who also didn’t live up to his full potential. He has the best shutout per game ratio in the modern era, but his playoff performances weren’t at the same level. Goaltending was definitely wilder in the pre-lockout era!
This post was originally written in 2009 by Michael DiFranco and has recently been updated.
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