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The Dream Was Escape.
Hockey Was the Ticket.
Current NHL rosters are packed with Central and Eastern Europeans, outstanding players such as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Jaromir Jagr.
Until the Cold War ended in 1989, however, strict laws and harsh punishments prevented Eastern Bloc athletes from leaving their native countries to play for North American teams. Those caught in the attempt faced imprisonment, government retaliation against their family and friends, and the distinct possibility of being shot by twitchy border guards.
Despite these risks and the hardships faced by the relatives they left behind, a few daring playerslike Vaclav Nedomansky, the Stastny brothers, and Petr Klimafollowed in the path of the scientists and high-ranking military officials who defected to the West.
On their brief trips beyond the Iron Curtain for international tournaments, these sportsmen had glimpsed the comparatively free and affluent society of North America and the thrill of playing in hockey's most vaunted leagueand when they returned to their homes in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia, they could think of nothing else. Aided by agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall and team executives working with and against the Communist apparatus, these players found themselves agreeing to secret meetings and ambitious escape plans, all in order to fulfill their dreams.
Tal Pinchevsky has interviewed the stars who broke away as well as the agents, general managers, and others who were instrumental in their defection. As much a tale of espionage and social history as a gripping hockey chronicle, Breakaway sheds light on one of the greatest untold stories in sports.
Until the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union, athletes in Eastern Europe were prized as national heroes and afforded relative luxuries compared to other citizens. Better food, nicer apartments, the ability to travel, possibly even a car. But they still lived under the heel of a system that punished even the slightest transgressions or resistance to authority. Many accepted the conditions at home, but some sought a good life—not just a relatively better one. Risking imprisonment, retaliation against their families, or worse, a slow trickle of extremely talented hockey players defected to the West, seeking a life in North America with the NHL that they couldn't achieve elsewhere. Tal Pinchevsky traces their lives and the paths and dangers they faced, based on interviews he conducted with the players, their families, and the many people who helped them to break away.