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Breakaway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL--The Untold Story of Hockey's Great Escapes [Hardcover]

Tal Pinchevsky
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Aug. 7 2012
From behind the Iron Curtain onto hockey's biggest stage

The incredible true story of the trailblazing men who risked everything to pass through the Iron Curtain and become NHL superstars, Breakaway is a thrilling look at the untold stories that changed hockey forever. From midnight meetings in secluded forests, to evading capture by military and police forces, this is the story of the brave players whose passion of the game trumped all.

Featuring exclusive interviews with the legends of the ice who put everything on the line just for the chance to play on the world's greatest stage, many of them speaking about their experiences for the very first time, the book looks at how Peter Stastny, Igor Larionov, Petr Klima, Petr Nedved, Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Alexander Mogilny, and other hockey superstars captured the imaginations of fans around the world.

  • The remarkable true story of some of the true pioneers of hockey, told for the very first time, often in the players' own words
  • A fascinating look behind the Iron Curtain and the trials these brave men endured for a taste of freedom, through their love of the game
  • Looks at how some of the NHL's greatest players made it onto North American ice

As much a tale of espionage and social history as a gripping hockey chronicle, Breakaway sheds light on the untold stories of some of the sports' most inspiring heroes.


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Product Description

From the Inside Flap

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 players—like Vaclav Nedomansky, the Stastny brothers, and Petr Klima—followed 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 league—and 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.

From the Back Cover

"Breakaway reads like an international political spy thriller. A must-read for fans who want to know about the history of the game, who some of the great European players were, and the development of the global game as we know it today."
Mike Smith, former General Manager, Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, and USA Hockey

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.


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5.0 out of 5 stars you'll gain much sympathy July 29 2013
By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Simply an outstanding sports book let alone hockey. The author takes you behind the scenes to all the international intrigue, danger, joy and tears of the defection of hockey players from the former Eastern Bloc nations of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

The author won me over immediately by starting with the Czech star Vacalav Nedomansky's defection. Because the NHL so dominates hockey I'm glad the author did not forget the late great WHA and the Toronto Toros to whom Nedomansky played on.

His tale was the first but certainly not the most compelling. I found Michal Pivonka and Statsny brothers' harrowing adventures most enthralling. Peter and Anton Stastny and their families really had quite the escape. It was like something out of those John Le Carre spy novels.

This book also helps explains why it wasn't just culture shock that fueled the ups and downs of some of these players' NHL or WHA careers. There was the horrible situation family members left behind faced such as loss of jobs, constant surveillance, etc. There was the loneliness of it all in Petr Klima's case as he turned to drink before straightened out his career. The sheer fear for his life (unfounded in the end) in Pivonka's voice as his team Washington Capitals went on a pre-season tour of games in the Soviet Union is very very real.

Plus after reading this you'll gain much more respect for what these players went through even the ones like Slava Fetisov and the rest of the vaunted Green Unit (Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov, Alexander Kasatonov, Sergei Makarov) of the Central Red Army and USSR national team who "legally" transferred to the NHL.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read Oct. 25 2013
By Rebecca - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a great read, I enjoyed it from cover to cover. The author did a fantastic job of telling the amazing stories of Eastern Bloc hockey players making the sometimes dangerous escape to freedom and the NHL. As a relatively new hockey fan it gave me a great appreciation for these players and this period of hockey history. I highly recommend this book for any hockey fan.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A interesting topic worth writing about Jan. 28 2013
By R. Hetrick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had heard about this book when the author was on NHL radio and started looking for it immediately. For hockey fans, or fans of the history of hockey, I would highly recommend this. The author is clearly a fan of hockey first and shares the statistical side of things as part of the overall story. For me, that is a plus, however, I could see a non-hockey fan struggling through the parts where detailed parts of seasons seem to bog the stories down. Reading this book in some ways brings back a part of life that I never liked which was the uncomfortable stand-off the U.S. had with the former Soviet regime that existed during my childhood. But, seeing things from the other side is worth every bit of the unease.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Nov. 9 2012
By J. Hirsch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Simply put this is the best non-fiction book sports books I've read in a very long time. For me most sports books are like frozen pizza, mildly enjoyable when your going throught it and then completely forgotten about 5 minutes later. Breakaway is a book that will stay with you. And for young people who also assumed players like Malkin, Ovechkin and Chara were always here it gives great historical perspective.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great historical hockey read Feb. 16 2013
By jers43 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I enjoyed the stories of the eastern bloc players hoping to get out. The book combines the greatest sport and one of the darkest periods in our history. It was very well written and I would suggest it to anyone interested in the history of Ice hockey or Czechoslovakia.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really paints a great picture of what some players went through Dec 24 2012
By Dan C - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am huge NHL fan who was very interested in what some of these players faced. It went even deeper than I had hoped. It was very interesting, especially with the cloak and dagger scenarios that occurred.
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