In a fun and interesting story out of the Czech Republic, NHL veteran Martin Hanzal is back in action and bringing a number of notable names with him. According to Czech hockey source Hokej.cz, Hanzal and brother Jiri Hanzal have founded a team, HC Samson Ceske Budejovice, in the Czech semi-pro “regional league”. Hanzal, 33, is technically still under contract with the Dallas Stars until the end of the league year but did not play this season due to injury and was limited to just seven games in 2018-19 and 38 games in 2017-18. He was not expected to continue his NHL career, but will continue playing in his native Czech Republic.
Joining Hanzal are several of his countrymen and former NHL teammates. Forwards Radim Vrbata and Vaclav Nedorost and defenseman Rostislav Klesla have also opted to come out of retirement to play for the newfound franchise. Vrbata, 39, is just a few years removed from a 20-goal, 55-point campaign with the Arizona Coyotes in 2016-17 and played for the Florida Panthers the following season before retiring. Vrbata played 16 NHL seasons and over 1000 NHL games for seven different teams. Klesla, 38, played 13 seasons in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Arizona Coyotes, moving back to the Czech Republic in 2014. Klesla retired in 2016, making his return the most surprising of the bunch. However, Klesla played with Hanzal and Vrbata in Phoenix, so the group are likely close. Nederost, 38, was last seen in the NHL in 2003-04 and played three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers. He spent most of his career starring in the Czech Extraliga and KHL and just retired in 2019. Together with Hanzal, the group has over 2800 games of NHL experience, which should help to draw new fans to the team.
Another interesting note about the roster is that, in addition to Hanzal’s brother, Nederost’s brother is also on the roster, as are two other sets of brothers. The entire roster is composed of Czech natives and all but two players are age 30 or older, so in many ways this team is just as much for the fun of the many veteran Czech players as it is for the fans, who can see their favorites back in action. Due to the nature of the roster composition as well as the talent level of the regional semi-pro league, do not expect Hanzal to use this experience to potentially work his way back to the NHL, but it is nice to see a player who has lost so much time due to injury to get back on the ice and enjoy the game once again.