The board chairman of Vaclav Nedomansky Enterprises Ltd. of Canada—Vaclav Nedomansky himself—gaveled the meeting to order last Friday morning. No time to waste, gentlemen. I've got to play a hockey game tonight, and I want to get some sleep this afternoon. Seated to the chairman's right, chin in hand, was legal counsel, R. Alan Eagleson. Across the table, also chin in hand, was the chairman's friend and interpreter, George Gross, known as "the Baron." Counsel presented his report, speaking rapidly in English but occasionally pausing as the Baron relayed the message in Czech.
The health insurance for Vaclav (pronounced Vatz-lav), wife Vera and son Vaclav Jr. was in effect. As was the life insurance. A checking account was operative. Ditto a savings account. The credit cards should be arriving in the mail. The leases have been signed for the new apartment. And, yes, Vaclav had passed his driver's test. "Any questions?"
"Two," said the chairman, extending a pair of fingers. When he defected from Czechoslovakia to Canada by way of Switzerland last summer (SI, July 29), Nedomansky left his old Chrysler with the attorney in Bern who had been hired by his new employers, the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association. The lawyer had been instructed to sell it and forward the proceeds to Nedomansky.
"No money." said the chairman.
"I'll look into that immediately," Eagleson said, scribbling on a yellow legal pad. "If worse comes to worst, we'll get the money from the Toros. Next?"
"My new car," said the chairman. Before the ink dried on his five-year, $750,000 contract, Nedomansky had bought a white 1975 Thunderbird with all the extras. The car, Nedomansky said, was in need of its 1,000-mile checkup.
"I'll call over," said Eagleson, scribbling again. "Drop it off some morning next week, and it will be ready for you by the time practice is over. Anything else?"
"No," said the chairman, shaking his head. "Thank you."
Back in Bratislava, the only board meetings Nedomansky ever attended had been on the ice when he crashed into them, something that didn't happen very often to "Big Ned," the captain of the Czech national team. "Because of my position," Nedomansky says, "I was always able to get what I wanted for my family." What he wanted last summer was a family holiday in Switzerland, a junket with no return as it turned out. But let's go back for a moment.
Three years ago, during a Canadian tour with the Czech nationals, Nedomansky managed to leak word of his possible availability to the NHL through the Baron, who had defected to the West in 1949 after being jailed following the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. "I had known Big Ned for about seven years," says Gross, now sports editor of the Toronto Sun, "because I had always entertained Czech players on their visits to Canada and met them at the World Hockey Championships." At the lime, Big Ned was on the negotiating list of the NHL Buffalo Sabres. Gross arranged a meeting between Sabre General Manager Punch Imlach and Dr. Zdenek Andrst, president of the Czech Hockey Federation, at the Westbury Hotel in Toronto. No deal. "I was only 27 years old then," recalls Nedomansky, "and Czechoslovakia still needed me. When you become 30, that's when they don't need you anymore. I had to wait."