Former Detroit Red Wings bad boy and flashy scorer Petr Klima, one of the more colorful players in team history, died unexpectedly at his home in Czechia today.
He played his first five seasons with Detroit, producing 130 goals and 223 points in 306 games.
The Red Wings issued a statement: “The Red Wings organization offers its heartfelt condolences to the Klima family during this difficult time.”
Klima joined the Red Wings in 1985-86 after defecting from the country then known as Czechoslovakia. The story of the Red Wings helping him defect reads more like a James Bond saga than a hockey tale. Red Wings executive Jim Lites and assistant general manager Nick Polano went to Germany where the Czech national team was playing in August, 1985.
They met with Klima in the woods outside Nussdorf, Germany. It was a tense situation. Polano and Lites had no idea whether Klima’s Czech team officials suspected anything. They didn’t know whether it would be Klima meeting them or Czech officials. He left a team dinner and did show up. After renegotiating a minor detail on a contract he had already signed in a previous clandestine meeting, he agreed to come to the Red Wings. He left his team with no clothes or passport. The Red Wings also managed to get his girlfriend out of the Czech Republic. It took more than a month to cut through the red tape to get to Detroit.
Grateful for his new life in America, Klima wore No. 85 throughout his NHL career as a reminder of his defection.
Scored 40 in Edmonton
A flashy skater, Klima scored a total of 99 goals in his first three seasons with a high of 37 in 1987-88. He could fly when he found open ice.
Remember Petr Klima's Vernors commercial? It played during TV50's Red Wings broadcasts in the day. No singing but still good. https://t.co/fFmt0jrH08
— Michael Willemse (@StrohsDetroit) October 20, 2020
Klima ended the longest game in Stanley Cup Final history in 1990 when scored late in the third overtime for Edmonton against the Boston Bruins.
Although fans loved the colorful offensive dynamo, Klima eventually created multiple problems for Detroit management. On Sept. 23, 18, the Red Wings suspended Klima and Bob Probert for breaking team rules. Originally, the Red Wings said they would try to trade Klima. Then, they said they would take him back if he would seek counseling about his drinking. They had run out of patience with Klima and Probert.
He missed the start of the season. The Red Wings reinstated him on Oct. 13, 1988, but sent him to play in the American Hockey League. He rejoined the Red Wings on Nov. 5. At his first practice, he apologized to teammates. He was able to stay out of alcohol-related trouble after that.
But a year later, he was traded.
Detroit moved Klima, Joe Murphy, Adam Graves and Jeff Sharples to Edmonton in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Kevin McClelland and 1991 fifth-round pick (later traded) on November 2, 1989. He ended up being a 40-goal scorer one season for Edmonton.
More than nine years later, Klima returned to the Red Wings when he signed him as a free agent on January 11, 1999. He played 13 games and scored one goal. Klima played his final professional in the Czech League with Litvinov in 2002-03. That’s where he had started his professional career.