A lot of people are making a big deal about old man Jaromir Jagr playing in his 5th Olympic Games at Sochi 2014. Sure, he is 41, but he is a true legendary superstar after all.
But did you know that Jagr isn't even the oldest player on the Czech Republic team? Both Martin Rucinsky and Pavel Patera are 42!
"There are a lot of mental obstacles for him," said Craig Button, then the Stars director of player personnel. "It takes time and you can't speed it up."
But the Stars scouting staff liked him a lot. They drafted him following the Olympics, thanks largely to the advice of former NHLer Jiri Hrdina.
"He's a quiet leader who scores the big goals," Hrdina said, who also acted as Patera's translator in Dallas. "He's a very skilled offensive player who sees the puck very well. His teammates will be surprised he finds them with his passes."
The whole organization saw potential.
"He's not a dazzling player. He just makes smart plays," Stars chief amateur scout Tim Bernhardt said. "He has great knowledge of the game and the ability to read the ice. We see him as a third-line player, but maybe more if he can really adjust."
He was talented enough to play many years in the NHL, but he did not make the adjustment to North American life very well, neither on and off the ice. On the ice Patera struggled with the heavy physical demands of the NHL regular season. He also played a foreign position defensively. In Czech hockey the center was expected to stay high, but in Dallas he was expected to be first in on the forecheck. Off the ice he struggled with the language.
"I'm getting a lot of help from the other players, but I feel I will be able to communicate in English with them in three or four months," Patera said at training camp. "Mike Keane has helped me the most. He just explains things, and talks slowly to me."
After being a star in Europe, Patera really wanted to test his game in the best league in the world. Coach Ken Hitchcock gave him a vote of confidence early by playing him on a line with the great shooter Brett Hull.
"I never dreamed I would be on a line with Brett Hull and Mike Keane," Patera said. "It didn't just happen that this team won the Stanley Cup. This is a team of great players, and I know it's going to be tough to crack the lineup. This is another challenge for me in my hockey life."
"We're going to have to complement him with people who are able to read off of his vision," Hitchcock said. "If you just have grinders who don't read off his vision, then I think you're not going to accomplish the things you can with this player."
But Patera never clicked with Hull, and never did find chemistry with anyone else. After 12 games and 1 goal, he left to finish the season back in the Czech league.
He came back to the NHL the following year, now with Minnesota thanks to an off-season trade. His stint in Minny wasn't much better - 20 games and one more goal, with the rest of the season spent in the minor leagues.
Pavel Patera headed back overseas after that. First he went to Russia to play in the KHL and then he returned home to play for many more seasons in his hometown of Kladno.