Jaroslav Jirik dies at 71

PRAGUE -- Jaroslav Jirik, the first Czech allowed to play in the NHL during the country's communist era, died Monday in a plane crash. He was 71.

Jirik died in the city of Brno, about 125 miles from Prague. His ultralight one-seater crashed shortly after takeoff from the Brno Medlanky airport and caught fire, police said.

Jan Brskovsky, president of the Light Aircraft Association of the Czech Republic, said Jirik was an experienced pilot and the exact cause of the accident is not immediately known.

Jirik was cleared to play in the NHL by Czech authorities. He was a right wing who played only three games for the St. Louis Blues in the 1969-70 season. He spent most of the season in the minors with the Kansas City Blues.

Jirik scored 83 goals in his 134 international games for Czechoslovakia, winning the silver medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble and bronze at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics. In 450 games in the Czech league, he scored 300 goals.

"He was one of the leading players in the 1960s," federation president Tomas Kral said in a statement. "He was an excellent player but also a great character who was still full of energy even after turning 70," Kral said. "It's a great loss for Czech ice hockey."

After his playing career, Jirik coached several Czechoslovak clubs and ran the Swiss national team from 1977-80.