Well, to say it’s a quiet time for hockey fans is an understatement. TSN is replaying old IIHF highlights while their analysts suffer through parlour games of deduction aiming to prognosticate the final line-up of next year’s Olympic team and I’m sure even they are asking themselves, “Why can’t there be a new episode of Breaking Bad every night?”
It’s so quiet that the best thing that the Winnipeg Sun could come up with to fill space was an article about Michael Frolik and Ondrej Pavelec being childhood friends. I actually didn’t know that but the article failed to offer any detail about their childhoods beyond just being teammates so I, intrepid reporter that I am, decided to do a little digging.
It turns out that not only were they friends but they were such notable young men that their exploits inspired some of The Czech Republic’s most famous children’s literature: The Mrazuvzdorný Boys! Never published outside of their native country, this series of youth novels followed the adventures of best friends, hockey teammates and junior detectives Froli and Drej. The books are a real gas! There’s stories about them hunting ghosts and busting up cock-fighting rings and time-traveling and, apparently, mostly based on real events.
Now, I don’t know why Pavelec and Frolik have been so shy up to this point in discussing their childhood celebrity but I do know that if they can muster up any percentage of the inspiration they provided for thousands of young Czechs years ago here in Winnipeg today then we’re in for some real fireworks this season!
We’ll have to wait and see how they fare on the ice but for now, for your summer-reading pleasure, I’m pleased to present an excerpt from the third, and most popular, book in The Mrazuvzdorný Boys series, “The Case of The Phony Zamboni” by Vaclav W. Dixon. Enjoy!
Trapped in The Cellar
“I bet that’s the last time your dad will ever complain about you carrying a pocket knife!” laughed Drej. Froli snapped the blade closed triumphantly.
“Good thing that kidnapper didn’t think to check my jacket pockets before he tied us up. I guess he was in too much of a hurry to claim his ransom!” said Froli. “Let’s go tie him up with a jail sentence instead!”
The boys rushed up the cellar stairs only to find the doors locked from the outside.
“He wasn’t in too much of a hurry to forget about locking the doors!” said Drej.
“Wait, Drej, “said Froli, “Don’t you remember what Coach Havel always tells us when we can’t solve a problem?”
“Blame it on the Roma?” replied Drej.
“Yes, but on the ice, when we can’t score he also tells us, ‘If you can’t solve the riddle, change the question!’ ”
Drej’s eyes lit up. “The Water Heater!” he exclaimed.
The boys high-fived and scooted back to the water heater where they had been tied up. Drej took out his pocket flashlight and followed the pipes from the heater up to the ceiling until he reached the spot where the pipe disappeared into the room above. A darkened circle of damp rot spread out from the wood surrounding the pipe. A drop of water splashed down onto Drej’s nose.
“I felt that water dripping on us while we were tied up. This is nothing but a rickety, old cabin above us. We can use your knife to dig away the rotten wood and I’m sure we could punch a hole right through!” said Drej.
“But how do we get ourselves up there to hack away at it…?” pondered Froli.
The boys looked all around the cellar for anything that might help them escape but it was empty: No gardening tools, no ladders, not a thing. Then Froli noticed a locked storage cabinet under the stairs and smiled.
“There’s more than one use for a pocket knife!” he said.
Froli picked the lock like an expert Roma thief and the boys’ mouths dropped open when they saw what was inside. It was a strange shrine devoted to the boys’ hockey hero, Jaromir Jagr!
“It’s some kind of strange shrine devoted to our hockey hero, Jaromir Jagr” said Froli.
“Your hero,” corrected Drej. “He’s no Dominic Hasek!”
Froli rolled his eyes at his best chum. “You goalies…” he sighed.
The shrine was filled with newspaper and magazine clippings about the exploits of the great Jaromir. Jerseys from all of his clubs hung there, from HC Kladno to the Pittsburgh Penguins and even the jersey from the legendary Olympic gold medal-winning Czech National Team. The boys stroked it reverently.
“Hey, what’s this?” asked Drej as he reached into the bottom shelf of the cabinet to pull out a jar filled with…. hair?!
Drej screeched and threw down the jar. Froli picked it up, opened it and pulled out some of the curly brown locks. He smelled them.
“Definitely Jagr mullet hair.” He said. “Look at the photos in the clippings. Same curl pattern, same density… and look at the magazine ad here”
Froli pointed out a Vidal Sassoon ad amongst the clippings. Jaromir’s smiling face beamed with pride as he held out a shampoo bottle. His bountiful locks cascaded down onto the shoulders of his acrylic V-neck sweater.
“It’s the same shampoo my mom uses – I’d know that smell anywhere!” asserted Froli.
“So our kidnapper is obsessed with Jaromir Jagr. So is our whole nation! What does that have to do with us?” asked Dre.
“I don’t know… yet, “ said Froli. “But I think we’d better hurry up and find out. It might be more than our lives in danger!”
Drej nodded gravely. Froli threw the jar of hair back into the cabinet and heard a familiar clatter when it landed. He reached deep into the cabinet, past the jerseys and discovered their ticket out of the cellar.
“I just found our ticket out of this cellar, old chum, “ said Froli as he pulled out an autographed hockey stick.
“You boost me up on your shoulders and I’ll bash away at the rotten wood. I’ll wriggle through and then make a rope out of bed sheets and pull you up! Then we’ll knock out a window and use the sun’s position in the sky to orient ourselves in these strange woods and then find our way back to the city to warn Jaromir Jagr and stop that crusty, old kidnapper from getting up to any more hijinks!” said Froli.
“Great plan, Froli!” said Drej.
Drej hoisted Froli up with the hockey stick, Froli’s pocketknife taped to it like a makeshift bayonet, and in no time Froli had carved away a small hole. He then turned the stick around to bash at the hole with the butt-end until more of the wood cracked and splintered – enough for him to wriggle through.
Froli called down to Dre from above. “I’ll make the rope. Be patient and I’ll be back in a jiffy!”
Drej gave Froli a thumbs-up. He rubbed his aching shoulders. He tried to figure out who their masked kidnapper might have been and what his motivation was. How did Jagr fit in? He thought about how he should work on his glove hand. He thought about that day last summer when he finally kissed Katya. He wondered why she ended up with Froli instead. He wondered if his country would ever fulfill the promise of the Velvet Revolution or if they were doomed to keep perpetuating the messy, corrupt lie of free-market capitalism. There needs to be checks and balances, he surmised. We should co-operate more with the European community. He thought about his mother’s meatloaf. Delicious. He was so hungry. How did he and Froli keep ending up in these situations? We just want to play hockey, he reminded himself. Maybe even one day on the great Canadian Prairies! He knew such a dream required hard work. But then, he wondered, who would solve all of these crimes in Kladno? Life was very complicated, he decided. A colourful, braided rope suddenly dropped in front of his face.
“Climb up, dummy!” called Froli. “I’ve got it fastened tight!”
Drej shimmied up the rope and hugged Froli. “Great work, partner!” he said. Then Drej looked out the window and saw that it was overcast. No sun to orient themselves! Now how would they find their way of out these strange woods?
“Oh, no, Froli!” lamented Drej. “It’s overcast. No sun to orient ourselves. Now how will we find our way out of these strange woods?”
Froli clapped Drej on the back.
“Don’t worry, chum. Look further down the trail.” Said Froli.
Drej saw the tracks of a motorbike driving away from the cabin.
“The ground was still soft from last night’s rain! We can follow his tracks right back to the city. He’ll lead us and the police right to him!” exclaimed Froli.
The boys high-fived and hopped out the front window. Then all of a sudden, just as they were setting off in pursuit of the creepy kidnapper, they were blown to the ground by the force of an explosion. The cabin went up in a ball of flame.
“Holy moly, “said Drej. “Looks like we got out of there just in time.”
“That kidnapper really means business,” agreed Froli. “There’s no time to lose! Let’s go!”
The boys ran as fast as their legs could carry them along the muddy trail back into Kladno and back into danger.