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Peter Ihnacak - the things one learns

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A little housekeeping first - the admission that we do, in fact, take requests has raised the total to the completely unprecedented number of three. Daniel Marois, as is turns out, is ready to come back in the rotation so I'll get to him sometime this year. Lonny Bonhonos is someone I was about to say had never, ever been on a card with the Leafs. I thought, though, that I should verify this first and what did I find? Card 403 in the 1999-00 Pacific Set is none other than Lonny Bohonos. Off to ebay I go. Five dollars and twenty-five cents later (plus shipping and currency conversion), I am the proud owner of a 1999-00 Pacific Leafs team set. This also contains Garry Valk, Alexander Karpovtsev, Derek King and Sylvain Cote, none of whom have ever been Leaf of the Day, so don't say I never do anything for you all.

I also picked up Dmitri Khristich, Ron Francis and the ever-elusive Sean McKenna. That one will be fun. Oh - and I do have a Warriner somewhere, just not scanned as yet.

Going back to the subject of relearning things I thought I knew, I have long held that Peter Ihnacak scored the first Leaf goal I ever saw in person. I even have a picture of it. I took it using my dad's old instamatic with auto flash. You can clearly see a vaguely sepia-toned image of what looks like ants in celebration. Under extreme magnification, you can make out the numbers 21 (Salming) and 2 (Nylund) and then a bunch of fuzz, one part of which is Peter Ihnacak. I also got a picture of the scoreboard, announcing the goal scorer as Peter Ihnacak, scoring his 15th.

One problem - my first game was in 1983-84 (I know this because I remember both Dale McCourt and Dave Hutchison in the warmups), and Peter Ihnacak only scored 10 goals in 1983-84 because he was injured. Mulling this over, I recalled a vague feeling of disquiet after my first game in that I hadn't gotten a program, any souvenirs or pictures. Finally, it dawned on me that my first two games were both losses against Washington. I'd conflated the memories.

So now I have no idea who scored my first Leaf goal (though one of the two Leafs/Caps home games was a Caps shutout, making it theoretically possible). If some enterprising student with access to the Toronto Star on microfiche (or whatever) can look up the game results from Dec. 17, 1983 or Jan. 28, 1984, it would be much appreciated. I'll recognize the game from the penalites, of all things.

Whether he really scored my first-ever Leaf goal or not, Peter Ihnacak was one of my favourites from the mid-80s. He still holds the Leafs rookie record for points in a season with 66, though Wendel Clark broke his record of 28 goals (shared with Walt Poddubny). I just liked his play. He wasn't the flashiest, but he worked hard and rarely messed up. He was a perfect #2 centre.

Peter came from Czechoslovakia at a time when the only way that was possible was by defection. He escaped from the 1982 World Championships in Finland. Unlike the Stastnys, who were able to sign with Quebec as free agents, it was ruled that Peter would have to go through the draft. With the pick they received from Philadelphia (there's your tie-in!) in the Darryl Sittler trade, Toronto took him 25th overall.

A 25-year-old NHL rookie, his first season was excellent. Breaking in the same year as Dale Hawerchuk, he was never a threat for the Calder, but he, Poddubny and Frycer gave the Leafs a very good young scoring line that made it reasonable to think better things were ahead. As it turned out, injuries would fell all three over the years and Peter would find his role slipping as younger centres kept coming in. By the later 1980s he was more of a depth guy and by his early 30s he was spending time in the minors. He was always effective when brought up, but he was behind guys like Olczyk, Damphousse, Fergus, Courtnall et al and with Danny Do being the checker, there simply wasn't a role. The other guys were all younger and were clearly the future.

After 1989-90, Peter went back to Europe and played in Germany and Switzerland until 1996-97. He's now a European scout for the Leafs.

There's a four-year-old story at the National Post that talks to Peter about what it meant to be a defector in those days. It's a compelling read. I've known other people who escaped from Eastern bloc countries and their stories are similar in nature. Hearing them always does two things for me - it makes me grateful that we don't have to deal with that sort of thing here, and it makes me appreciate the courage we find in ordinary people. It gives one hope.


Visit the Peter Ihnacak Gallery at the HHOF.

Think the Leafs never got any breaks? Peter Ihnacak gets away with something in 1987 that eventually contributes to a playoff series win. Note to Harry Neale: elapsed time on slow-motion replay is not the same thing as elapsed time in reality.

Peter's stats:

1976-77 Czechoslovakia WJC-A 4 2 2 4 0
1977-78 Dukla Jihlava Czech 5 0 1 1 4 3 0 2 2 2
1978-79 Dukla Jihlava Czech 44 22 12 34
1979-80 Sparta CKD Praha Czech 44 19 28 47
1980-81 Sparta CKD Praha Czech 44 23 22 45
1981-82 Sparta CKD Praha Czech 39 16 22 38 50
1981-82 Czechoslovakia WEC-A 5 0 0 0 0
1982-83 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 80 28 38 66 44 +6
1983-84 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 47 10 13 23 24 -21
1984-85 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 22 22 44 24 -26
1985-86 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 63 18 27 45 16 -9 10 2 3 5 12
1986-87 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 58 12 27 39 16 +5 13 2 4 6 9
1986-87 Newmarket Saints AHL 8 2 6 8 0
1987-88 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 68 10 20 30 41 -6 5 0 3 3 4
1988-89 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 26 2 16 18 10 +3
1988-89 Newmarket Saints AHL 38 14 16 30 8
1989-90 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 5 0 2 2 0 +3
1989-90 Newmarket Saints AHL 72 26 47 73 40
1990-91 EC Hedos Munchen Germany 20 6 17 23 23
1990-91 EHC Freiburg Germany 10 5 5 10 12 5 1 5 6 4
1991-92 EHC Freiburg Germany 41 21 26 47 34 4 0 0 0 4
1991-92 EHC Kloten Swiss 1 0 0 0 0
1992-93 HC Ajoie Swiss 13 3 8 11 10
1992-93 Krefelder EV Germany 15 5 5 10 10
1993-94 Krefelder EV Germany 42 10 25 35 25
1994-95 Krefelder EV Germany 19 7 6 13 8 15 2 4 6 6
1995-96 Krefelder EV Pinguine Germany 47 9 34 43 22 6 0 0 0 2
1996-97 Krefeld Pinguine Germany 51 21 17 38 34 3 1 0 1 4
1997-2000 Nurnberg Ice Tigers Germany
Leaf/NHL Totals 417 102 165 267 175 -45 28 4 10 14 25

The HHOF has this to say about Peter Ihnacak:

Centre Peter Ihnacak was a crafty playmaker and solid checker who played parts of eight years with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 80s and 90s. He also played several years in Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Germany in a pro career that lasted nearly two decades. During the mid point of his NHL career he had the opportunity to play with his younger brother Miroslav.

Born in Poprad, Czechoslovakia, Ihnacak first gained attention by helping his country win the bronze medal at the 1977 World Junior Championships. He then spent five years in the Czechoslovakian league with Dukla Jihlava and Sparta Praha. After contributing to his country's silver medal win at the 1982 World Championships, Ihnacak was drafted 25th overall at the NHL Entry Draft. This selection was also significant in that it was an extra draft pick set to the Leafs by Philadelphia as part of the package for star centre Darryl Sittler.

As a rookie, the young forward formed a solid line with Miroslav Frycer and fellow freshman Walt Poddubny. In fact, both Ihnacak and Poddubny set franchise records by scoring 28 goals in their first seasons. The next year the hard-working centre was limited to 47 games due to injury. He then scored 22 goals in 184-85 and was one of the few bright spots when Toronto finished with the lowest point total in the league.

Ihnacak was a key checker and playmaker when Toronto came within a game of reaching the semifinals in 1986 and 1987. By the late 80s he began spending parts of the season in the AHL since the Leafs had more depth at centre with the likes of Vince Damphousse, Tom Fergus and Ed Olczyk. After registering 73 points in 72 games for the Newmarket Saints in 1989-90, Ihnacak signed with the Freiburg club of Germany. Over the next few years he provided scoring and veteran savvy on the Kloten and Ajoie teams in Switzerland and Germany's Krefelder before retiring in 1996.