Flyers alum goaltender Roman Cechmanek passed away suddenly on Sunday in his native Czechia (Czech Republic). He was 52 years old. Cechmanek, who was divorced, is survived by children Jakub, Roman Jr., and Katerina.
Cechmanek only spent three seasons with the Flyers — 2000-01 to 2002-03 — but packed a lot of regular season success in his time with Philadelphia.
“The Philadelphia Flyers are extremely saddened to hear of the passing of former goaltender Roman Cechmanek. A late-round draft pick, Cechmanek spent three seasons with the team from 2000 through 2003 where he was highly successful and made an instant impact to our club on the ice and in the locker room. Beyond his numbers, which were outstanding, he was beloved by fans and teammates for his personality, distinct style and pride in stopping the puck…His passing at too young of an age is heartbreaking to us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time,” said Keith Jones, the Flyers President of Hockey Operations.
Cechmanek was born on March 2, 1971, in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. A five-time Czech Extraliga champion with Vsetin and a gold medal winner at the IIHF World Championships, Cechmanek came to the NHL at age 29 after the Flyers selected him in the sixth round of the 2000 NHL Draft.
Cechmanek’s saves in net were often highly unorthodox but the combination of his 6-foot-4 frame, unpredictability to shooters and his willingness to use any part of his body (frequently including his head) to make saves often made him effective at every level of the game. On multiple occasions, Cechmanek made saves seated in the crease and facing into his own net. Suddenly, the 6-foot-4 Czech netminder would swing around an arm or a leg and somehow knock the puck away to safety. It was the ultimate high-wire experience with Cechmanek in net, but it somehow worked much more often than it failed.
Asked in January 2001 whether Cechmanek’s unconventional style fooled shooters, the future U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and Flyers Hall of Fame left winger John LeClair said, “Style? What style? All he does is stop the puck.”
Boucher, at the time Cechmanek’s goalie duo partner, said that Cechmanek was the only goalie he’d ever seen who relished and initiated having the puck hit him off the mask. For his part, Cechmanek said all shots were the same to him. He had no preference for high versus low shots. He just wanted to keep busy and see shots in high volume.
“I like (a) lot of shots,” Cechmanek said with a shrug. “The more, the better.”
As a Flyer, Cechmanek was the Vezina Trophy runner-up (and fourth in the Hart Trophy balloting) in 2000-01, won the Jennings Trophy along with teammate Robert Esche in 2002-03, won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as Flyers MVP in those two seasons. For his three-season career in Philadelphia, Cechmanek racked up 20 shutouts (trailing only Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent in that category among all goaltenders in franchise history).
Overall as a Flyer, “Chemo” posted a career 92-43-22 record, 1.96 goals against average, .923 save percentage and the aforementioned 20 shutouts. In the playoffs, he was 9-14 (including four overtime losses) with a 2.33 goals against average and .909 save percentage.
Although Cechmanek and the Flyers’ playoff record was spotty over his three seasons with the club, it was not without highlights. In 2002, Cechmanek ultimately outdueled Ed Belfour and the Toronto Maple Leafs in a classic Eastern Conference quarterfinal series that went the full seven games and featured three games that went to at least double overtime (Game 4 went triple OT before the Flyers prevailed, 3-2). Going into Game 7, predictions were rife that Cechmanek would blow sky high with the season on the line. Instead, it was Belfour who got torched in a 6-1 series clincher in Philadelphia.
The Flyers lost in five games to the Ottawa Senators in the 2002 Easter Conference quarterfinals and in six games when they rematched in the 2003 Eastern Conference semis. However, it should be noted that each of the three games the Flyers won in those two series was via shutouts recorded by Cechmanek. He never received more than two goals of offensive support in any of the 11 games played in those two series.
Even in the Flyers loss in six first-round games to Dominik Hasek’s Buffalo Sabres during Cechmanek’s first playoffs with the Flyers in 2001, the Flyers goalie had some strong performances mixed in with disappointing ones. Two of the Flyers’ four losses in the series were in overtime games (4-3 in Game 2 and 4-3 again in Game 4). Game 1 was a 2-1 loss in which the final score held through the final 40 minutes. Cechmanek outplayed Hasek in Game 3 (3-2) and Game 5 (3-1), which were both won by the Flyers.
Unfortunately for Cechmanek, the final impression left in the elimination games of two of his three seasons in Philadelphia were negatives. The Sabres crushed the Flyers, 8-0, in Game 6 in 2001. Cechmanek was pulled early in the second period after yielding five goals on just nine shots.
In 2002 against Ottawa, the Flyers prevailed 1-0 in overtime in Game 1 on a goal by Ruslan Fedotenko after neither team could score in regulation. The Flyers got shut out (3-0, 3-0, and 3-0 again) in each of the next three games. Cechmanek took himself out the game in Game 4, saying he had groin soreness. Brian Boucher played the third period. The Flyers gave the nod to Boucher to start Game 5. The Senators won in overtime, 2-1, to end the series. A first period power play goal by Dan McGillis stood as Philadelphia’s lone regulation tally in the entire series.
In the 2003 rematch with Ottawa, the series was tied at two games apiece. Cechmanek recorded shutouts in Game 2 (2-0) and Game 4 (1-0). In between, the Flyers lost a 2-1 overtime decision in Game 3 after taking a 2-1 lead into the third period. Cechmanek made 25 saves in the loss. Unfortunately for Cechmanek and the Flyers the rest of the series went downhill after the goalie (28 saves) made a first period Michal Handzus goal stand up for the rest of the night in Game 4.
In Game 5, Cechmanek more or less took himself out of the game after Ottawa opened a 4-1 lead in the second period. The next day at practice, Jeremy Roenick and others shot pucks at Cechmanek’s head. Head coach Ken Hitchcock elected to start Cechmanek in Game 6 in Philadelphia, although his teammates strongly preferred Esche to get the opportunity. The Senators prevailed, 5-1, in the deciding game.
Shortly after the season ended, the Flyers traded Cechmanek to the LA Kings for a second-round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The Flyers later traded that pick to the Chicago Blackhawks to rent Alexei Zhamnov for the 2004 stretch drive and playoffs in what proved to be a very valuable addition for their eventual run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.