He was then drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, who chose him 5th overall in the first round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, shocking the entire NHL, who had idea Svoboda had not only defected already, but was already there in Montreal hiding in a hotel in the days leading up to the draft so he would be available to pull on a Canadiens sweater in person!
He made his NHL debut later that year with a pair of assists in his very first game. Svoboda played in 73 games that season, missing time due to having his hand stepped on my an official who was trying to break of a fight Svoboda was involved in. Despite missing some time, he still put up 31 points from 4 goals and 27 assists.
He would play seven more seasons with Montreal, which included setting career highs in goals (8), assists (37) and points (45) during the 1988-89 season. During the postseason, he would also set career marks with 11 assists and 12 points as the Canadiens made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
During his first five seasons in Montreal, Svoboda would never finish with a lower plus/minus rating than +14, was in the +20's three times and had a career best of +46 in 1987-88.
Svoboda was then traded to the Buffalo Sabres late in the 1991-92 season. He played a full season with the Sabres in 1993-94, but the lockout during the 1994-95 season saw Svoboda return to what was now the Czech Republic, following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia with the dawn of 1993. He rejoined Litvinov, then renamed HC Chemopetrol Litvinov for 8 games before returning to the Sabres for 26 games before another move, this time to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Svoboda fit into the strong Flyers teams well, posting consecutive seasons of +26, +10 and +19. It was also during this time period that the Flyers made a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997, Svoboda's second.
During his third full season for the Flyers, Svoboda was finally able to return to international hockey for the first time since his defection 14 years earlier when he joined the Czech Republic for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan for the first Games during which the NHL suspended it's season to allow it's best players to compete.
In the First Round, the Czechs won two, over Finland and Kazakhstan, but suffered a narrow 2-1 loss to Russia. The Final Round saw them paired with the United States in the quarterfinals, where they won convincingly 4-1. They next famously defeated Canada in the Semifinals 2-1 following a shootout behind the goaltending of an on form Dominik Hasek.
Now playing for the gold medal against Russia, the game continued scoreless through two full periods and into a third before a pass back to Svoboda at the point saw him wind up and fire a shot which found the back of the net to give the Czechs a lead with 11 minutes left to play.
The goal would be all that Hasek would require, as the game finished 1-0 in favor of the Czech Republic, with Svoboda scoring the only goal of the contest to send the nation into wild celebrations back home in Prague.
1998-99 saw Svoboda begin the season with Philadelphia, but after 25 games he was on the move once again after a trade sent him south to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he would play 34 games to finish the season. He would play 70 games of the 1999-00 season, his highest total since 1996. Those 70 games included Svoboda becoming the first Czech player to play in over 1,000 NHL games.
His final season of 2000-01 saw Svoboda limited to just 19 games mainly due to a concussion which caused his retirement from hockey at the age of 36.
Due to the circumstances of his defection as a teen, which meant he was not going to be able to compete internationally for the duration of the existence of Czechoslovakia and untimely injuries and the regular playoff appearances of both the Sabres and Flyers, meant Svoboda was never able to play for the Czech Republic internationally outside of his memorable Olympics which saw him score likely the the most important goal in the country's history, and also perhaps it's most unlikely, as Svoboda totaled just 58 goals in 1,028 career games, never scoring more than 8 in any one season and scoring 2 or less eight times in his 17 year career.
Today's featured jersey is a 1988-89 Montreal Canadiens Petr Svoboda jersey as worn during the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals, as evidenced by the Stanley Cup Finals patch on the left shoulder, the first time the two teams competing in the finals would wear a commemorative patch and the only time both teams would wear the patch on their shoulder, as the following season the patch would move to the right chest.
The only other time the patch would be worn on the shoulder was the 1993-94 New York Rangers, whose diagonal "Rangers" cresting interfered with the right chest location. Of note, the Canadiens patch in 1989 was in English, while they wore a French version of the patch on their return to the finals in 1993.
Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1996 Czech Republic National Team Petr Svoboda jersey. Attentive readers will notice that Svoboda only skated for the Czech Republic once, that coming two years later in 1998. This particular jersey was made in anticipation of Svoboda playing in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, a tournament he ended up not taking part in.
This jersey is a good reminder to collectors to do their homework in advance of any purchases of game worn jerseys, as there are circumstances where jerseys are made for players, full professional models with all the correct tagging and patches, but never actually worn, something that can be confirmed with a simple check of statistics on the internet. While still a very attractive and desirable jersey, it's value as a team issued jersey will be less than that of a genuine game worn jersey, and one should avoid overpaying for a jersey in such circumstances. This one was sold by Classic Auctions as a game issued jersey with full disclosure of it's origins, but could resurface again without such a forthcoming description and it's up to the buyer to protect themselves by doing their proper homework before completing any transaction.
Today's video section begins with Svoboda finding a permanent place in Czech hockey history with his gold medal winning goal at the 1998 Olympics.
Next, a longer look at the Czech team in 1998.