Ivan Hlinka enjoyed a stellar career both as a player and as a coach. In the 1970s, he won three world titles with Czechoslovakia's national team. Later, while managing the national team of the Czech Republic, he achieved something that eluded him as a player?Olympic gold. After the hockey tournament in Nagano in 1998, there was a lot of talk of the superhuman performance of Dominik Hasek. But Hlinka and co coach Slavomir Lener deserve much of the credit for putting together a bunch of players that functioned exceptionally well as a team. They were the brains behind the triumph. One year later, Hlinka led the team to the World Championship title.
On the ice, Hlinka's excellent physique and great stickhandling often led him to generate his own plays, but he could also work well with his teammates to create opportunities. A natural leader, he gave the play purpose. He was an infallible scorer with his wrist shot and a master of both long and short passes.
With the exception of a six-month contract he signed with Dukla Trencin in 1978 that lasted until the 1980-81 season, Hlinka played almost exclusively for Litvinov from the age of nine on. Even at the end of 1986-87, when the team sank to near the bottom of the standings, he briefly returned to the ice. He took part in 11 World Championships, two Olympics and the 1976 Canada Cup with the national team. In 1978 he won the Golden Stick Award as the country's most valuable player.
He spent his best years in the former Czechoslovakia because in his time hockey players couldn't live abroad legally. But in 1981 he and defenseman Jiri Bubla became the first Czech hockey players in a very long time to get the blessing of the communist regime to play in the NHL.
The 1981-82 season had become the most successful in the history of the Vancouver Canucks. For the first time, they made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Hlinka, who according to rules of the time was still considered a rookie, drew attention by earning 23 goals and 60 points, a rookie record for the club. While Bubla spent a total of four years with the Canucks, Hlinka returned to Europe after two seasons and spent an equal length of time with the Swiss EV Zug hockey club. After that, he decided it was time to move on.
With the exception of the 1989-90 season when he coached the Freiburg club in Germany, he devoted his days to the Litvinov team. Later he transferred to the post of general manager. At the same time he worked as vice-president of the Czech hockey federation. He led the national team from 1991 to 1994. He got two bronze medals in World Championship play and one at the Olympics in 1992. He has had to live with failures at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and the World Championship in Italy the same year. But with a comeback in March 1997, he was no longer the king of bronze.
Hlinka always liked to remind people how fine the line was between success and failure. He came very close to it in the Olympic quarterfinals against the USA and again leading up to their victorious World Championship in 1999. But by nature he remained a player and never let the hunger for success control him. He kept a sober outlook even in February 2000 when he left for Pittsburgh to become assistant coach. During the 2000-01 season, he and Alpo Suhonen of the Chicago Blackhawks became the first Europeans to lead from behind the players' bench. However, Hlinka tenure behind the Penguins bench lasted a mere season and a handful of games into his second season before he was replaced.
On August17, 2004 the 54 year old Hlinka was killed in a car accident just outside of Prague, Czech Republic.