Jan 8, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT
Once hailed as the best hockey player in the world not playing in the NHL, Jiri Dopita was something of a bust for the Flyers. In 2001, Philadelphia had finally wooed him away from the Czech Estraliga (where he had won an incredible five league championships in six years) at the age of 33, after teams like the Bruins and Islanders had spent much of the decade trying and failing to do likewise. Dopi turned out a little soft for the NHL, and suffered knee injuries that limited him to 52 games with the Flyers that season, after which his rights were traded to the Oilers for a third-round pick.
But that night against the Thrashers, Dopita was magnificent. In an Estalella-esque outpouring, Dopi found the net four times against Atlanta goalies Milan Hnilicka and Damian Rhodes—neither of whom, incidentally, would still be in the league two years later. John LeClair, Justin Williams and Ruslan Fedotenko all added scores of their own, which ended up making the difference in the Flyers' 7-4 victory–the team's seventh of eight W's in a row that season.
"I'm just happy to help," said a relieved Dopita after the game had finished. "It's been hard for me…It's
different here than the European game. There are more checks
here." Perhaps more relieved than anyone, though, was Flyers coach Bill Barber. "Four goal games do not come very often," said the Flyers' all-time leading goal scorer, who only managed the feat once himself. ""This could be a turning point for Dopita as
far as confidence goes."
Dopita scored just five more goals while donning the Orange and Black. Two years later, he was back in the Czech Republic.
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