To Them, America Means Togetherness : Young Lovers Leave Czechoslovakia to Pursue Fame, Fortune
They weren’t necessarily looking for love, but Frantisek Musil and Andrea Holikova found it . . . in the wrong place.
Musil is a professional hockey player. Holikova is the junior girls’ Wimbledon tennis champion. They were born in Czechoslovakia and they met in Czechoslovakia. Within nine months of their first date, both had checked out of Czechoslovakia.
Musil, now a defenseman with the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League, left his homeland last July. Holikova followed him to Minnesota in November. To the Czech government, they are defectors. To Musil and Holikova, there was no alternative.
Musil’s arrival in Minnesota was not entirely unexpected. After Minnesota had made the defensive star of the Czech national team their second-round choice in the 1983 draft, his defection seemed merely a matter of time.
Even before the North Stars had drafted Musil, he dreamed about playing in the National Hockey League. He wanted to play against the best.
His girlfriend, Holikova, was already playing against the best. As one of the top five Czech tennis players, she was able to move freely between East and West, sharing courts with Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.
At first, after Musil’s defection, that worked in the athletes’ favor. Holikova was able to visit Musil in Minnesota between tennis tournaments.
But when the Czechoslovakian Tennis Assn. learned of the trips, the situation changed. Czech officials, less than pleased, claimed that Holikova had skipped some events to be with Musil, the defector.
“I’m not a defector,” Musil said, bristling at the word. “I am a hockey player.”
Although Holikova denies that she bypassed the events, the association considered revoking her visa, which would, in effect, have crippled her career.
After Holikova had played a tournament in Puerto Rico in November, she returned to Minnesota--and bad news. Holikova’s parents had called Musil and told him she would probably not be allowed out of the country again if she returned to Czechoslovakia.
Musil, 22, and Holikova then sought advice from North Star officials, who contacted Sen. David Durenberger (R.-Minn.) in Washington.
Several days later, Holikova officially requested political asylum. Because of North Star General Manager Lou Nanne’s political connections, which he also had used in Musil’s case, the case moved quickly.
Now, both Musil and Holikova were free to pursue their dreams of fame and fortune in America. Together.
The couple, looking more like college freshmen than the central figures of an international flap, recently sat in a hotel coffee shop in Bloomington near the North Stars’ Met Center and talked about themselves, in reasonably fluent English.
“I did it so I could continue my tennis career like I did in Czechoslovakia,” said Holikova, who turned 19 last week. “I had met Franta here a few times, and somebody told Czech government or association that I met Franta. Then, my parents called me and said if I would go back to Czechoslovakia, maybe they don’t let me out.”
“I think someone sent a letter to the Czech association,” he said. “You know what I think, the worst thing is that we were close friends before I defected. Everybody knew about (us).”
Andrea added: “And then everybody watched me.”
Frantisek said: “They asked Andrea, ‘How come it happened? How come I defected and left her in Czechoslovakia?’ It was the worst thing. I guess the main point of why is because they said they don’t let her go out next year.”
Which meant, of course, that she wouldn’t have been able to see Musil. Defying authority to see him was not new to Holikova. She had already gone against the wishes of a closer authority figure, her father, so she could date him.
Holikova’s father, Jaroslav Holik--females in Czechoslovakia add the ova to the family name--once played on the Czechoslovakian national hockey team and later became coach of a first-division army club, Dukla Jihlava. Musil played for him for two seasons. He also took notice of the coach’s daughter and watched her play an exhibition in Prague.
Although Holikova had taken notice of Musil, too, they didn’t have a chance for an extended talk until she went to a season-ending party for Dukla Jihlava players last March.
Shortly after that party, Holikova left for a series of tournaments in the United States, while Musil prepared for the World Championships. Their unusual courtship was conducted largely over the telephone. There were only a few brief visits.
“It was just (a secret) between us, you know,” Musil said. “Her father didn’t like it.” Why?
Musil shrugged. “I was so wild, and I guess he was afraid about her,” he said. “Not now, but he was afraid then.”
Eventually, Holikova’s mother found out about the two, and told Andrea’s father.
“He needed a couple of shots to forget about it,” Musil said.
The story of their courtship, pre-United States, is a brief one, to be sure. With his army duty completed, Musil moved from Jihlava to Pardubice, about 60 miles east of Prague, to continue playing hockey.
“We used to call each other,” he said. “I visit her. She visit me. And then I went for vacation. And I left Czechoslovakia.”
If it hadn’t been for the North Stars’ Nanne, the defections of Musil and Holikova could not have happened.
The rest of the NHL laughed at Nanne the day he announced that the Minnesota North Stars wanted Musil. Oh, that Louie, wasting a valuable second-round choice, the 38th pick overall, on a pipe dream. If a Czechoslovakian hockey player was what he really wanted, he could have done better teaching Ivan Lendl how to forecheck.
In 1983, it was easier to win the Stanley Cup without a goalie than to pry a player out of Czechoslovakia. It had happened--the Stastny brothers in 1980 being prominent examples--but rarely.
Even so, some teams risked a draft pick, hoping they could eventually get the player out. Waiting, though, was not Nanne’s style. He was known around the NHL as the Monty Hall of hockey, a guy who made deals and took chances.
Once he decided that Musil was NHL material, though, acquiring his services almost became an obsession.
“I watched him play in the World Junior Championships in ’82 and liked him right away,” Nanne said. “He was already a pretty talented player. I knew then we wanted to draft him, but I didn’t know when. We followed his progress. Then, at the draft, we were hoping he’d be available in the second round.”
Musil and Nanne already had met before the draft. Sort of.
Musil had played in the World Junior Championships in the Twin Cities during the 1981-82 season. And the team hotel was just across the street from the Met Center in suburban Bloomington.
One day Musil heard a knock at the door. Opening it, he saw Nanne, holding a Minnesota North Stars hockey stick.
“He came to my room and I was so scared,” said Musil, who was 19 at the time. “I opened the door like this . . . just a bit. And he said I’ll someday be on his team. He gave me a stick. I was so scared.”
After the initial shock wore off, Musil started considering the idea. He had long talks about the possibilities with his friend and former Dukla Jihlava teammate Petr Klima. Klima and Musil would dream aloud about someday playing in the NHL.
Klima then defected in 1985 to join the Detroit Red Wings. When the Czech national team was in Finland last year, Musil called Klima in Detroit.
“I’ll never forget those conversations,” Musil said. “Before I’d call him, I tried to prepare a lot of questions to him. Then, I dialed the number and I heard his voice. I forgot everything because I was so excited to hear him.”
By then, Musil felt he had done everything possible in Czech hockey. In 1985, he had played on the national team that won the World championship. The next season, according to Musil, “we had worst results in 20 years.”
The national association fingered Musil as one who had not played up to expectations. The rift between Musil and the association continued to widen, and he refused to sign a contract with the national team.
When the association told a Czech newspaper that Musil had been dropped from the team because of poor play, it was a signal to Musil that it was time to leave.
“I played four years on the national team,” he said. “We beat the Russians in 1985 to become world champions. That’s the best you can get (in) Czechoslovakia in the profession of hockey. There is nothing else.
“I always dreamed about (the NHL). It’s a tough decision to lose a family, friends and country. It is much easier if your parents understand you (and say,) ‘If you work hard and you have a better life than in Czechoslovakia, OK let’s go. Go ahead.’ ”
So, when Musil set off for Yugoslavia last July, ostensibly on vacation, he was ready to leave for the United States.
Getting here wasn’t easy, though. In Belgrade, Musil met with Nanne’s contact, Edmonton lawyer Rich Winter. For almost three days, they shuttled between Belgrade and Zagreb, just missing Nanne, who was to accompany Musil.
When Musil and Winter arrived in Zagreb, the American embassy there had no knowledge of their case. There had been no cable from Washington. So Winter, who didn’t want to stay in one place too long, and Musil left.
Shortly afterward, in walked Nanne.
“We were trying to catch each other,” Musil said. “I was a little bit scared because it was dangerous. I knew it would be safer once we met Lou Nanne.”
They finally made connections but Musil only felt he had made it once the London-bound plane took off at Belgrade.
“I felt two ways,” he said. “I thought about my family and was sad, then I was happy that I am gone. But basically, I was happy that everything was OK.”
Musil’s introduction to the United States--he arrived in New York on a Concorde jet, then was flown to an airport press conference in Minneapolis--was somewhat misleading. So was his introduction to the NHL.
During the exhibition season, Musil displayed the form that had prompted scouts to call him the best defenseman at the World Championships. Pittsburgh General Manager Eddie Johnston predicted that Musil would be one of the six best defensemen in the league by Christmas.
He must have meant Christmas, 1987, because no one mentions Musil when discussing candidates for the Calder Trophy, the NHL award for the rookie of the year. Musil hasn’t exactly been struggling, but he hasn’t been shining, either. A separated shoulder in December slowed his progress and forced him to miss four games.
“It is different,” said Musil who has 10 points in 43 games. “I had a quick start and went down a little bit. But now I am getting better and better.”
In a sense, Musil is going through the same first-year professional problems Holikova encountered in 1986. Both, apparently, are still a bit away from fulfilling their vast potential.
In 1985, Holikova had been the No. 2-ranked junior in the world, Wimbledon junior champion and U.S. Open junior semifinalist.
In 1986, she suffered second-round losses in the French Open and Wimbledon, then lost in the first round at the U.S. Open. Her ranking, which had been as high as No. 67 in the world, fell to No. 132 by the end of the year.
“Last year, in 1985, when I started to play pro tournaments, I was still an amateur,” said Holikova, a left-hander noted for her baseline game. “This year (1986), I turned pro. It’s a big difference to play for yourself, to earn your money. It put a little pressure on me.”
In 1987, Holikova is off to a slightly better start. She reached the third round of the Australian Open last week before losing to 12th-seeded Carling Bassett, 6-1, 7-6. The result matched Holikova’s previous best Grand Slam finish, the 1985 U.S. Open, in which she upset Kathy Rinaldi and reached the third round.
Musil seems to prefer having a two-career household. Asked if there were marriage plans in the near future, he quickly replied, “No.”
Holikova looked at him, surprised.
Musil clarified his remark. “It is wrong to say no, but I have to play hockey and she has to play tennis now,” he said. “We are waiting for each other. But we have to work hard and play as well as we can and make good money and prepare us for a good life. Then we can get married.”
Now, these are hardly starving athletes. Musil’s multiyear contract with the North Stars is worth at least $750,000, not including incentives. Holikova earned $37,699 in 1986.
But although Musil is living here, his habits are still Czechoslovakian.
Unlike Klima. Klima plunged into the American way head-first, buying cars and a house in an exclusive Detroit suburb.
Musil doesn’t own a car, he leases one. Recently, he and Holikova moved into their own furnished apartment in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis. Before that, they lived with a family of Czech descent.
Unlike Klima, who struggled with the language his first year, neither Holikova nor Musil had problems. She came to the United States when she was 15, and he had traveled to Canada at 16.
Musil, in fact, is getting to where he can understand when people are joking, and has picked up some of the subtleties of the language.
He has also picked up some side work.
During his first television commercial, for a local pizza parlor, Musil went over the script with community relations director Patty Connolly. He wanted to know what everything meant.
Finally, after a few attempts, the cameras began to roll again.
“Hi, I Frankie Musil of Minnesota North Stars. To get pizza in Czechoslovakia, no way buddy. But I come here and I get everything I want. I get thin crust, fresh toppings, friendly service, free delivery. Holy cow, what a deal . . . “
Then he looked off camera.
“Patty, what’s holy cow?’
Musil has also discovered cable television.
“I can spend the whole Sunday watching TV,” he said.
“He just watches football,” Holikova said.
On a rented television. Of course.
“We rent everything,” said Musil. “Furniture, TV, telephone, everything. We have a garage--a heated garage. Everything’s going great.
“We are happy. We can’t spend money right now. I have to talk with my lawyer about tax planning and salaries and how to settle down and to make a plan when I want to buy a house. It would be crazy to buy a house right now. Because she’ll be gone and I’ll be gone and nobody could take care of the house.”
For Musil and Holikova, the careers come first. And those careers often keep them apart.
But at the same time, they are together. And that is how everything started for them in the first place.
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