Anonymous -- and Loving It
This isn’t Philadelphia, Roman Cechmanek realizes, as Superman brushes by him to talk with an armor-clad storm trooper from “Star Wars.”
It’s a picturesque mid-October day in Los Angeles, and people are snapping photos with awe and excitement as the new King goaltender arrives at Mann’s Chinese Theater. Only, nobody recognizes the most important addition to the Kings as he shows up for a promotional photo shoot.
People are more impressed with Harrison Ford’s footprints in the concrete, Aretha Franklin’s star of fame. They’ll pay $5 to have their photo taken with guys dressed as comic-book heroes or “Star Wars” villains before they’ll ask for Cechmanek’s autograph. Cechmanek, the subject of so much angst and ire in Philadelphia the last three seasons, is hardly recognized.
It’s exactly what he wants.
Cechmanek is cruising, post-photo shoot, on the Harbor Freeway, moving rapidly in the carpool lane, a friend of the gas pedal, a foe of the brakes in a 2-week-old luxury sport utility vehicle that has a brushed suede interior and a 450-horsepower engine.
He is anonymous in this city, a new haven where he will try to reshape a career that went awry in Philadelphia.
The season, barely 2 weeks old, already feels like a down-filled comforter compared with May, when Cechmanek allowed nine goals in the Flyers’ final two playoff games and was practically booed out of town.
Philadelphia General Manger Bob Clarke followed up with a public vote of no-confidence, informing reporters, “It would be very difficult to bring Roman back,” and suggesting that teammates had lost faith in Cechmanek because, “When you get down to the nitty-gritty, he lets in a soft goal, and it takes so much out of your team.... Give up a goal at the wrong time and the players themselves lose confidence.”
The Kings got Cechmanek for a second-round selection in next year’s draft. Jamie Storr and Felix Potvin were swept out the door and in walked one of the greatest goaltending enigmas of the last few years.
Cechmanek was 92-43-22 in three seasons with the Flyers and had a 1.96 goals-against average, the lowest since 1943-44 among goalies with at least 150 games. But he was 9-14 in the playoffs, and fans tired of his diving, sprawling, flopping style that paid dividends on most shots, but stole the proceeds on other shots.
Change was deemed necessary. The Kings were interested. Cechmanek, 32, was traded before the playoffs were even over. He moved with his wife and two children into a Manhattan Beach home and has tried to conform to the norms of a Los Angeles lifestyle.
“I feel more comfortable,” Cechmanek said in a thick Czech accent. “Different city, different life. Everything’s easy for my family. Everything’s better than in Philly. My daughter’s playing tennis every day outside. For families, it’s perfect.”
Tonight, Cechmanek faces the Flyers at Staples Center. He will share an NHL rink with Clarke for the first time since they parted ways after the Ottawa Senators had eliminated the Flyers in six games in the second round.
Cechmanek shut out the Senators twice in the series, but was in the net for the final two lopsided games. He defends his play when asked about Clarke’s postseason comments, citing how his former teammates averaged only 1.67 goals a game in the series.
“What he said isn’t true,” Cechmanek said. “It was a mistake. Maybe it was an emotion after what happened in Ottawa. I know that I’m a good goalie.
“How can you win a game against Ottawa when you’re not scoring? It’s easy to say the goalie is the problem. It’s only one guy.”
The Flyers had equally poor results two seasons ago against Ottawa. In that first-round series, Philadelphia scored only two goals and lost in five games. Cechmanek lambasted his teammates after the fourth game, a 3-0 Ottawa victory. He asked to be traded after the series, Clarke said Monday.
“For whatever reason, he was taking a lot of blame from the fans during the playoffs the last couple of years,” Clarke said. “I don’t think that was fair, but it was reality. I think it was getting uncomfortable for him. We thought we had solved all the problems but
Some Philadelphia players privately wondered whether Cechmanek was relieved when last season’s playoffs ended because his wife, Dagmar, had left midway through the Ottawa series to return to the Czech Republic to enroll their children in a school program. Cechmanek joined them shortly after the season ended.
“I think that’s always comforting for a player, being in a situation where he’s comfortable with his family,” King General Manager Dave Taylor said. “Hopefully, we’ll get into the playoffs and his wife will stay around. We haven’t brought it up yet, but that’s something we’ll probably address.”
Cechmanek has been an average goaltender this season with a 2-2 record and a 3.01 goals-against average.
He allowed a questionable goal with 1.7 seconds left in a loss to the Detroit Red Wings and surrendered two goals off rebounds in the final minutes of a loss to the Boston Bruins, but King officials directed the blame elsewhere each time.
The Kings would rather talk about Cechmanek’s devotion to his family, how he considers his wedding day and the birthdays of his children three of the most important days of his life.
“Anything that happened in Philadelphia or wherever doesn’t really matter,” Coach Andy Murray said. “I’m aware of everything that was said. I’ve also been told by at least six players on their team who I know pretty well that he’s a good guy. We just want him to play good for us.”
Cechmanek has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him $3 million this season and $3.5 million in 2004-05. He has the fresh start he wanted -- a new city, a new team, a new opportunity.
“I think I need a little time,” Cechmanek said. “It’s early in the season. We have a good team, and we could be in the playoffs. It’ll take some time.”
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