Taking shots

A German hockey team claims that Stars goalie Roman Turek is its property

As far as the Stars are concerned, they lived up to their part of the NHL-IIHF agreement. When the Stars found out about the suit--after Turek had been served in North Carolina--the team says, it notified the NHL offices in New York, the IIHL's home office in Switzerland, and Turek's Canadian agent, Rich Winter. According to the Stars, the IIHF concluded that Turek's signing by the Stars adhered to the agreement between the leagues, and the IIHF contacted Nurnberg about dropping the suit voluntarily.

IIHF officials couldn't be reached for comment, and Andy McGowan, director of public relations for the NHL, says the league will not discuss pending litigation. Mike Fox, the head of media relations for the National Hockey League Players Association, said when contacted last week that no one in his office was even aware of the federal suit.

The Stars' attorney, Ray Guy, is more than happy to comment. "We did not intend to interfere with anyone's contract," he says, insisting the team is going to "vigorously" defend itself against the Germans. "The Stars believed they were authorized to sign Turek."

Nurnberg wasn't buying it, claiming then and now in legal documents that the team "is not and never has been party to any agreements between the NHL and the IIHF regarding player transfers, and is not bound by any agreements between the NHL and the IIHF regarding such player transfers." The Ice Tigers' North Carolina attorney, Faison Hicks, will not comment.

So it remains unclear why the Ice Tigers waited so long to file a suit against the Stars. After all, Turek had been signed to Dallas for a year and a half before Nurnberg ever pursued legal action. And according to documents filed by the Ice Tigers, Turek was the team's prized possession--hell, in documents filed in Dallas court, the Ice Tigers insist he was the team's best player, the whole blessed franchise.

According to a time line set out by the Ice Tigers, Turek had been "discovered" by Nurnberg's general manager Rudolf Schnabel in May 1995, when Turek and the Czech Republic team were playing in the IIHF's World Championship game in Stockholm, Sweden. Schnabel was impressed enough by Turek, who'd been voted to the 1995 IIHF All-Star team, to want him for the Ice Tigers, then a rather mediocre team in the German Ice Hockey League.

At that point, Turek was under contract to Czech Budejovice in the Czech League, but the team couldn't afford to re-sign Turek for the next season. Nurnberg worked out a deal with Turek's agent in Prague and signed him on May 19, 1995, to a deal that made him the Ice Tigers' property until the end of the 1996-'97 season. According to the Ice Tigers, on June 13, 1995, Turek and his new team also entered into an agreement that prohibited the goalie from "signing any employment contract with any NHL team prior to the written consent" of the Ice Tigers. If Turek were to breach the contract, the German team was to be paid 300,000 Swiss francs in compensation--or $260,417, the conversion rate at the time. Turek admits to signing the agreement, but Ray Guy says that the document was written in English--which Turek didn't speak at the time.

The Germans insist that they came up with such an agreement because they worried that some NHL vulture would swoop down and steal away one of its "exceptional players." At the time, the Ice Tigers explain, Turek was by far the highest-paid player in the franchise's history.

The Germans say he was worth it: The Ice Tigers "immediately became the subject of tremendous local and national media attention with the signing or Turek" and "made all of its player selection decisions and built its team for the 1995-1996 and future seasons around Turek." And indeed, in a single season, Nurnberg was transformed from a team with a losing record into a playoff team, and Turek would once more play in the World Championships, helping his Czech national team to a second-place finish and garnering the goalie All-Star honors once more.

But a year later, Roman was off to the good ol' U.S. of A.--playing for Tom Hicks' Dallas Stars. The kid from the small town of Pisek was more than happy to leave behind European hockey for the chance to play in the NHL.

Turek was originally named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but he was dropped on August 31. The Ice Tigers were concerned that the U.S. federal courts would dismiss a suit pitting a German hockey club against a Czech Republic-born hockey player. So now it's the Dallas Stars v. the Nurnberg Ice Tigers in a grudge match, the date of which has yet to be determined. Ray Guy says that there have been some settlement talks--"it's in the air"--but that nothing has been resolved.

But according to one source familiar with the dispute, the suit has become quite a nuisance for the NHL. The Stars want the league to get involved and settle the matter with the IIHF. After all, if this German team--which is supposed to be part of the NHL-IIHF agreement--can claim it's not bound by the document, what's to stop another European team from suing an NHL team when its star player makes the leap to the majors?

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