from Tal Pinchevsky at the New York Times,
Through their lengthy and winding N.H.L. careers, the lifelong friends Michal Handzus and Richard Zednik never lost track of their ultimate plan. After combining to play in 1,754 games for 10 N.H.L. teams, they kept their promise to each other and returned to their Slovakian hometown, Banska Bystrica, to begin the next chapter in their hockey lives.
“Always, I knew when I’m done with hockey I’m going to go back,” said Zednik, 41, who during his playing career spent every summer training with Handzus in Banska Bystrica. “I left home when I was 18. I retired when I was 35. I enjoy it.”
A central Slovakian city of almost 80,000 people, surrounded mostly by mountains and forests, Banska Bystrica is one of Eastern Europe’s unsung hockey cradles. Locals first began playing what they called “Canadian hockey” in 1922, and the city’s hockey club began operations in 1961. Its arena, which opened as an indoor facility in 1966, is believed to be one of the oldest in Europe.
The team bounced between the country’s first and second divisions, eventually establishing a youth program that groomed Zednik and Handzus. Together, the two helped create a golden age of hockey in the city, culminating in a competitive 1994-95 season in the Extraliga, Slovakia’s highest division.