Vinny Prospal played for The Lightning for several seasons. He can still be seen driving his red Ferrari around Tampa Bay and practicing at The Brandon Ice Sport Forum, (The official training facility of The Tampa Bay Lightning), every summer before the preseason begins. His name will always be immortalized in hockey paradise history, and he is still very much loved by Lightning fans. On November 25th against the Buffalo Sabres he reached a milestone by playing his 1000th game. Lightning Captain Vinny Lecavalier got to take part in the ceremony by unveiling a commemorative #20 Tampa Bay Lightning jersey in Columbus, where Prospal now plays.
The ceremony was held on Saturday, December 17, when The Lightning took on The Columbus Blue Jackets on their ice. That game resulted in Tampa winning with 3 goals, Columbus, 2. Vinny Prospal is only the 268th player in NHL history to play 1,000 games. He was the center of attention, with his wife Monica and their children Vinny, Veronica, and Vanessa by his side. The Blue Jacket’s announcer began by announcing his great milestone, and asking them to turn their attention to the video board where they showed a video filled with the familiar sounds of Lightning play by play announcer Rick Peckham, as well as clips from him playing on all of his former teams. The video can be seen here.
After the video, NHL Sr. VP of Hockey Operations Jim Gregory presented Vinny an inscribed commemorative Tiffany Crystal.
Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson gave him a silver stick recognizing his first one thousandth games and every team that he has played for.
Vincent Lecavalier unveiled a framed Lightning jersey with Prospal’s name on it, and his number twenty. There was quite a bit of cheer for our team captain as he took the black cloth of the giant frame, and greeted Prospal and his family.
Blue Jacket’s team captain Rick Nash revealed a very large and beautiful piece of artwork, showing the Vinny in the different uniforms that he’s worn on his long road in the NHL and the love that he has for the game.
For Prospal, it’s more than just a career.
“I knew it’s coming, I knew it was going to be against Tampa. But the thousandth game was a while back, and it sure was great.”, Prospal said after the game when interviewed. “I’m more than grateful to the organization. But I just didn’t want to think about that stuff because I didn’t want to take anything away from my preparation for the game.” “This (is a) special, special time in a person’s career and they (his family) go through a lot with me over the years and supported me over the years. Lately we have been moving quite a bit around the teams, and I was proud and honored that they could be up there with me.”
You can tell by his interviews that he is a very humble person. Possibly one of the sport’s greatest players, but never wanting the credit for himself. Václav “Vinny” Prospal was born on born February 17, 1975 in České Budějovice, Czechoslovakia. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 3rd round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He was drafted 71st over all. He played for The Hershey Bears for years and was named the Rookie Of The Year in 1994. However his size and the fact that he could not skate that great kept him from the NHL. His ability to speak only a little English didn’t help matters. However he was an amazing passer. When the Flyers organization moved their AHL franchise to the Philadelphia Phantoms Vinny finally got his chance to shine. When former Flyer and Hall of Famer Bill Barber became head coach, he knew that there was something special in Prospal. He pushed him and didn’t let him give up. That paid off as he greatly improved. He was all of the sudden the center of AHL media attention and even being compared to Wayne Gretzky. However his size, just 6’2″ and thin as a pole at 165 pounds, and inconsistency with his skating, still kept him from the NHL.
On March 5, 1997, Vinny was called up to the Flyers to play his first NHL game against The New Jersey Devils as a result of Dale Hawerchuk‘s injury. That injury turned out to be career ending. Vinny broke his arm which ended his first season early, and it looked to be a promising one, too with 14 points in 18 games and 4 points in the first round of the playoffs against the Penguins. After he broke his arm, the team went on to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were swept by Detroit. He worked hard over the summer to bulk up, adding 10 pounds of muscle to be stronger for The Flyers. He was called to the Czech Olympic Team, but before he could play in the Olympics, he broke his leg in a battle against The Senators. The Czech went on to win the gold that year. Until Vinny broke his leg, he was the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy.
Prospal was sent to Ottawa for a couple of years and them traded to Florida. In 2001 He was traded to Tampa Bay under head coach John Tortorella. Torts pushed his buttons like Coach Barber did, and Vinny returned to the spit fire that we all know and helped bring The Lightning to their first ever playoff victory. It’s also said that he was quite the peacemaker in the locker room, and helped bridge the relationship between Vinny Lecavalier and John Totorella, who were struggling to see eye to eye. However in 2008 Prospal spoke out about his unhappiness when he was on the top line, and was moved down to the lowest line apparently to boost another player’s career. That int-erview was talked about for the longest time. It can be seen here.
At the end of 2003 he signed a year’s deal with Anaheim in free agency. Shortly after he was traded back to Tampa. During the lock out of the 2004-2005 season he went back home to the Czech republic where he played for team Ceske Budejovice. He lead the team in scoring that year and returned them to the ExtraLiga.
He continued to play for the Lightning until 2008, when he was traded BACK to Philly. He helped lead them to the playoffs. Then, like a ping pong, he was sent back to Tampa. In 2009 Tampa bought out Vinny’s 3 year contract, and he went to play for John Tortorella with The New York Rangers. He suffered a great injury the next winter and was not expected to return to the ice. He worked hard and recovered from several knee surgeries. This is when I got to know him, over the summer of 2011. Some say that his return to the game is nothing short of a miracle, and I do believe in miracles, but I saw him skating every single day here in Tampa and working hard to get back to NHL condition.
The Rangers dropped him in 2011, but The Columbus Blue Jackets picked him up and hold him with the highest respect both on the ice and in the locker room. He has struggled and worked hard his entire career. If anyone deserves a great amount of respect, it’s Vinny Prospal. Congratulations on your 1000 games, Vinny! Here’s to many more.