Two Scouts’ wild trip to the NHL draft – canceled trips, a car crash and an ‘champion’ RV

The phone of the Dallas Stars’ director of team services rang at 4:42 p.m. Tuesday, with a call from one of the team’s international amateur scouts.

“As soon as I heard Jiří’s voice, I knew something wasn’t right,” said Jason Radman, who oversees the team’s travel. “Tell me what happened. The first thought, of course, was, ‘Are you okay?'”

Jiří Hrdina and Fredrik Haak, his newly hired travel partner and fellow scout, were doing well, but they were stranded in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, at Exit 73 on Virginia’s Interstate 81, on the last leg of their turbulent journey to NHL draft.

The Scouts are involved in a car accident, and their rental car is disabled when it is smashed by a large truck. Why were they in the car? Because problems with connecting to flights out of New York and New Jersey made driving the nearly 900 miles to Nashville seem like a better option. The trip turned out to be a disaster, with multiple flight cancellations, lost luggage and about two days in a row with no sleep.

As Radman contemplated how to help the Scouts resume their ill-fated journey, his phone rang again, this time with an unfamiliar number from Alaska. Thinking it was a spam call, he ignored it. The phone rang again with the same number. This time, Radman responded.

“Hi, my name is Alex,” the caller said. “I’m here with you guys in Central Virginia. I saw what happened. I just wanted to help.”

And that’s how Hardina and Huck ended up enlisting in an RV.

Hrdina, a longtime stargazer, and Haak, who didn’t technically start his job until July 1, met up in Newark, though not by design.

Hardina arrived in New York, at JFK, on ​​Sunday afternoon from Prague, expecting a short stopover before continuing on to Nashville. After several delays, that flight was cancelled. After being told by the booking agent that his best option was a Monday morning flight from JFK, he stayed the night near that airport. When he went to the airline’s office on Monday morning, he was told there was no record of him being booked at JFK.

Jerry Hardina in the NHL Draft on Wednesday. (Courtesy of the Dallas Stars)

So, Hrdina was directed to Newark airport, hoping for a Monday night flight. That’s where he found Huck, who had arrived that morning from Sweden and who had already sat through one canceled flight on his way to Nashville. Hardina started to get to know his new teammate. They watched their 7 p.m. flight be delayed to 10 p.m., then 1 a.m., then 2 a.m.

Finally, at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, the flight was cancelled.

Hardina and Huck are back on the phones again, trying to find another trip that can get them to Nashville in time to join their teammates for the start of the draft on Wednesday night. There were almost no open seats, and of course there is no guarantee that any plane will get off the ground.

“We tried to rebook tickets,” Huck said. “I got a seat but he didn’t. He was on the waiting list. It felt wrong to me hoping I’d get a ticket and he probably won’t. We decided to drive until we were sure we made it.”

Around 7 a.m. Tuesday, Hardina and Huck finally gave up their hopes of air travel. Neither of them had slept since Sunday night. They rented a car and made plans for a nearly 900-mile, 13-plus hour road trip in a gray Mercedes-Benz. With both of them running out of sleep, they planned for one person to drive while the other slept. While they were both awake, they were chatting, getting to know each other, and having a great time.

Nearly eight hours into their trip, Hrdina was behind the wheel through Wytheville, Virginia. An accident ahead brought traffic to a standstill on the highway. Hardina said an 18-wheeler truck carrying piles of lumber barreled forward down the left shoulder, scraping the guardrail all the way.

“All the cars (in front of us) stopped so of course we stopped,” Huck said. Then, there was a truck behind us that, for some reason, you couldn’t stop. Jiři saw in the mirror (the truck was coming) and started walking, ‘Woah, woah, woah!’ And I said, ‘Okay, what’s going on?'”

Hardina tried to move the car, but the truck hit the driver’s side rear end and broke the rear axle, the collision caused the car to crash into an SUV in front of it before the truck topped the collision by crashing into the SUV.

The truck also crashed into the side of Alex Temple’s RV. Temple retired from the US Marine Corps last month after 20 years—he was an artillery sergeant and an airplane firefighter—and he, his wife Jamie, and their three daughters have been loaded into an RV for the multi-day road trip.

“I heard what sounded like a freight train,” Temple said of the truck and the accident, and his instincts kicked in. He turned on his emergency signals, got down and began checking the cars that had been crushed from behind.

“Twenty years of being a firefighter, I’m just starting to check people out,” Temple said.

When he approached Hardina, Temple said the star scouts didn’t seem bothered. After hearing the story of Hardina’s journey up to that point, Temple understood why.

“This look on his face was like, ‘What else could be going on?'” Temple said. “He wasn’t upset, he wasn’t angry.”

Part of the accident site in Virginia. (Courtesy of Alex Temple)

While Temple was checking out the other drivers, Hardina and Huck reached out to Radman, who was already in Nashville with the team and who advised them to start trying to get a replacement car—which, of course, wouldn’t be easy. But Hardina and Huck are starting to have problems with their phones, so Temple offers to help make the calls.

With the Scouts essentially stranded, Radman asked Temple if he could drive them both to the nearest hotel. From there, Radman will try to find a solution. By then, Temple had already invited Hrdina and Haak to the RV, and they were trailing a tow truck because Hrdina and Haak had forgotten to take some of their belongings out of the rental car.

Radman expressed his gratitude to Temple via text message for his help, Hardina, and Huck.

“No need to worry,” Temple replied in a text message. “I wish someone would do the same for me and me.”

Once the scouts have their bags, Hardina and Huck head back into the RV, grateful to have a way to get off the road and find a place to sleep. They believed that the Temples, which were eventually heading northwest towards Alaska, would be on their way next.

“He said, ‘No, no, no, I’m going to take you all the way to Nashville,'” Hardina said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?'”

Because his work and family kept him busy, Temple never became a sports fan. He had no idea about Hardina and Huck. At first, he thought he was riding two hockey fans. Temple wanted to help them get into the draft so they could watch their favorite team make some selections.

As they drive for the remaining seven hours, Alex, Jimmy, Hardina, and Huck talk most of the way – Hardina and Alex talk about family, children, humanity, and community, while Jimmy and Huck talk about cultural differences.

“We were exchanging some stories,” Hardina said of Alex. “We are very close and very good friends now. He is an amazing guy.”

The caravan arrived in Nashville at about 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Hardina asked to be dropped off at the airport because even though he didn’t get out of JFK, his bags had already arrived at Nashville. Huck didn’t have the same luck. His luggage was still stuck in Newark, so he only had his backpack and handbag. Fortunately, his girlfriend advised him, before leaving Stockholm, to pack a suit in his suitcase, just in case. Even though he had to buy boots in Nashville, he wore that suit on the first night of the draft on Wednesday.

When Huck arrived in the lobby of the Star Hotel just minutes before the team bus left for Bridgestone Arena, a veteran scout greeted him with a hug and a joke.

Hey, it’s ‘planes, trains and cars,’ he said, laughing.

On Wednesday afternoon, Radman sent Temple a letter of thanks, which included the Stars’ 2023-24 regular season schedule. The stars invited Temple and his family to any game, in any city that suited them. They also plan to make it up to Temple and send the family T-shirts and other items to thank them for their kindness.

As it turns out, Temple’s father grew up in Lubbock and said the family, ironically, were fans of the Dallas Cowboys. Temple said his family is planning a trip to Dallas to see a game at the American Airlines Center.

“It has been an absolute pleasure and opportunity to show my daughters how people help people,” Temple texted Radman on Wednesday.

“Being in the emergency services, you don’t see enough people helping people,” Temple said. “Being the father of three daughters, I feel it is my responsibility to show my daughters how people take care of people.”

Alex Temple, his wife Jamie and their daughters. (Courtesy of Alex Temple)

This provided the answer to the question that Radman, Hardina and Huck had in mind. Why? Why would Temple and his wife receive strangers like this and go out of their way to help?

“For him to even pull over on the side of the road is one thing,” Radman said. “For him to follow the tow of a truck is unreal. For him to drive 400 miles, seven hours, somewhat out of his way, it’s just a godsend. Honestly, like a guardian angel. He didn’t know he was stopping. I can’t.” To say enough about this guy. A champ.”

(Top photo of Frederick Hack in Wednesday’s NHL draft: Courtesy of the Dallas Stars)

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