By signing with Beibarys Atyrau of Kazakhstan, Ontario Hockey League grad Jan Snopek instantly places himself among the league’s five oldest, tallest and heaviest players. The 36 year old defenseman is an imposing figure at 6’4″ and 223 lbs.
Snopek played four years in the OHL from 1993-94 to 1996-97, all with the Oshawa Generals. He was stellar on defense in his final season as the Generals finished the regular season second overall to the Ottawa 67’s. Marc Savard led the way offensively with 130 points and one of his two Eddie Powers Trophies. The two teams then met in the Robertson Cup final with Oshawa taking out the 67’s in six games.
The 1997 Memorial Cup was held in Hull, Quebec. The Generals lost a heart-breaker to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in overtime of the semi-final game. The Hurricanes in turn lost to the host Hull Olympiques in the final. Snopek was the only General selected to the tournament All-Star Team, placed alongside Chris Phillips of Lethbridge on the point.
Selected in the fifth round of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, 109th overall, Jan played just two games of pro hockey in North America before heading back to Europe. The native of Prague in the Czech Republic played 633 regular season games over 13 seasons in the Czech Extraliga between 1998-99 and 2010-11. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, he was a membe of HC Pardubice, acting as team captain for the final two years. Pardubice was playoff champion in 2004-05 with a victory over HC Zlin and lost in the finals two years later to Sparta Praha (Prague).
During the 2010-11 season, Snopek left the Czech Republic for Finland to play for Karpat of the SM-Liiga. He spent the 2011-12 season with the Finnish club before moving to Atyrau for the upcoming season.
Atyrau is a Kazak city located at the intersection of the Ural River and the Caspian Sea. This is the centre of a fast growing oil-rich area and the city has a population of around 150,000. The team plays out of the tiny 800 seat Khiuaz Dospanova Ice Palace. Since entering the league for the 2009-10 season, Beibarys have been the top team in the ten team league. The Kazakhstan league would basically rival Russia’s VHL as a tier 2 to the KHL.