Miroslav Dvorak, named the winner of the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers' top defenseman in 1983-84 - and a player whose off-ice demeanor reminded some teammates of a legendary

Saturday Night Live

skit - died Wednesday in the Czech Republic after a long battle with throat cancer, the club announced yesterday.

Nicknamed "Cookie," Mr. Dvorak was 56. He spent three productive seasons with the Flyers, helping them reach the Stanley Cup Finals against Edmonton in 1985, his last year with the team.

General manager Paul Holmgren called Mr. Dvorak a solid player and "fun-loving guy who couldn't wait for practices to end so he could go and have a few beers. He was a throwback-type guy."

The two were teammates for two seasons in the early '80s.

"He was an older player when he came here, but he was a strong player and a pretty good offensive player," Holmgren said. "He would be a good player in today's game."

Holmgren said Mr. Dvorak reminded him of the "wild and crazy guys," Georg and Yortuk Festrunk, played by Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin. The actors played bizarre (and hysterically funny) Czech brothers in a recurring skit for Saturday Night Live.

Mr. Dvorak "dressed funny, and he talked funny, but he could laugh at himself," Holmgren said.

Before the 1982-83 season, the Flyers bolstered their blue line by drafting Mr. Dvorak, a 30-year-old Czech national-team standout, and acquiring Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon.

Mr. Dvorak, who was drafted in the third round, had permission from the communist Czechoslovakian government to play in the NHL in exchange for financial considerations for the Czech hockey federation.

Mr. Dvorak spoke no English when he arrived, and he became close friends with his defensive partner, Brad Marsh, who bought a Czech-English dictionary and took the player under his wing.

"I remember the first time I met Miro at the airport, I shook his hand, and he didn't know a word of English," said Marsh in Stan Fischler's book, Greatest Players and Moments of the Philadelphia Flyers. "That night, we roomed together after an exhibition game. I knew how to say beer in Czech (pivo), so I ordered up some beers from room service.

"With my dictionary, it was amazing what I could accomplish over a couple of beers."

Mr. Dvorak adapted quickly to the smaller NHL rink and more physical style. He had 37 points and a plus-27 rating in 1982-83, his first year with the Flyers.

In his three years with the team, Mr. Dvorak collected 85 points and was plus-58. After leaving the Flyers, he played two seasons in Germany and split his final pro season between Germany and his native Czechoslovakia.