On a spectacular late August afternoon, in one of the world’s truly beautiful cities, I found myself among 1,000 crazy hockey fans taking in a HC Sparta pre-season match against JYP Jyväskylä from Finland. Although I’ve given up as a diehard fan of NHL hockey (losing your team will do that to you), the enjoyment of the sport itself is deep in my Canadian DNA. An opportunity to see my first game on the larger ice surface in another hockey-mad country was just too good a chance to pass up.
What do diehard Czech hockey fans look like? Probably something like these good folk waiting to head into the arena:
Not only were there passionate HC Sparta fans, but a group of people traveled from Jyväskylä, Finland to watch their team, JYP play…. and they did that for a pre-season game. They even shelled out for a private box for the game. Looks like they had a good time:
With a small crowd for the 13,000 seat arena, they had us all sit on the same side so you’ll notice there’s no one sitting on the other side of the ice. We were able to snag a great seat right on the red line. The size of the ice was striking compared to North American arenas. The other side of the rink felt like it was in a different area code. Just before the opening faceoff, the two teams lined up on their blue lines to acknowledge each other – Sparta is on the left in the maroon sweaters:
The game was a fun experience for a Friday afternoon. It had all the usual hockey-isms: the fans were vocally upset with the refereeing, they mocked the visiting goalie, and danced to an almost identical music track to every hockey game I’ve been to in Canada. Really, in Prague, the music track consisted of Bon Jovi, Gary Glitter, LMFAO and an almost endless loop of “Who let the dogs out?” and “Cotton Eyed Joe”… I was hoping for better. Sometimes you get reminded when traveling just how small our world is.
Another interesting “it’s a small world” thing happened in this game – one of the players for JYP was Ramzi Abid, who played some of his junior hockey for my hometown team, the Halifax Mooseheads. Now 32 years old, he still plays rough in the corners and you could see he was one of the veteran players and leaders for JYP. I got a few odd looks when I would cheer for a body check he made. This is him in the white sweater heading to the bench for a line change:
As for the game, AC Sparta played well early, controlled much of the play, and was up 1-0 just ahead of this faceoff part way through the second period:
After that faceoff, the puck didn’t leave the zone for over a minute with Sparta scoring a power play goal to go up 2-0. Here are the fans celebrating the goal:
It was a pretty entertaining game with good flow, skating and speed. Sparta took a 3-0 lead but JYP closed the gap to 3-2 at the 2nd intermission. Here we are from our seats waiting for the third period to start. And yes, I did wear my Nordiques shirt to the game. It got a thumbs up and a “Canadian?” from the popcorn/beer vendor in the first intermission. I love that my old team is recognizable after all these years:
The game headed into overtime tied 4-4. Because of a European club tournament, even though this was a preseason game for both teams, a winner needed to be declared. We decided to make our way to supper at a restaurant across town, leaving as overtime was just getting underway. Sparta eventually won the game in a shootout and reading about it the next day made me happy for the loyal fans who showed up for the late summer game.