Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pardubice wins Open Air game at home

HC Eaton Pardubice, on what was their home ice for one day, erased a 2-0 deficit and beat Kometa Brno 4-2 in a historic game for hockey in the Czech Republic.

Only five weeks after announcing grand plans to stage the first-ever outdoor professional hockey game in the Czech Republic, the two teams took to the ice at Pardubice-Svítkov Speedway, which is normally a course for motorcycle racing.

Action during the Legends Game. Photo: Jan Jedlička,
The day began at 10:00, with a legends game, made up of two teams composed of former greats who played for the Pardubice and Brno clubs. Perhaps the most recognizable name to North Americans to participate in this game was Vladimír Martinec, who starred for the Czechoslovakian team that made a memorable showing at the 1976 Canada Cup. He scored in the third period to give Pardubice a 3-2 lead, but Brno later tied it and the contest ended in a 3-3 tie. "Today's outcome isn't significant," he said. "Nobody got hurt and we had a great time playing . . .  It was good. The weather was nice, not freezing too much. It worked great."

While the sun was out when the legends began to play, it started to snow before they were finished. By the time the main event began at 12:30, the teams were playing in driving snow. The conditions were favourable to Brno, who had the wind at their backs and the snow blowing into the face of Pardubice goaltender Adam Svoboda. The visitors held the run of the play in the first period and scored two goals; Marek Kvapil and Roman Erat doing the damage. The two teams began the game wearing vintage sweaters from past editions of their teams. After the game, Svoboda commented, "The first period was not very good. We played upwind in a blizzard. I was looking through one eye because everything blew into my face. When five centimetres (of snow) falls, you can't see the puck."

Second period faceoff. Photo: Jan Jedlička,
When the two clubs took to the ice for the second period, it appeared to be a whole new game. The snow had stopped and the teams were wearing their regular sweaters, the latter move likely to appease the advertisers. As well, Martin Růžička took over from Svoboda in the Pardubice goal, and he was perfect the rest of the way. Rastislav Špirko tipped a one-time drive from Václav Kočí past goaltender Jiří Trvaj and Pardubice was on the board. This wasn't Špirko's first appearance in an outdoor game. He played for Slovakia in an outdoor exhibition game in the Swiss Alps two years ago. Pardubice struck twice more before the middle frame was half finished, first Jan Starý and then Martin Bartek on a routine shot that Trvaj misplayed. Late in the second period, the sun came out, and the frozen spectators certainly welcomed that.

In the third period, Radek Dlouhý had the opportunity to tie the score on a penalty shot, but he was denied by Růžička. Starý scored his second of the game into an empty net, and Pardubice had the 4-2 win.

There was one North American playing in this game. Holyoke, MA's Adam Pineault played on Pardubice's fourth forward line, seeing limited action. Their other American, Jeff Jillson of North Smithfield, RI, was scratched from the lineup for the third straight game. 

Though the rink in the middle of the large track didn't afford the fans the best sightlines, and the heavy snowfall during the first period made things even more difficult, the crowd was definitely into the game. The chanting and singing in the style of European football fans gave it an atmosphere that is distinct from when these sorts of games are staged in North America.

Though the crowd of 17,140 established a new record for the Czech Extraliga, it did not break the record for largest hockey crowd to ever see the game in what is now the Czech Republic. That record still stands at 18,500 for the grand opening of Sportovní hala in Prague (now TESLA Arena) in the Czechoslovakian First League. A team from Brno was also visiting on that day; ZKL Brno visited Spartak Sokolov. The stadium for Sunday's game was configured to accommodate up to 25,000, and it was hoped that capacity would be reached. The previous record for the Extraliga was from the seventh game of the 2008 Finals, when 17,123 filled Sazka Arena (now O2 Arena) to watch Slavia Praha defeat Energie Karlovy Vary and claim the championship.

"Its true that we are a bit sad that there werent more, but this is good for us," Pardubice General Manager Zbyněk Kusy said of the crowd. "We are pleased that we were able to welcome over seventeen thousand spectators. Getting more people, it probably isn't likely in the Czech Republic right now."

Among the reasons some fans gave for the lower-than-expected turnout were the high ticket prices and the lack of any marquee names playing in the game. Tickets ranged in price from CZK 450 to 1000 (approximately USD 24 to 53). Ticket prices in the Extraliga are usually in the range of CZK 100 to 300.

The win moved Pardubice into a three-way tie for second place in the Extraliga standings. The tie is only temporary, however, as the other two tied clubs, Oceláři Třinec and Bílí Tigři Liberec, will take to the ice against each other later on Sunday.

More photos from the event can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. you are the biggest asshole ever to write about hockey.