Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sparta to host New York Rangers in September

For the fifth year in a row, the NHL will open its season with regular season games in Europe. Unlike 2008 and 2010, none of these games will be played in Prague. However, that hasn't stopped HC Sparta Praha from getting in on the action.

New coaches Josef Jandač (far left) and Richard Žemlička attend
a press conference to announce the Sparta-Rangers match this
fall at Tesla Arena. Photo:
On Wednesday afternoon, at a press conference at Tesla Arena, the club announced that it will host the New York Rangers in a pre-season game on September 29.

"We will play on a rink with European dimensions," announced club Executive Director Zbyňek Černý, inferring that the ice surface at Tesla Arena will not be narrowed to North American size. "The budget will be around 12 million Czech crowns (approximately USD 740,000)." 

On May 11, tickets will be made available to Sparta season-ticket holders. A week later, on May 18, they will be made available to the general public. Tickets will range in price from CZK 600 to 1300 (approximately USD 37 to 80). 

It will be the second time that a Czech club has hosted an NHL team. Last year, the Boston Bruins played Bílí Tygři Liberec at Tipsport Arena before moving on to Prague, where they opened their regular season with a pair of games against the Phoenix Coyotes at O2 Arena. Previously, Czechoslovak clubs Tesla Pardubice and Poldi Kladno visited several NHL cities in a mid-season tour in 1977-78.

Although Sparta has never faced an NHL team before, this won't be the first time that Tesla Arena has hosted one. The Calgary Flames played a pair of games at Sportovní hala, as it was then called, in September 1989 against the Czechoslovakian national team. Calgary's lineup featured ex-Sparta centreman Jiří Hrdina. The national team won both games by 4-2 scores.

For the Rangers, it will be their second trip to Prague. Back in the fall of 2008, they opened up their season with a pair of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning at O2 Arena. This fall, they will play the exhibition game at Tesla Arena before heading to Stockholm to open the regular season with games against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. They might also play against a Swedish club.

A few years ago, the Rangers were immensely popular in the Czech Republic, as they had six Czechs on their roster in the 2007-08 season, including legends Jaromír Jágr and Martin Straka. Currently, the Rangers have only one Czech, left winger Václav Prospal, and he could leave this summer as a free agent.

Sparta also introduced new coaches at the press conference, head coach Josef Jandač and assistant Richard Žemlička. This comes as part of an offseason of major rebuilding for the club, following an embarrassing twelfth-place finish. There is still a lot of work to be done assembling a team before they face the Rangers.

"The idea is not bad at all," Jandač commented. "It's an attractive team and we'll gain valuable experience."

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