Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jágr, Plekanec to debut at O2

Everyone knew that once the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the National Hockey League and its Players' Association lapsed at midnight Eastern Time on Saturday night, it wouldn't take long for players to start joining European leagues. It sure didn't take long.

Jágr in a Kladno jersey. Photo: Josef Paláček,
On Saturday, before the expiration of the contract, Kladno natives Jaromír Jágr and Tomáš Plekanec were practicing with their home town Extraliga club, Rytíři, the club that Jágr actually owns. The team is apparently so anxious to make a spectacle of the debut of these players that they have moved their October 7 home game against Slavia Praha up to this Wednesday, September 19, and from the small arena in Kladno to the largest hockey venue in the country: Prague's O2 Arena. The change has already been made on the schedule on Kladno's website, but not Slavia's or at

With a capacity of more than 17 000, O2 Arena would seem to be the perfect stage for such a big event. It also seems that it might not be only Jágr and Plekanec, either. The club's website declared the possibility of the pair playing "with other players". A club press released announced that they would try to sign up to five locked out NHLers; Kladno natives in the league include Michael Frolík, Tomáš Kaberle, Ondřej Pavelec, Jiří Tlustý, Jakub Voráček and Marek Židlický. As this would be a Kladno home game, the website also gives information on ticket information and free transportation to O2 Arena, a mere 35 km (23 miles) away.

"This is an exceptional sporting event and we hope that it will be of great interest," said Václav Bartoš, the club's Executive Director. "We want to offer a great experience to as many fans as possible and promote Kladno hockey with our best players outside of our city. We would also like to accommodate all the Kladno fans and season-ticket holders who would like to go."

In a funny twist, the visiting team will be the building's normal tenant, Slavia Praha. Slavia's season ticket holders won't have their regular seats reserved, but it's expected that because of the magnitude of this event, most of them will buy tickets, along with their usual "fan club" group (who will likely be given their familiar end of the rink) and thousands of other hockey fans who may have no particular affiliation to either team.  Despite being the visiting team, it's expected that Slavia will dress in their home dressing room and use their normal home bench, but wear their white road sweaters, while Kladno will wear home blue.

Though Slavia has not officially declared its pursuit of NHL players, their alumni in the NHL include Roman Červenka, an off-season signing of the Calgary Flames who is a former linemate of Jágr on the Czech national team as well as Avangard Omsk of the KHL. Others include Petr KadlecPavel Kolářík and Vladimír Sobotka.

The building is expected to have a different atmosphere than a Slavia home game, as they often struggle to attract a crowd large enough to create a good atmosphere. Last year, the club's dismal season meant that fewer than 4500 fans per game came out. However, Slavia also played host to the league's largest crowd of the season, 11 284 against cross-town rival Sparta on January 15. The last time Jágr played for Kladno at O2 Arena was during the 2004-05 season; a game that attracted 15 785 fans. O2 Arena has attracted four of the five largest crowds in Extraliga history.

Kladno then has a regularly scheduled home game against Vítkovice on Friday, which presumably could be the first game that Jágr et al play actually in their home town. 

1 comment:

  1. Definitely interesting move from Kladno, I'm curious how many people will arrive.
    From what I've read Kladno fans aren't really happy about it, although they get a free ride to Prague. But I can see their point, especially given that Slavia is basically playing at home. I wonder how many of them will really go to see the game.