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. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Increased workload makes blog suffer

The arrival of a Kontinental Hockey League club in Prague is a watershed moment in Czech  hockey, as it means that this country will see arguably its highest calibre of club hockey since the 1980s, when top players began trickling out of Czechoslovakia to the west.

The arrival of HC Lev Praha makes Derek a busy boy.
Photo: Ondřej Kalát,
Thursday is the day when Lev Praha makes its KHL debut on home ice at Tipsport Arena against Dinamo Riga. Though it has been known for months that this day was coming, I have not commented much about it, as I knew I would be writing for the team website and I therefore felt writing under the guise of unbiased journalism wouldn't be fair. Therefore, I want to make it clear that I am in fact working for the club.

I started this blog two years ago in hopes of breaking into hockey writing and filling a gap that I noticed, namely the lack of Czech hockey news and analysis in English. As a native English speaker living in the Czech Republic with an extensive background in hockey and writing, I felt myself more than qualified to fill that gap. To that end, I feel I have made definite progress.

In December 2010 I began contributing to, in June 2011, and in the past 18 months, I have had paid assignments covering four IIHF World Championship tournaments, including three writing for the English versions of official tournament websites (2011 Inline World Championship in Pardubice, 2012 U18 Women's World Championship in Zlín, and 2012 U18 Men's World Championship in Brno). I also contributed from afar writing for Lev Poprad, the short-lived KHL franchise in the Slovakian Tatra Mountains.

If there was a downside to all of that extra work, it meant that I had less free time to write on this blog. Indeed, the number of entries for the 2011-12 season was approximately half of the previous year. This year, with the KHL in Prague, I have a great opportunity to further my writing career, but it will also take a great deal more of my time. Writing almost daily for Lev, as well as making contributions to the website of their corporate partner, HC Sparta Praha of the Czech Extraliga, added on top of a full-time teaching job does not leave me a whole lot of time to write as a hobby.

I want to make it clear that I am not saying I am finished with this blog. If there is big news from the Czech Extraliga, I will probably still write something. Also, around December, I will report on the developments of the Czech U20 national team as it prepares for the World Junior Championships, as articles I've written the past two years on the team have generated a lot of traffic from abroad. Just don't expect daily, or even necessarily weekly updates, as was common in the past.

As I write this, it is less than seven hours from the opening faceoff. For my preview of the game, click here, and check back often for previews, game reports, and player interviews throughout the season. If you don't already, following me on Twitter (@Djob76) will keep you informed about any other outlets that I might contribute to.