Rhythmic drums, a unified chant, blaring thrash metal music, and of course pyrotechnics.
That’s pretty typical at...you guessed it, a Czech ice hockey game.
When you’re travelling for a long time, you seek some familiarity because everything is always changing, and sometimes you just need something recognizable to calm your soul. For me, one of the bigger transitions in our year of travel was leaving a culture of ice hockey behind.
It’s been a pretty big adjustment to go from playing 2-3 times a week, streaming countless games on TV and taking in the live action, to not seeing any games at all. So when the opportunity presented itself in Prague, I jumped at a chance for us to go see a HC Sparta Praha game.
Before we left on our adventure, Krystal and I created individual goals. One of my original goals for this year was to either see Jaromir Jagr (a famous Czech ice hockey player) play this season or catch some games live at the IIHF World Hockey Championships. Unfortunately Jagr didn’t suit up for a game until we were already in Asia and our timing didn’t quite workout to catch team Canada play in Slovakia, but that’s life.
Instead we were pleasantly surprised to experience a whole new world when we got in to the Prague Arena.
The first new hockey experience for us was seeing the all-in-one building that had a mall attached to the Czech Hockey Hall of Fame which lead to the Arena (I guess they were really trying to maximize their use of space!). We explored the mall before heading over to the game but didn’t go into the Hockey Hall of Fame because their tickets were twice the price of our tickets to the game.
Once we were ready to watch the teams warm up, we went in to the arena and found our seats. We noticed two things that were immensely different than North American rinks when we walked in the door:
The ice surface is one gigantic advertisement. Typically the ice that you play on in North America is white and the only markings are lines to indicate different areas of play. This ice however, was coated with corporate logos everywhere! Imagine any other sport that way: on a soccer/football pitch having spray painted advertisements every 5 meters. It’s ridiculous!
The other thing was the concession prices were super cheap. If you go to see a professional hockey game in Ontario, Canada a pint of beer costs between $14-$18 CAD, in Prague they are $2.00 CAD
As time went on, warm ups ended, the crowd took their seats and the atmosphere reared it’s wonderfully strange head.
As I said before there are rhythmic drums at these games, there’s actually a section for the team drummers behind the opposing team’s net. The drummers start playing before the puck drops to begin the game and they only take small breaks throughout the 1.5 hours of game play.
The crowd at Czech ice hockey games is very similar to any professional Premier League Football games you can see on TV: fans of each team have their own songs that they sing and cheer to all game long and it's really fun to watch and be a part of.
Speaking of fun, the introduction songs for the teams are a bit “heavier” than they are back in North America. Typically for a NHL game there will be a top 20 Rock or Pop song played when players step on the ice to start the game. In the Czech League, you get some metal music played throughout the game (if you’re unfamiliar with metal in general here is a popular Finnish metal band, called Children of Bodom).
I loved it.
A little known fact about me is that metal music made up 90% of what I listened to in my teenage years and was the only thing I listened to before playing in any of my own hockey games. I was thrilled.
If all of that wasn’t enough to get the crowd hyped up for the game, there was also a minor pyrotechnics show during introductions.
Fire blazing as the announcer names the starting line up for “YOUR PRAHA SPARTANS!” how could you expect the crowd not to be on their feet!?
The opening spectacle was followed by some technically sub-par, but incredibly entertaining hockey. Often I enjoy watching lower tier hockey games because there is a large element of surprise. Watching the NHL you know that 95% of the time each player is going to make the smart move, and not do anything too erratic, but lower tier leagues...what is this player going to do? YOU HAVE NO IDEA, AND NEITHER DO THEY, and therein lies the true entertainment of these types of games.
Needless to say, this hockey game, and Prague in general brought a taste of familiarity with it’s own flair, that we missed from home.
I’d highly recommend Prague as a stop to anyone on a budget looking to take a lot in, in limited time. The city is very compact, we were able to see a number of sights and take in a hockey game all in two days.
That’s all for now, and just remember kids, keep your stick on the ice!
Na zdraví (Cheers),