NHL Premiere in Prague

The Czech Republic loves their hockey. Hockey is the most popular sport in this country. It’s no wonder that many of the Czech players that made it to the NHL ended up being amongst the top European players the NHL has ever seen.

Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek are just a couple of the big Czech exports that tops the list.  Currently, the top players in the NHL include the golden hockey stick award winner Patrik Elias (New Jersey Devils), Jiri Hudler (Detroit Red Wings), Tomas Vokoun (Florida Panthers), and Martin Havlat (Minnesota Wild) just to name a few.

As tradition has been with the Prague games, both teams visited the Hrzansky Palace for a special State Dinner with the Czech Prime Minister prior to the NHL premiere games. Both the Bruins and Coyotes team websites feature special video and photo galleries from the event.

As far as the big hockey news in Prague, the focus has been on the Czechs… and an extremely tall Slovak. But for the NHL, there’s a lot happening in Prague right now, especially when it comes to major team news.

Boston Bruins

For the Bruins, their star power from the Czech Republic is David Krejci. Two years ago, Krejci had hopped off of a plane in Prague, rushed to O2 Arena, suited up, hit the ice with just two minutes left in practice, and was told he wouldn’t be in the NHL premiere games. Back then, he was playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a sad moment for Krejci to make the trip all the way back home, with the mark to show to all of his friends and family that he was now in the NHL, only to find out that he would not be in the games. But this time, things will be different. Krejci will be in the NHL premiere games…this time as a Boston Bruin.

Krejci isn’t the only Bruin making the news in this part of the world. The Czech Republic’s neighbor, Slovakia (i.e. the two were the former Czechoslovakia), has one of their own making their appearance in the Prague games…Zdeno Chara.

Comcast Sportsnet caught up with Chara’s father in Old Town yesterday.  In this must see interview, Mr. Chara spoke about how his son worked against adversity due to his height to later become one of the best NHL players in the league. Ironically, he has never seen his son play in Boston. The last time he saw Zdeno play was in the 2006 Winter Olympics. This weekend will be the first time he’s seen his son play in four years.

Early this morning, the Bruins announced that they had re-signed Patrice Bergeron to a three-year, $15 million deal. General Manager Peter Chiarelli joked that they came to terms last night over Czech beers.

“I’m just happy to be a part of it for three more years,” Bergeron said. “It’s my home now. I just want to be here. I wanted to get this deal done before I had to go to free agency.”

“We’ve been in discussions on and off from starting of June,” Chiarelli told the press. “There’s just been a gradual progression. We didn’t have it done before [Prague]. We pretty much closed it up yesterday.”

“I knew it was going to get done,” Bergeron said.

“When you do these contracts, you discuss shorter terms and longer terms,” Chiarelli said of the process. “You reach a resolution. This is the term that felt good for both parties.

Brian McGrattan announced that he will be a Bruin. He is currently in Prague awaiting the terms of his deal. It is expected that everything will be finalized by Monday. Sources currently say that he has agreed to terms on a one year two-way contract. Even though he is in Prague, he will not appear in any of the NHL premiere games.

Phoenix Coyotes
There are more than a couple of Coyotes that hail from the Czech Republic. Radim Vrbata, Petr Prucha and Martin Hanzal are three of the most sought after players by the Czech media this week. The downside to being an American reporter with no knowledge of the Czech language is that you have to wait to talk to any of these three players. By the time you can squeeze yourself in, they have two minutes to change and get on the team bus (or get left behind to fend for themselves).

Thus has been the reoccurring theme to my interview time with the players after practices so far since I arrived in Prague.

For Prucha, this is his second NHL premiere. He was last in Prague for the NHL premiere in 2008, when he played for the New York Rangers. This time, Prucha returns to his home country more confident and with a team he feels more at ease with, one where he feels as if he truly belongs.

Vrbata, who was with the Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago, is also in Prague for his second NHL premiere games. Back then, Tampa Bay had lost twice to the Rangers at the Prague games. Now, Prucha and Vrbata are back in Prague, but this time they are playing for the same team.

Both players seem to be more at ease with the Coyotes than they had with their former clubs. How so? Just watch how they’ve been able to produce and get the ice time that was taken away from them (which was Prucha’s New York dilemma).

Now, they are joined by Hanzal to represent their country in the NHL premiere games.

Not hockey related, but Boston related. The big news in the UK and Ireland has been the news that the Boston Red Sox owners purchased the soccer (football) team Liverpool FC. The club is 280 million pounds in debt. The Red Sox owners purchased the struggling club for 300 million pounds.

Soccer (aka football) is a very popular sport in Europe. The Scotland national team headed over to Prague (on the same plane as me) to play against the Czech Republic. The big game is tonight (Friday). For those wondering what everyone (including the teams) are talking about…the Scots invading the Czech Republic. There are kilts all over the city, every which way you turn.

Kyle Turris (Phoenix) started tweeting pictures from his Prague excursion today in Old Town. Amongst those tweets, he included pictures of all of the Scots they encountered in the city. (You can follow Kyle on Twitter: @kyleturris)

Football and hockey are in town, and Prague has become a mecca for sports fans this weekend.

ESPN America will be airing all of the NHL premiere games for European fans.

For those back home in the States, Saturday’s NHL Premiere is at 12 p.m. EDT (9 a.m. PST).


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