Czech passion for hockey


Czech hockey: A national pastime

By EMMA PALOVA

As we draw closer to the Olympiad in Russian Sochi, I keep thinking about Czech hockey. Although the Czech hockey team is not among the top three medal contenders, Canada, USA and Russia, the team has been dubbed as the best among the rest along with Finland.

The Czech hockey team won their dream “Tournament of the Century” that is the gold medal in Nagano 1998 and bronze in 2006
in Torino, Italy. The New Jersey Devils veterans Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Elias may give the Czechs a shot this time
around, according to the Bleacher Report.
“I bet the first line is Jagr, Krejci and Voracek because of 68’s familiarity with both of them,” wrote Tom Urtz Jr.
Jim Dance also commented on Bleach Reporter:
“Hudler leads his NHL team in scoring by 14pts,Vrbata is tied for the lead on his NHL team. I think there’s some back door
BS going on here.I mean really? Granted Jagr is having a great year,but a little too much nostalgia for me.”
“It’s all nostalgia for me,” I wrote.

Jaromir Jagr of New Jersey Devils
Jaromir Jagr of New Jersey Devils

In the old communist Czechoslovakia governed by Soviet politics, hockey was all political. Every year, the two best hockey
teams in the world, Czechs and the Soviets, were pitched against each other. The ice arena became the real political
platform and battlefield.
What could not transpire in real life, happened on ice. The two teams would beat each other to death physically with
their hockey sticks pushing each other against the mantinels. Hockey was the only way the Czechs could show their
opposition against the Soviet occupation.
“Beat them,” I could hear from the windows as I walked to the only grocery store in the 30,000-apartment
complex known as Southern Slopes in hometown Zlin.
The shouts repeated themselves as I continued to walk with a classical nasty grocery bag. Little did I know that this
classical grocery bag would make its grand appearance on the American market stage three decades later.
“Who won,” I asked breathless as I walked into the living room where everyone was sitting around the TV.
The silence was not good.
“Well?”
“The Russians did,” sighed my grandpa Joseph taking a gulp from a bottle.
“Are they better than us?” I asked naïvely holding a bag full of groceries.
That question continues to linger on even into the new millennium. Sometimes the Russians won, sometimes the Czechs did.
Experts would say,”Oh the Czechs played a defensive game,but the Russians played an offensive game.”
I never quite came to a resolution over this. The fact of the matter was, that we hated the Russians because they occupied
our country in 1968 with tanks. Hate may have tainted our judgment.
“You didn’t watch the hockey game?” asked a guy at the bus stop another guy. “You’re a traitor.”
Yeah, the passions ran high when it came to playing the Russians. Then in 1989 with the fall of communism in Velvet
Revolution, a lot of that passion was lost.

Winning Czech hockey team in Nagano 1998
Winning Czech hockey team in Nagano 1998

One year before the Olympics, I was getting groceries here in US at the Meijer store and the cashier asked me:
“Where is that accent from?”
“It’s Czech,” I said.
“Great hockey team,” he said. “Who do you root for?”
“Of course, for the Czech team,” I laughed.

The Czech hockey has been immortalized by retired goaltender Dominik Hašek. In his 16-season National Hockey League (NHL)
career, he played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators. During his years
in Buffalo, he became one of the league’s finest goaltenders, earning him the nickname “The Dominator”. His strong play
has been credited with establishing European goaltenders in a league previously dominated by North Americans.
Hašek is regarded as a future Hall of Famer by those in the hockey world.
The current Jaromir Jagr is one of a small group of hockey players to have won the Stanley Cup (1991, 1992), the Ice
Hockey World Championships (2005, 2010), and the Olympic gold medal in ice hockey (1998). This is known as the Triple Gold
Club, and Jágr is one of only two Czech players (the other being Jiří Šlégr) in the Triple Gold Club, the 15th player to
complete it out of 25 total, as of June 2011.
So, the fame of Czech hockey continues with or without the Russians.
Go Czechs go, win Sochi 2014.

Copyright (c) 2014 story by Emma Palova, photos Internet and Wikipedia


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