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5 posts categorized "Sports"

11/26/2012

Hockey = Life

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

 

I can’t believe I have put off writing about European hockey for this long.  Perhaps part of the reason is the fact that I am in denial of the NHL lockout.  However, I am lucky to have gone to many KHL and Czech Extraliga games in Prague and I plan on going to many more. I need to get my fill of hockey before I get home.

Hockey2

Prague has three hockey teams.  Two teams, Sparta Praha and Slavia Praha are part of the Czech Extraliga, playing solely Czech teams.  I believe the Prague fans are split down the middle even though historically Sparta has been the better team (though this year they are last in their league).  Slavia plays in the O2 arena, your typical giant multipurpose venue, akin to the Verizon Center.  Sparta plays in the Tipsport arena from the Soviet era.  I like that arena better.  The bench seating and small arena make the game much more intimate.  Sparta is also home to the Washington Capital’s goalie Michal Neuvirth, who is currently playing with them during the NHL lockout.  It’s great to see him in his home country, and it’s a little bit of home for me too.

Prague is also the new home to Lev Praha, the KHL team.  Lev switches between arenas and has quite a fan section already.  If you need a description of Czech sports fans, please refer to my blog about the soccer game.  Hockey fans are that crazy, if not more.  However, Prague’s KHL team is also very controversial.  Many Czech fans don’t want the Russian owned KHL here due to their history with Russia and the lingering anti-soviet sentiment.  I’m happy to have it for more hockey!

Hockey3

Lev has two NHL players, Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers.  I love watching Chara play.  He is huge – 6 foot 9 inches without skates and 255 pounds of pure muscle.  During the 2012 NHL skills competition he clocked the fastest slapshot at 106 miles per hour.  He is not only a beast on the ice, but he is an incredible player.  Plus, he hi-fived me!  I’ve also seen Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk play on away teams visiting Prague.

It’s very interesting to see the difference between the NHL, Czech Extraliga, and KHL playing styles.  I won’t bore you non-hockey fans but here are three main differences.  1. No fighting.  Any scrap is stopped by the refs at once.  This is probably for the best, because the historical bench clearing brawls in the KHL have ended many a career.  2.  Pulling the goalie in a delayed penalty.  This seems like a smart move, and I think the NHL should look into this strategy.  When a delayed penalty is called, the play is immediately stopped as soon as the puck changes hands.  Therefore, the team with puck possession can pull their goalie, add a man to the ice, and not worry about the other team stealing and scoring.  This happens quite often here, but I have rarely seen it in the NHL.  3. Rare cross checking penalties.  I have seen some pretty brutal and obvious cross checks here, and the refs rarely call the penalty.  I guess without hard checks and fighting this is the last legal form of violence.

Hockey

I’m trying to get my hockey fix in before December.  I’ve become passionate about the Prague teams and I can’t wait to watch them in the championships in the spring.  Hopefully by then, I’ll at least have the NHL to watch!

09/13/2012

SPARTA PRAHA OLE OLE OLE

By Sarah Russell, Indiana University

If I lived in Europe, maybe I too would be an insane soccer fan.  After screaming unknown Czech words in the rowdy section of a sold out European elimination game, I finally understand why people love soccer.

Well, maybe I don’t understand that quite yet, but I certainly fell in love with the atmosphere. 

Don’t worry: Sparta Praha won 2-0 to eliminate Dutch Rotterdam in the European League!

About 20 of us went with one Czech student, Radek.  We took the metro to the stadium and though the stations were filled with dark red, white and blue, the fans seemed pretty relaxed.  As we walked towards the stadium however, more and more people joined us on the sidewalk.  Riot police paced back and forth keeping an eye on the crowds.  A helicopter hung suspended in the sky.  Fans began cheering and singing in the streets, and our adrenaline started rising.  As we made our way towards the entrance, Radek told us that if it gets to crazy in there for anyone, we can always leave.  We walked into the entrance to face a gigantic line of cheering Czechs.  At one point, everyone bent low to the ground, and started cheering until we jumped up and moshed to a chant.  Our names and birthdays were printed on the tickets and ID’s would be checked at the door.  We also received a pat down.  Alcohol was not allowed in or even sold in the stadium because in previous years fans were out of control.

Once we made it into the stadium, I wolfed down a hot dog and climbed over chairs into the rowdy section.  It is a field level section, netted in so nothing can be thrown onto the field.  Two super fans stood on a stand with an unnecessary loudspeaker.  Rowdy is an understatement.  These Czechs were CRAZY.  Almost all of them had painted faces or bodies, wore Sparta jerseys, scarves, hats, and shorts, waved flags, and did not stop cheering throughout the entire game.  There were a few smoke bombs that went off, and at one point, every male’s shirt came off as well.  Someone stole flags from the Rotterdam and hung them up on the netting.  The wave was started multiple times and crashed over the whole stadium.

I knew that the Americans weren’t that interested in the game.  I like watching soccer, but I was more into the cheering and crazy fandom than the specifics of who had the ball.  At times, I was convinced the entire rowdy section was just in it to participate in the chanting and singing until mid-cheer, the entire section would stop, angered and screaming at a bad call and whistling at the refs.  Each and every one of them were hardcore true fans.

Five of us and Radek stayed until the very end and watched Sparta celebrate their win, sliding on the ground toward the rowdy section ‘thanking us’, and walk on all fours in a line, as well as some other odd traditions.  The game was an absolute blast.  It was insane and full of passion.  That being said, soccer is the number 2 most popular sport in the Czech Republic.

I can’t wait until the most popular sport begins – HOCKEY!

  CIEE at the game

Odd winning ritual

Soccer Flags

03/15/2012

Sparta! Praha! Sparta! Praha!

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

Since arriving to Prague, I have anxiously awaited my first Sparta hockey game. A few weeks ago, I was suffering from some serious hockey withdrawal (game recaps on DallasStars.com is just not the same as going to the game) and decided it was about time to go see a Sparta game.

I was eager to experience a non-NHL hockey game and see how the Sparta game was different/similar to any other NHL game. And everything from the size of the ice to the “ice girls” had their similarities and differences to the NHL games.

A new experience for an old fan:

Despite being a frequent hockey game-goer, I could tell this was going to be a whole new fan experience for me. This new experience began before I even got dressed. When I go to a Stars game it is pretty easy to get ready (I’ve worn the same thing since I can remember – partly because of superstition and partly because it’s also just normal fan clothing). Jeans, boots, and my Stars jersey with the sleeves rolled up three times (for good luck). But, for a Sparta game, I did not have a jersey to wear. So once I had my jeans and boots on, I struggled with what to wear on top. After deciding whether to look cute, the team’s colors, etc, I finally decided the shirt was less important than making it to the game on time and threw on a casual top.

Small Arena, overflowing spirit:

When Jessi and I got to the arena, our next challenge was to decide where to sit. The arena is similar to that of an NHL one but is much smaller and primarily one level. You have the option of sitting in center ice or behind the goal there is standing area for each team (one side for Sparta’s fan and one side for their opponents’ fans).

Tipsport Arena picture CIEE

Tipsport Arena

 

While, there were not many seats in the arena, the place was just as loud (most likely louder) than most games that I have been to (keep in mind I go to Stars games though). Almost everyone in the arena was decked out in Sparta gear, wearing jerseys, scarves, hats, t-shirts. The entire game, the fans cheered and shouted Sparta chants. The standing section on the sides seems to be where the real die-hard fans were. And several times throughout the game, they’d shout “Sparta” and the sides would respond with “Praha” — this was my favorite chant because it was the only part of the game that I was able to understand other than what was happening on the ice. With my little knowledge of the Czech language and numbers, I was able to understand when someone got a penalty how long it was for and at what time it took place and when someone scored a goal what time it happened at (it was also written on the scoreboard – but I think I could have figured it out without the visual aid).

Style of play:

At an NHL game, it is quite common to see big hits, fights, and other aggressive plays. Here, however, there were maybe a total of seven hits in the game. Instead of playing along the boards or setting up plays by the goals, there was a lot more skating and back and forth movement. I will admit that at first it was a somewhat boring game. This was partially to be expected, since it is the end of the season, Sparta is in first place and the post-season is near (so probably not the best time to go watch them play). So while the fans were still very involved in the game. For the first two periods, the players had very few shots on goal and just a few scoring chances.

Annoying fans are everywhere:

I have had my fair share of annoying fans at Stars games. There is the person that sits behind you and drops the f-bomb every five seconds and complains about every call. There is the guy that is there just to see fights and yells at the players to start something. And my personal favorite, the woman who spends the entire game talking about the hotness of each player. Well, in Prague, you can still find that one fan that will drive you nuts during a game. For Jessi and me, this was a little boy (maybe 10 years old) who sat in the row directly behind us. He had a cute, high pitched voice. And just a few minutes into the game he began cheering what I thought was “Sparta Boom! Sparta Boom! Sparta Boom, Boom, Boom!” It was cute that he was such a big fan and had so much energy and passion for his team! Well, ten minutes later when he is still saying this same cheer in his same childish voice and the cheer is actually “Sparta boo! Sparta boo! Sparta boo, boo, boo!!!” it is not so pleasant. As it turns out he was a fan for the opposing team, Zlin, and he actually did not stop cheering (or booing really) the entire 60 minutes of the game. You’d think if he went to the game with the intention of cheering at least he could make it more enjoyable for those around him by coming up with some good cheers or catchy ones or even positive ones for his own team instead of booing Sparta, but no. He had his go to Sparta boo cheer and then one another (which is extremely uncreative and just awful to listen to over and over and over again) “Zlin! Zlin! Zlin!” said really quickly and in an even higher pitched voice.

Ice girls have made their way to Europe:

In the NHL, most teams (if not all) have 20-year old girls in little spandex outfits who come out to clean the ice and perform dances on the sides. Well, in Prague they do too! Just they are a little different than those of the NHL. Here, a jacket that is zipped up all the way to the neck and a knee-length mini skirt replace the spandex pants and cropped tank tops of the ice girls in the NHL.

  Ice Girls picture CIEE

Sparta Ice Girls

 

Finals minutes can make or break a game:

Zlin did score one goal to have a 1-0 lead in the third period. With just a little under five minutes to play in the game and Sparta not looking so great for the previous 55 minutes of play, it looked like it was going to be a final score of 1-0. But, thank goodness it is a 60 minute game. A game that was pretty slow and lacking offense, Sparta finally showed up and gave me a taste of how they actually play. In those last five minutes, the puck hardly left Sparta’s offensive zone. One after another they fired close shots towards the goal, each time the fans getting antsier and antsier hoping to see the puck go past the red line. And finally, with 1:55 left in the game, on a really ugly play, a Sparta player tipped in a pass to make it 1-1!

Overtime is a stressful experience for a fan:

A win or die situation always makes a game more exciting and a win that much more thrilling, but it can also leave a fan absolutely devastated. While, I love the thrills of an overtime period, I find it to be an incredibly stressful five minutes. So, after Sparta had scored to tie the game at one and force an overtime period, I was finally getting really into the game and was anxious for the next five minutes. When the puck dropped at the start of OT, I was on my feet like the rest of the crowd, gasping at each shot on goal. Sparta continued to dominate for the majority of OT. Unfortunately, Zlin did get possesion of the puck about halfway through the five minutes and brought it down the ice to score a goal. Luckily, I am not a die-hard Sparta fan and the loss does not affect them team too much. However, the OT goal was not all bad because I thought it was the best play of the game and it’s always nice to see a great play (when it’s not against the Stars obviously).

 

Three stars of the game the Prague way:

In the NHL, at the end of the game, three players are selected as the three stars of the game. At the Sparta game, there is something quite similar to this just with a little touch of Prague culture to it. When the game ends, all the players line up on the ice and do a handshake (like at the end of the playoff series). Afterwards, they wait on the ice as the player of the game is announced. Not only does that player get to be recognized for his performance that night, but he also gets a gift, usually a pivo (beer).

So, while the team spend the next few weeks preparing for the post season, I am going to use that time to learn about the team and the players so I can be a true Sparta fan when the post-season comes.

  Jessi and Me picture CIEE

02/22/2012

Taking My Czech Learning To A Whole New Level

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

When I decided to study abroad, I told myself that I was going to try to experience everything that Prague and some of what Europe had to offer and would not turn down any opportunities to try something new. So, that is why I agreed to go to “jumping” class with Katka, the Czech buddy from the apartment upstairs.

 

Let me start from the beginning.

 

At about 4:00, Jessi and I got home from a tiring weekend of Cinema Dance (and I can promise you the last thought on my mind was to go work out). Well, just 10 minutes after returning to my apartment, checking my email, facebook, etc, there was a knock at the door. It was Katka asking me if I wanted to go jumping with her. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by jumping, but my first guess was bungee jumping. I found it to be a little strange that she was asking me at 4 if I wanted to go bungee jumping in two hours and that I could sign up with such short notice.  So at first, I did not give her much of a response but just stood there confused. As it turns out, the jumping Katka was referring to was not bungee jumping but a jumping fitness class at her workout studio. Katka explained that jumping is a workout class here where each person gets a small trampoline, and it is a cardio and legs workout.

 

Since I do love trampolines, and I think jumping is fun, and after a weekend of feasting mainly on bread and chocolate bars, a workout class did not seem like such a bad idea. So, despite needing to read 120 pages for my history class tomorrow and writing up a short essay for my art class, Jessi and I decided to go for the Czech fitness experience.

 

For Jessi and me, the possible problems when taking a Czech workout class began before we had even left our apartment building. At 5:30, Katka met us at our apartment so that we could go to the gym together. Jessi and I were dressed and ready to go jumping, but right before we got outside Katka asked us if we had our gym boots. We looked back at her confused and pointed to the tennis shoes on our feet. Well, I guess we forgot we were not in America anymore. Like in the house, when you enter the gym you need to change from your “street” shoes/boots and into whatever shoes you will wear to workout. So, we put our Nike Frees in our bags and put on boots with our workout clothes (another thing we learned on our way to the studio – when people go to workout they usually just change there and do not wear their workout clothes until they get there – woops).

 

Things seemed to only go downhill though once we arrived at the gym. After Katka spent the walk talking about the jumping class and how much fun it was, when we went to sign up for the 7:00 class it was full. So, we could either walk back home or take a cycling class. Seeing that we were already there, and all three of us were pretty pumped to actually workout (or for me even to do something somewhat physical besides eating and walking to class), we decided cycling was the best option.

 

Katka and Jessi had never taken a spin class before and were both nervous and excited to try something new. Now, I would not say I am an experienced cycler, but I did just spend the past semester at Emory taking a cycling class three days a week. So, I was pretty hyped to get back on the bike and get a good workout in. I also thought that since I had taken a few spin classes before, the language barrier should not make the class too difficult for me to understand…well, I guess I should think twice before assuming such a thing.

We walk into the class, which looks very different from any other workout room I have ever been in. There were some dim lights on the sides, but other than that, the main lights on the ceiling were turned off. (Still, not so sure if I am a fan of the lights being off.   While it is kind of relaxing and nice, it does put me to sleep during a time that I desperately need my energy).  From what I could tell, the room had no air conditioning system other than a ceiling fan and two floor fans near the front. And the walls (which had no mirrors) did not look like the typical gym walls but rather like the inside of a house/living room. When we walked into the class, at this point unsure of whether it was beginners/advanced/etc, we opted for the bikes near the back so that we could follow the people in front of us and no one would laugh at us. We picked out a row for us three, and being the experienced cycler in the group, I showed my friends how to set up the bike.

 

Soon, we were on our bikes and felt ready to go. A small yet stocky blonde woman approached the bike at the front, looked out at the people on the bikes, smiled and began speaking very fast in a language that I thought I was just starting to get a good grasp of. Now, some people feel uncomfortable in gyms when they speak the language of the trainers, so imagine being in a gym (when you haven’t worked out in about a month) and you have no clue what the trainer is explaining to you. Let’s just say, I very quickly went from feeling pretty confident to downright confused in a matter of ten seconds (I don’t think my confidence lasted longer than one sentence).

 

After a few minutes, of what I imagine to be an introduction speech, the Czech speaking was replaced with late 90′s/early 2000 American pop music, and the peppy woman from the front was on the bike. Once she began pedaling, Jessi and I were quickly able to clue in to what we should be doing and followed her actions. So when she stood up, we stood up, when she leaned forward, we leaned forward, and when she sat we sat. We had no idea what we were being told but based on her actions we were able to get the gist of it…for the warm up at least.

Since I had somewhat of an idea of the basic workouts in spin class, I thought that I could maybe try to take what I have learned in my Czech class and perhaps figure out what the instructor was saying. Unfortunately, between the physical activity of cycling and the speed at which the instructor spoke, it was just too tiring for me to have any clue as to what she was saying. (I did, however, pick up the word “jedno”, meaning “one”, at one point during the class – not sure what it was in reference to, but I guess my Czech learning is somewhat paying off).  So, when she said short phrases during the class (in the middle of exercises), I assumed she was telling us words of encouragement (and if not, well, it kept me upbeat). And when she gave instructions I relied on Katka. Katka would listen to the three-minute description in Czech, and then explain to each of us what we were supposed to do.

 

Overall, it was quite an experience both mentally and physically. And at 7:00, when the class ended, I was glad that I had decided to go. For one, it felt amazing to be inside a gym again and to sweat not because I was hot but because I was actually doing some form of physical activity. But more importantly, I was glad because when I leave I should be able to say that I literally have embraced every opportunity that I had in Prague.

 

As I left the gym, I made sure to pick up a schedule. So as my Czech language skills progress, I plan to continue attending the gym classes with two goals in mind. My first is that I will stay in shape, and secondly, I will one day be able to attend a Czech workout class and fully understand the instructor for the whole 60 minutes of the class (whether it is jumping, cycling, etc).

02/16/2012

Never Doubt A True Hockey Fan

By Elizabeth Weinstein, Emory University

Being in Prague actually makes life a lot easier for me. Well, for the sports fan side of me. I am living in a place where hockey is the Czech’s version of football (American football). So, being the die-hard, overly obsessed hockey fan that I am, there was no chance that I was going to miss the 59th NHL All-Star game, especially with Jamie Benn playing for Team Chara.

 

 So, I was on a mission to find a place to watch the game….and I was not going to take no for an answer.

 

 A few nights ago, the girls in my apartment building went to a little pub across the street to grab some drinks before we went to Lucerna (an 80s/90s music themed club). The owner and only worker at the pub is Paul. He seemed like a nice guy, got us all our drinks and anything else we needed. When he explained to me that he gets a lot of the U.S. (NHL) hockey games, I could hardly contain my joy (until I realized the chance of the international station choosing to show the Stars game was rather slim). So I chatted with him, and as it turns out he would get the NHL All-Star game and said I could come Sunday night to watch the game. (After hearing this, I was close to leaping out of my seat and giving the man a hug).

 

Well, Sunday night came and I soon discovered that Paul might not be my best friend anymore. I went to the bar at around 10 p.m. to watch the game. This time, it was just one other girl from my building and me at the pub (my friend Drew joined us later). We ordered drinks and watched the game. After being at the pub for about fifteen minutes, Paul finally came over and asked me where all my friends were. I looked at him confused and explained that they were at their apartments. Paul, annoyed, began saying that I told him that I was bringing all of these people back with me to watch the game tonight and he had stayed open just for me and essentially I had brought him no business. Unsure of whether to pay for my drink and leave or continue watching the game, I decided with the latter option and deeply apologized to Paul. Paul then went on to say that we better order a lot of drink ...... Eventually, two other groups of people came. But, I felt kinda uncomfortable and was getting tired, so I ditched the bar after the second period of play.

 

While I was successful in finding a place to watch the game and get my weekly dose of NHL hockey (I was having withdrawal)…I think I might just need to find a new pub to go to for my next game because as it turns out friendly Paul was not so friendly after all.