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).
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.
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.