Ice hockey in Prague

by Max Opray

Tuck into potato pancakes and the best beer in the world while watching brutes with big sticks chase a tiny puck around.

Snap, crackle, pop! A Praha Sparta centreman dislocates his shoulder in a nasty collision, and with a grim look pops the bone back in its socket. Rice Krispies will never quite sound the same to me again... these Czech ice hockey guys really know how to take a hit.

I'm sitting in team Praha Slavia's sparklingly modern O2 Arena, built for the 2004 European Ice Hockey Championships. Prague's local derby playing out in front of me is ferociously fast, the players as skilled as the beer is cheap. All in all, a sport lover's wet dream, even if I know absolutely nothing about ice hockey. I´m Australian, ice is something we put in our drinks, not skate around on while brutes chase us with big sticks.

Regardless, purely as a tourist experience it is hard to fault a bit of Czech stick-on-puck, a game close to the hearts of locals since Iron Curtain days. One of the top leagues in the world, the Extraliga experience is a perfect foil for the rest of your time in Prague, which will most likely be spent lost amongst the Old Town's regal grandeur. The cobbled streets and ancient spires will no-doubt captivate and enchant you, but won´t exactly get the pulse racing. Ice hockey on the other hand most certainly will.

For a fraction of the price of an NHL game (180kr, or around seven euro at the time of writing) rink-side seats are yours, from which you'll be treated to electrifying light and sound shows, the football-style chants of the crowd, and - if you're lucky - 15 seconds of fame on the big screen... in which case be prepared to make out with your partner or do a silly dance. Whatever you do, don't just sit there like a daft idiot until the crowd starts booing!

Unlike most sporting events, you won't be ripped off at the snack bar, which offers up the usual burger/hot dog fare, or something a little more traditional, like potato pancakes topped with sour cream. As mentioned, the beer is cheap, and of extremely high quality to boot - this is the country that invented lager, after all. Refer to the mildly concerning fact that the Czech Republic drinks nearly 50 per cent more beer per person then the next biggest beer-swilling nation... which probably explains how they can pop their own shoulders back into place without so much as flinching.

The Extraliga ice hockey season runs from September through to early March. The O2 Arena is located in the northwest of Prague, easily accessible via the Metro 'B' line, stop Ceskomoravska. Book advance tickets through the Sazka network: http://www.sazkaticket.cz

If you want to see Prague when temperatures are bearable and so are the crowds, then stick to autumn or spring. However, I do highly recommend heading there for chistmas and/or new year´s eve. Yes, Eastern Europe gets mighty, mighty cold during the holiday season. Yes, it does get a bit crowded. But Prague decked out in a fresh layer of snow is pretty special, and gulping down some hot mulled wine while wandering through a christmas market is an experience not to be missed.  

What to say (and how to pronounce it)

Ahoy! = Hi! (Curious as to  why a landlocked country´s people greet each other like sailors? I was. Turns out many Czechs emigrated to English-speaking countries in the 19th century, when ´ahoy´ was a popular greeting. They took the phrase back with them to their homeland, and- for some reason- it stuck.)

Dick kwee = Thank you.

Prom-min-teh = I´m sorry!

Ah-noh = Yes

Ne = No

Neh-roh-zoo-meem = I don´t understand

Slavia do to-ho! =  Get into them Slavia!

Hosi boy-ovat! = Fight for it boys!

Kdo neskace, neni Czech, hop hop hop = If you don´t jump, you´re not a Czech, hop hop hop! (Only to be used supporting the national team, ok?)

Where to stay (and how to book it)

For pure unadulterated decadence smack bang in the middle of the Old Town, book yourself in at the Hotel Residence Retezova. Prices start from 112 euro for a double, and for that you get treated like a demigod. Located a stone´s throw from Prague´s famous astrological clock.

For luxury lovers who don't want to fork out too much, get a room at the Absolut Hotel, just ten minutes on a tram from the old town and right next to the second biggest train station in the city. From 55 euro a night, you can spread yourself on a luxurious queen size bed while munching on one of the little chocolates they leave on your towel. Plus there is an en suite bathroom equipped with a spa bath, and a brilliant restaurant directly downstairs. Try the sauerkraut-stuffed duck served with a side of dumplings... Doubru Chut! Absolut Hotel is located on Jablonskeho 639/4 in Holesovice.

If you're more of a hostel kind of person, Crib 15 is great fun, with a friendly atmosphere and free internet from four and a half euros a night. Avoid exploring the spooky abandoned basement... it´s pitch black and there's a great big well to fall down. Find it on Reznicka 15/1360.