New York Rangers set to open NHL season in Prague

The 2008/2009 National Hockey League season will open in Prague and Stockholm next October. While the Swedish capital will see two games between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, hockey fans in Prague are in for a one-off treat. Jaromír Jágr, the most brilliant Czech star in the NHL and the captain of the New York Rangers, will lead his team in two matches against Tampa Bay at Prague’s Sazka Arena.

Vladimír Šafařík, photo: CTKVladimír Šafařík, photo: CTK Jaromír Jágr, the best scoring Czech player in the history of the NHL and the captain of the New York Rangers, last played hockey in the Czech Republic during the NHL lockout in the season of 2004-2005. He then joined his old team Kladno for most of the season, and the attendance of Extraliga games soared. This October, fans will have another two chances to see the Czech forward in action – his current club, the New York Rangers, will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a NHL season opening doubleheader. The event is organized by the Prague-based Česká sportovní company; I asked Vladimír Šafařík, the company’s chief negotiator with the NHL, how difficult it was to bring the Rangers to Prague.

“The Rangers are always the most difficult team because they are really one of a kind. For us, this team was the key factor because of the Czech players on the team. I spent some time with the management of the New York Rangers negotiating the important issues but it was more of a business between the NHL and the Rangers. After they reached a deal, it was great for us, too. We are happy to have the Rangers and Tampa Bay in Prague.”

Did Jaromír Jágr help?

“Jaromír helped me meet Glen Sather, the general manager of the New York Rangers. Jaromír is a star among all the players and he could make them feel enthusiast about coming to play in Prague.”

The back-to-back games are scheduled for October 4 and 5 at Prague’s Sazka Arena, one of the most modern ice-hockey venues in Europe. Before coming to Prague, the New York Ranges are also to face the European Champion League’s winner, the Russian Metallurg Magnitogorsk, in Victoria Cup in Switzerland. This might be the only issue that could put the planned NHL games in Prague at risk; the NHL Players’ Association has said that they would yet have to study the proposal before giving it the thumbs-up. But Vladimír Šafařík is confident.

Prague’s Sazka Arena, photo: CTKPrague’s Sazka Arena, photo: CTK “I don’t think that Prague is not in jeopardy because of that because it’s the regular season. The NHLPA might have a problem with the Victoria Cup which will be held in Bern, Switzerland. As far as Prague is concerned, the Players’ Association only wanted to have more details about what we can provide for the players – accommodation, transportation, and this kind of things.”

Vladimír Šafařík says they are now pricing the tickets for the games which should go on sale in March or April with the most expensive tickets expected to cost around 6,000 crowns, or almost 350 US dollars. Are they expecting two full houses at the Sazka Arena in October?

“Definitely. The interest of the fans – even from fans from other European countries – is enormous. I expect that we can sell out Sazka Arena very soon.”