Cheers, Beers and Hockey

Olympic Hockey Match Sheds Light on National Character

By Alyssa Yurasits

Hockey is a popular game among Czech sports enthusiasts. Photo courtesy of Zimbio

Hockey is a popular game among Czech sports enthusiasts. Photo courtesy of Zimbio

In the center of the snow, ice, and artificial slopes, a mass of about 1,000 fans from age 13 to 60 gathered in front of two huge outdoor screens.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, I stood in a sea of waving Czech flags and painted faces. Nearly every hand held a Pilsner. Mixed with the bittersweet aroma of the rich malt was the smoke from the sausage rising above the food stands. The scent painted a perfect picture of sport culture.

Ice hockey brings the nation together in the form of cheering fans, stadium-style sausages, and lots of beer. The love for the sport—and the accompanying Czech cuisine—was evident as crowds shuffled into Olympic Park in Prague 7 on the evening of the Sochi men’s ice hockey quarterfinals.

Fans bit into the hot klobasa v rohllku, a sausage held by what looks like a cross between a French baguette and an American hot-dog roll. It was a scene that transported me back home to Yankee Stadium on a brisk spring evening. Only here, $1 glasses of Pilsner replaced the $8 bottles of Bud Light and Czech pork sausage replaced the overpriced Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs.

Beer, brats and hockey make for a memorable evening. Photo courtesy of Felix

Beer, brats and hockey make for a memorable evening. Photo courtesy of Felix

Beers in hand, half guzzled and half savored, the crowd watched as the puck dropped and glided across the ice, beginning the fight for the semi-finals. After a whirlwind of movements, a slap-shot landed the puck in the back of the American net. Arms shot up all around me. The sweet smell of victory took its form in spilled lager and froth on the pavement.

”Only here, $1 glasses of Pilsner replaced the $8 bottles of Bud Light and Czech pork sausage replaced the overpriced Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs.”

The Czechs roared.
“Cesky!” Bang, bang, bang.
“Republika!” Bang, bang, bang.

This ritual continued through all three periods. Every time a Czech player made an advance on the U.S. goal, my body was engulfed in the sound of cheering fans and stomping feet.
The night became a blur of beer-breath and crazy chants. At some point, the group of twenty-year olds behind me began wrapping Czech flags around their necks, sporting them as capes. They were an entertaining bunch, reacting to every penalty, steal, and breakaway louder than any group of Yankee fans.

As frenzied as these fans were, they didn’t treat my American group of friends with disdain.

Initially, we were quick to stifle our cheers for the U.S. team, but our celebrations were not met by the familiar death stares at rival games in the United States. After the fifth U.S. goal, we should have been pegged as obnoxious Americans considering the way we shouted and gave emphatic high-fives. That wasn’t the case here in the Czech Republic.

Photo from the Prague Post

“As frenzied as these fans were, they didn’t treat my American group of friends with disdain.” Photo courtesy of Prague Post

Everyone was enjoying the moment, enjoying the game. Even with the American team at a four-point lead, unwavering Czech pride persisted through the oohs and aahs of attempted goals, rising piles shattered glass, and the drunken tree-climbers in search of a better view.
Any fan at a sure-loss Yankee game would have left, but the Czechs stayed. Noses were red, hands were bitten raw from the -2°C wind chill, but the beer kept flowing.

With exactly seven minutes remaining, the Czech star, Ales Hemsky slapped the puck into

the upper corner of the U.S. goal, a perfect shot. Pilsner glasses were practically empty by this point, but they remained raised with remnants of foam clinging to the sides and a bit of golden drink glistening in the yellow-white park lights.

The 45-year-old Czech man standing beside me saw this moment of celebration as an opportunity to tell us, the now-quiet U.S. fans, that he believed our team was playing really well. Humbled by his kindness, my friend Ryan and I continued the conversation.
“U.S.A. deserves it,” the Czech native insisted.

I could see the nostalgia in his eyes as if he was thinking back to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, reminiscing about the unforgettable underdog Czech victory against its old foe, Russia. It was a time when his team was the one that deserved the win.
“But did you see that shot?” we offered back enthusiastically.

Sure, he had, but he also saw the clock ticking away with a score of 5-2 fixed upon the television screen. The Czechs were not going to have a Nagano moment this time around.
The final buzzer came, and five glasses lingered in the air. Holding their finished drinks above departing fans, the group of Czechs offered a final toast to their team, to their last competition in Sochi, and to a game well played. They celebrated there in reassurance that there would always be more beer, more hockey.

Alyssa Yurasits is in the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study Class of 2016. Her hometown is Massapequa, New York.

This article was adapted from an assignment for the travel writing class at New York University in Prague.

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Categories: Spring 2014 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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