The Sedpo Eagles: Prague’s first international youth hockey team
It’s not just the locals, the international community in the Czech Republic are becoming hockey nuts too!
Ice hockey or Football? What is the most popular sport in the Czech Republic? It’s a regular discussion I have with friends and it never ends with everyone in agreement. In terms of media coverage, Football gets more column inches in the daily paper. You are more likely to see headlines about Sparta and Slavia Prague football teams rather than their hockey counterparts.
But in terms of popularity among the whole country, you would have to say Ice Hockey wins the battle as the whole country comes to a standstill when the Czech Republic are on the ice in the World Championships or Olympic games. Everyone seems to have a Czech flag painted on their face during these occasions – however, it’s not just the locals who are big ice hockey fans.
The international community in the Czech Republic are becoming hockey nuts too. And the enthusiasm for the sport doesn’t stop at just watching the action on the ice, but more and more kids are playing too!
The Sedpo Eagles are the first international youth hockey in Prague and I spent the morning with the operations manager (and hockey mum) of the Eagles to talk hockey, kids and how their club is beginning to grow.
“It started out with three American boys wanting to learn to play hockey. But it was difficult for them to join a Czech club as the standard was much higher than their current level – and it can be an intimidating place for non-native kids to learn how to play hockey,” said Sharon Machuga Chelko, the operations manager of the Sedpo Eagles.
“My boys grew up playing all sports, especially American Football, but they were interested in ice hockey too as their Dad would show their old videos of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And growing up in the Czech Republic seemed the perfect place for them to play ice hockey and have fun,” Sharon continued “So we turned to their PE teacher at school, and respected coach, David Ohnutek, if he could give some private hockey lessons so the boys could learn.”
“What we found was that other parents and children were interested too and we soon had 15 kids who had little or no experience on the ice, who didn’t speak a great of Czech, but they wanted to play hockey. So the Sedpo Eagles were born!”
The Eagles appear to be in good hands on and off the ice as the partnership between Sharon, who runs the operations, and David, who coaches the kids, dovetails perfectly.
“David is a firm believer in combing sports and education. That is what the Sedpo Eagles are all about, we want the kids to have fun and learn hockey but there is also the opportunity for them to grow socially and mix with children from different backgrounds”
As well as the weekly practice sessions on the ice, David is also keen run hockey camps for the weekend and over the school breaks. The camps are a great way to David to coach and improve the hockey skills, meanwhile, it gives the kids a chance to learn more about the Czech Republic off the ice.
Last summer, the Sedpo Eagles took seven of their players (aged 5 to 11) to a weekend camp in Jested, Liberec where the kids played on the ice, in-line skating and even football. They even found time to explore the area and take in some of the sites.
Overall, there is around a pool of 30 to 40 kids who play for The Eagles and their practice sessions run on Sunday mornings at an ice rink in Slany. Although, when possible they try to use the ice at Hvezda Arena in Prague 6 where Sharon’s office is based.
“The demand for the ice here in Prague 6 is so high, we actually have to play in Slany or sometimes we play ay HC Beroun too.” Sharon added.
Looking around her office I noticed the wall is littered with framed hockey jerseys from some of the great HC Hvezda teams of the past. Which reminded Sharon that the Eagles have a shirt of their own that was designed by the kids themselves . “They are really proud of the design, I think they done a great job and it shows you how much it means to the kids – it’s their club” Sharon said, pulling out one of the Eagles jerseys from a box and displaying it on her table.
The club has grown from strength to strength over the last two years and they welcome any new joiners who want to come and play hockey. Even if they haven’t set foot on the ice before, the coaches can teach the ABC’s of skating and there really is something for all ages and abilities.
And don’t worry if you don’t have equipment, the Eagles are happy to provide equipment for the first practice or two and skates can be rented for 50 CZK per session.
If you’re interested joining the Eagles for a session on the ice, or would like to get involved and sponsor the club, you can find more information on their website www.sedpoeagles.cz.
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