NHL to open season in Prague

The North American hockey league was last in Prague nine years ago

The National Hockey League (NHL) will reportedly return to Prague to kick off its 2019–20 season, at O2 Arena in October. The North American sports league was last in Prague nine years ago.

Daily Hospodářské noviny (HM) broke the news, citing two sources.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had previously mentioned the possibility of five games in Europe, and these were preseason games in Lausanne and Berlin, the season opener in Prague and two regular-season games in Stockholm, though at the time nothing was confirmed.

The sources cited by HN said that preparations are now almost complete. “NHL representatives will be fine-tuning some details when they visit the Czech Republic, the official announcement with all details should come in March,” one source told HN.

Teams have not been announced, but US daily the Tampa Bay Times speculated in January that the Tampa Bay Lighting was in contention due to its number of European players including a Czech player.

Other sources have speculated that it would include the Philadelphia Flyers, where three Czechs — Jakub Voráček, Radko Gudas and Michal Neuvirth —are playing in the current year.

The match will take place in the first week of October

The organizer of the entire European trip is the American company Live Nation, which mainly organizes major musical events but also handles circus acts, pro wrestling, monster car shows and adrenaline sports.

Semi-regular excursions to Europe started in NHL in 2007 in London, although the first European games were way back in 1938. In total there have been 23 games in Europe in the last 12 seasons.

Games in Prague date to right after the Velvet Revolution.

The Calgary Flames played the Czechoslovak national team in 1989, winning one game and losing the other.

In 2008 the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lighting met twice, with the Rangers winning both times.

The European tour skipped Prague in 2009 but returned in 2010 with the Boston Bruins meeting the Phoenix Coyotes, each winning one game. In 2011, the New York Rangers beat Czech team HC Sparta Praha in an exhibition match.

The NHL has said in the past that it is seeking to expand the brand recognition of the NHL by taking the league beyond the US and Canada more often.

O2 Arena is one of the most modern multi-purpose halls in Europe with up to 18,000 seats. It was built for the Ice Hockey World Championships and was to host the 2003 games, but that had to be postponed to 2004 due to construction delays. It was originally called Sazka Arena. From its opening until 2015, it was home to HC Slavia Praha of the Czech Extraliga.

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