Ice Hockey in the Czech Republic

Along with football, ice hockey is the other big sport in the Czech Republic

Along with football, ice hockey is the other big sport in the Czech Republic. The men’s national team is one of the most successful in the world, currently ranked fourth in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s table behind Russia, Finland and Sweden. They last won gold at the Winter Olympics in 1998 and bronze in 2006, but their most recent success came when they were victorious at the 74th Men’s World Ice Hockey Championship in 2010.

The national league, the Czech Extraliga, formed in 1993 after the break-up of Czechoslovakia and reflects the national team’s strength as it is one of the top leagues in Europe. Every year many of the best players get picked up by the North American NHL or Russia’s KHL. The league is made up of 14 teams from across the country with 11 of the 14 regions represented at least once. With every team playing around 50 games each season there’s plenty of opportunity to catch a game.

Unlike with football Prague doesn’t dominate the sport and only has two teams in the top league. HC Sparta Prague has won the championship four times, most recently in 2007. Founded in 1903 they are the second most successful club in the history of the Extraliga, although in 2011 they did finish 12th. Their home games are played at the Tipsport Arena, not so far from Sparta Prague’s football ground, with a near 14,000 capacity showing how popular the sport is. Tickets are cheap, between 115 and 195 CZK (and an extra 30 CZK when they play Slavia).

HC Slavia Prague is the capital’s other team, who have won the championship twice, the last time in 2008. They play their home matches at the O2 Arena (which holds 17,360 for ice hockey, only a couple of thousand behind their football counterparts). Founded in 1900, like most of the teams they’ve undergone a few name changes and such as in football hold a fierce rivalry with HC Sparta Prague. They wear red and white, as opposed to Sparta’s blue, yellow and red, and similar to most of the league their team is comprised of mostly natives, with only three non-Czechs in their current squad.

The most successful club in Extraliga history is VHK Vsetín, winning five championships in a row between 1995 and 1999, although the last one they won was in 2001. Based in the town of Vsetín in the Zlín Region of the Czech Republic, their stadium the Zimní stadion Na Lapači holds nearly five and a half thousand fans, close to a fifth of the town’s population. They fell from grace in 2006 and 2007, finishing bottom of the league before suffering financial difficulties and withdrawing from the league altogether. They now play in the third-level league which means tickets are cheap, between 40 and 60 CZK per game, although the quality isn’t as high as it once was.

Last year’s champions for the first time, HC Škoda Plzeň formed in 1929 but only adopted the Škoda part in 1965, before dropping it then picking it up again in 2012. They won the title in Hollywood fashion, beating PSG Zlín 4-3 in the seventh and final match of the playoffs. Their stadium, the ČEZ Aréna, holds 8,200 fans which is only a few thousand less than Viktoria Plzeň’s ground. Tickets range from 130 to 260 CZK per game, with season tickets between 2600 to 5600 CZK.

The third most successful team is HC ČSOB Pojišťovna Pardubice, winning the Extraliga championship three times. They hail from Pardubice, around 96km east of Prague and until 2011 were known as HC Eaton Pardubice. One of the team’s most famous players was goalkeeper Jiří Crha who became the first Czech person to play in the NHL for Toronto Maple Leafs. They last won the championship in 2012 and continue to have a strong presence along with a fairly local rivalry with FK Mountfield from the neighbouring Bohemian region.

Most of the other big cities and towns in the Czech Republic also have teams represented in Extraliga. Ostrava has HC Vítkovice Steel who are yet to win an Extraliga league title but in 1953 and 1981 were champions while part of Czechoslovakia. Liberec has HC Bílí Tygři Liberec who, despite winning the league twice in 2006 and 2007, failed to win the championship play-offs. They formed more recently, in 1956, using the blue and red from the Czech flag as their team colours. HC Energie Karlovy Vary (previously HC Becherovka KV and various other incarnations before that) come from the picturesque spa town and won the championship in 2009, the same year their new stadium, the KV Arena was built. At a cost of 1.5bn CZK and holding 6000 fans, it was a large investment but has so far not helped them reclaim their crown.

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