Czech Hockey hits a milestone
A fully national league was formed 80 years ago
The first match in the Czechoslovak national hockey league was played 80 years ago (January 3rd, 1937). The teams Vítkovice and Sparta Prague met on a natural ice rink in a sports pavilion in the Jožka Jabůrková Park in Ostrava-Vítkovice in the Moravia-Silesia region. Vítkovice forward Vilém Kubečka scored the first goal in the league. The game ended 1:1 when Sparta managed to score near the end of the match. The new league brought together the top teams in Czechoslovakia in a competition for an annual champion.
Teams will be celebrating the anniversary with retro uniforms, decorations and other events until the middle of January. The Czech Hockey Hall of Fame (Síň slávy českého hokeje), located next to O2 Arena in the Harfa shopping mall, will also be marking the anniversary..
The groundwork for starting the league came in the previous year, with the general assembly of the Czechoslovak League for Canadian Hockey setting up the schedule in December. The first season also included Prague teams LTC and Slavia, České Budějovice, Mladá Boleslav, Opava team Troppauer and from Poprad from Slovakia. The winner of the first season was LTC Prague, coming ahead of Sparta.
LTC Prague led the league until 1949, winning 11 championships and losing just once in 1941. The team's reign came to an end in 1950 when the members were imprisoned without explanation.
The league at first faced problems such as bad weather since matches were mostly played outside on natural ice, and low interest from the public. The introduction of indoor venues with artificial ice surfaces helped to popularize the game, and in the 1950s there were as many as 21 teams. The first match at an indoor stadium was played in 1955, the first television broadcast was in February by 1957.
Kometa Brno took over as the league champion in the 1950s and '60s, also scoring 11 championships. Dukla Jihlava then took the top spot in the league, earning 12 championships between 1967 and 1991.
Throughout the league's 80-year history, there have been 57 teams, counting eight from Slovakia and two from Germany. Twenty-two teams have held the championship. The league split in 1993 when Czechoslovakia broke up. Slovakia was also excluded in the 1938 to '44 seasons due to World War II, when there was a Bohemian-Moravian league and a separate Slovak league. Since 1993 the most successful team in the Czech Extraliga has been Vsetín, which has won six times.
The most successful shooter in the league was Milan Nový, who scored scored 474 goals in 633 league games playing for Kladno from 1968 to 1972, Jihlava from 1972 to 1974, and Kladno again from 1974 to 1982 and 1987 to 1989. He also holds the Czech iron man record, playing eight seasons without missing a game. Other players to score over 400 are Vladimír Růžička with 431, Viktor Ujčík with 410 and Josef Černý with 403. The most matches were played by František Ptáček, who has appeared 1209 times.
The Czech Extraliga currently has 14 teams with a regular season of 52 rounds. Playoffs were introduced in the 1985-86 season.
Czech Hockey Hall of Fame (Síň slávy českého hokeje) www.sinslavycslh.cz (CZ / EN)
HC Sparta Prague www.hcsparta.cz
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