Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pucks & Pivo

Well, it's been awhile since I've posted anything, so I apologize for that. I was hoping to have a report from the Belfast game, but it looks like my Irish correspondent is still recovering (or still drunk). If he's able to give us the Irish perspective on that game, I'll post it. For now, I'll jump into my Prague experience a bit.

As everyone who has ever been to Prague will tell you, it is an absolutely beautiful city. The architecture, the history...all amazing. The people, while not exactly the "warmest" you'll ever meet are certainly not threatening in any way. You may not always feel "welcome", but neither do you feel overly "unwanted". But a funny thing happens when you get away from the heavily touristy areas. The people, especially late at night in one of the pubs, which seem to be every fifty feet or so, let their hair down in a big way. The gruff exterior of a long oppressed people is gone. Replaced with a fun loving attitude that can only come from a people who have known life when freedom, self expression and simple joys were a foreign idea. Bottom line, this is a population making up for lost time. Boy oh boy, are they making up for lost time.

It can feel at times that you've stepped into a time warp, and landed in a suburban mall somewhere in the US in the mid-80's. The fashion, the hair (they're HUGE fans of the mullet) and the music all scream 80's. Of course, like all their music, every 80's song they play seems to have the same annoying "dance mix-techno pop" treatment applied to it. Oddly, though most places etc played that awful techno garbage, the pubs with live music featured American jazz and blues. Let's just say I was a bit surprised walking into a neighborhood pub only to find a Dixieland Jazz band playing. Should have known then that things were going to be "interesting".

American "culture" is taking hold here, as evidenced by our most prominent food. Everywhere you look, KFC (some serving beer of course), McDonalds & Subway are intermingled with the more traditional Czech establishments. Shame too, because the Czech's actually have some very good food of their own.....albeit a bit heavy. Seems every menu item is tailor made to cure a hangover. Not surprising for a country that consumes more beer, by a mile, than any other. When incredibly tasty and fresh beer literally costs less than a soda, you can see why (roughly $1-$1.50USD).

OK, enough of the Travel Channel stuff. What about the game experience? Well, I only went to game one. I think we can all agree that from a hockey entertainment standpoint, that was pretty pathetic. I don't know who those guys in the B's jerseys were, but they certainly the team I was expecting to see.

As far as experience, it was great. The first thing that stands out is how many NHL fans were there. Not Bruins or Coyote fans (although to their credit, Phoenix did have a very large representation). I think every team in the NHL was represented by local Czech (and other Eastern Europeans) fans. So many different game jerseys, with their wearers proudly sporting painted faces, it was a bit bizarre. But they were hugely into hockey, no matter who was playing. Shame the NHL charged their usual NHL rates for the game, as this left the average Czech fan out in the cold. In my section, we were probably the only four speaking English. The rest was a mix of Czech, German, Austrian and any number of other languages. Many in attendance owed their allegiance to one team or another based solely on which, if any, of their countrymen played for them. Which explains how the Austrian next to me felt no hesitation being a Bruins fan, yet also being a big Sabres fan....because Tomas Vanek is "our best player" (as in, Austria's best). My attempt to sway him based on the behavior of Buffalo players and fans was futile. Oh well.

The O2 arena itself is very nice. It's sort of in the middle of nowhere, but the area seems to be going through some development, so there may be more pre and post-game eating and drinking options soon. I hope so, because the "bowling club" we had a beer at was a bit....sketchy.The pub where we ate was also one of the very few where NOBODY spoke or understood a word of English. But at least it's right off the train stop, so it's easy to get to (the Prague transit system is great...once you get the hang of it).

Having every person entering the building go through a metal detector is a little time consuming, and makes getting in a pain, but safety first I guess. Once inside, it wasn't much different than any other arena. The concourses all seemed like they could be slightly larger, and the beer was the much more expensive than at the bars (of course "expensive" is a relative term. Arena beers cost roughly $2.25....still much better than the Garden's $7-$8!).You know you're in Europe, when between periods the place absolutely empties out.....yet the concourse is oddly quiet. Yep, everyone was in the smoking area.

As far as game presentation, I'm kind of torn. Was it cool that the Bruins, as the "home team", were able to have their PA announcer present? Sure. But I also was looking forward to a 100% "Czech experience". They did announce everything in English and Czech, so that was OK. One thing I did enjoy was, no matter how hard they tried getting the crowd going with those foolish "noise" or "get loud" signs on the score board, the locals wouldn't bite. Give them a REASON to cheer, they will. TELL them to, not going to happen. But I really enjoyed it when they took THEIR chants, and applied them to OUR teams. Let's just say, the four of us at least, will be doing everything we can to carry their "Bos-TONE (clap clap clap)" chant to the Garden this season....and yes, you do have to do it with the accent.

Game two saw us watching from a downtown pub. When looking for a bar to watch a hockey game, I guess you can't do much better than a place called "Hockey Bar". So that's where we went. It wasn't as busy as we had expected, but before long we did have the various Czech, Germans, Austrian's and whoever else was there cheering for our beloved boys in Black & Gold. Fortunately, they gave us reason to be proud. THAT is how they have to play to be successful.

So what did I take away from the actual games? Let's see...
1)If they don't play a smart, aggressive style they have no chance. Soft passes, poor decisions and defensive confusion reigned in game one. And they blown out because of it.

2)when they skate, they win. Game 2 was a complete 180 from the previous day. They outworked the 'Yotes, so they won. Simple as that.

3)Nathan Horton could very well be everything the scouts thought he was supposed to be when he was drafted. Put him in a stable environment, with solid teammates and a focused coach and he could be one of the top scorers in the NHL. Deadly wrist shot, quick release, good size and the willingness to use it. He makes Boston a dangerous team, and should open things up for other lines.

4)I'm going to like the B's 4th line. I already like Thornton, that's obvious. But Campbell, I think, is a guy we're all going to learn to love. Hard worker, stand up guy, and has more skill than most 4th liners. He should be fun to watch. And with any of Paille, Marchand or McGrattan riding the other wing spot, there are a few different looks Julien could throw out there night to night. Personally, I'm already looking forward to McGrattan's first game as a Bruin.

5)The Tuukka-Timmy "situation" is going to be interesting to watch. While Tuukka certainly didn't get any help in his start, he also wasn't exactly on his game. Worse, his little tantrum after the second period (not sure if it was visible on TV) shows me that he's still got a good dose of that petulant, whiny little kid in him. Has anyone ever heard him say ANYTHING was his fault? Didn't think so, yet I've heard him plenty of times talk about the team in front of him. Timmy, on the other hand, looked sharp all day. And contrary to Tuukka, when Timmy gets pissed off, he plays better. He handles it himself, and takes ownership. This battle is going to be fun, and yes's actually OK to pull for BOTH of them. They're both trying to do the same job for our team, no reason to hate one or the other.

6)The kids are alright (wow....that's an over used line, even by my standards). Seguin's speed is impressive to say the least (not nearly as impressive as Kynch's Korner contributor Angela's timing though...she no sooner got the words "has anyone else been impressed by Seguin's speed?" out her mouth when he broke away for his first NHL goal). He'll make his share of mistakes, but his pure talent will get him off the hook for a lot of it. Jordan Caron may also open a lot of eyes. He's looked like a veteran since day one of camp. Now, I'm not trying to say he's going to be a Rookie Of The Year candidate or anything, but I can't help but think back to Joe Thornton's rookie year. All the hype (rightfully so) was on "Jumbo Joe". But Sergei Samsonov walked away with ROY honors. Again, NO...I don't think Caron will even be in that conversation. I just think at the end of the year, he may make a much bigger impact than most expected.

7)I didn't think it was possible, but I like Patrice Bergeron even more now. Everything about him oozes class. From the way he works on the ice, to the way he's clearly mentoring Seguin. From his vast community involvement, to his desire to remain a Bruin, and his willingness to take less money to stay here. This kid is the kind of guy every franchise needs, but most will never know. Take a moment to enjoy this guy folks, he's a special one.

Well, that's it for now. Still trying to get back on Boston time. With the next game not until Saturday, I should be fully recovered by then. In the mean time, I'll gather my thoughts and try to put something a bit more coherent for my next post. What can I say? Too many Pivo's!

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