NHL lockout from a European Perspective

Obviously, every NHL fan wants a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but what about hockey fans in Europe? It probably comes as no surprise, but many hockey fans on the continent are satisfied with the “all-quiet-on-NHL-front“ status. As a Flyers fan in the Czech Republic, I can attest to this very thing.

On September 15 the old CBA expired and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman ordered a lockout. At the time, a lot of European born players started seeking a “short-term“ solution back at their respective home countries. They went back to Finland, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic to play for their hometown, for the club in which they started playing hockey. Some North Americans followed them to Switzerland, Germany and to Russian KHL of course. European fans have been excited since the lockout started. They are living the dream!

Jagr and Plekanec – Image c/o thereuschblog.com

As one example, thanks to this latest work stoppage, the Czech Extraliga now features Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Plekanec, Ales Hemsky, David Krejci, Jiri Hudler, Vaclav Prospal, Martin Hanzal and many others. The teams profit from this, not only from tickets but also from merchandise – New jerseys and new t-shirts featuring these heroes are very popular among fans.

After a one-year return to North America, Jagr has brought Kladno fans back to their home arena, and they are breaking attendance records game after game. Jagr uses his Facebook site to stay in touch with his fans. He jokes around, asking fans about break-ups, dreams, government, Christmas, faith etc.

It’s not only about Jagr. The Extraliga also played host to four NHL players from Canada or Finland: Chris Stewart, Wayne Simmonds, Andrew Ference and Tuukka Rask. Simmonds and Stewart played for HC Bili Tygri Liberec during October/November and then they left back to German team Crimmitschau which plays the second DEL (Deutsche Extraliga).

Andrew Ference played nearly three months in HC Ceske Budejovice along with Vaclav Prospal and Martin Hanzal. Ference wasn’t a newbie in Budejovice. Roman Turek brought him in during the last lockout to play with him and Ference fell in love with the team, with the fans and also with the city. Nevertheless, he ended his tenure because of his family. He was amazed with the goodbye from the fans. Goodbye to Andrew Ference in Ceske Budejovice

Czech fans are very passionate and the atmosphere here is very different from the NHL. Hockey players love to play in the Czech Republic mostly because of that atmosphere and Czech clubs know that. The biggest problem is the insurance policy. Many Czech teams can’t afford to pay such high rates and that’s why they’re asking players to pay it on their own. Some of them agree, yet others refuse to pay for it.

The NHL actually isn’t overly popular in the Czech Republic. Most people know where the Czechs play, they know the biggest stars, but only a few of them has any insight or knowledge about the league as a unit. They prefer Czech teams because many believe that you can’t create a bond with a team which you can see only on TV or on the internet (which is partly true, but if you fell in love with NHL you will pick one team up sooner or later).

Because of this passion for Czech teams, many fans are satisfied with the lockout. They can see Jagr, Plekanec, Hemsky, Krejci, Hudler on a daily basis. They can see them on a national team during Euro Hockey Tour (which is something like small European Championship).

Younger Extraliga players can also benefit by playing with or against NHL players. They learn a lot and it makes the league better. The downside however  is that the NHL players are stealing jobs from regular Extraliga players. This is not only the case of Extraliga. The same goes for every League in Europe now. But this happens all the time, no matter whether there is a NHL lockout or not.

In conclusion the NHL lockout was a good thing for us in Europe. We can finally see our players in their prime playing for their home teams with other very good players. We don’t know how long our dream will last but we’re glad for every day of this extraordinary experience.