Czech Referees Make History at World Hockey Championships in Vienna

Vladimir Sindler, photo: CTK

That's the sound of more than 13,000 loyal Czech fans who packed Prague's T-Mobile arena last night. They came to support the Czech national team in its last world hockey championship practice game, a very close one which they lost by one point against Canada. The Championships begin on Saturday in Vienna, and here, all eyes will be on the Czech team - which has 26 NHL players on the roster, including Jaromir Jagr. But it's not only the Czech players that are getting attention - it's also Czech referees. There will be more of them at the championships this year than from any other country. Kate Barrette met up with one of them, and has more.

Vladimir Sindler,  photo: CTK
You may not have heard of Vladimir Sindler, but if you are a hockey fan, you've most certainly seen him. Sindler, who is 33 and comes from the West Bohemian town of Plzen, is one of the best hockey referees in the Czech Republic. He officiates for the division one Czech elite league games (Czech Extra Liga), as well as for international games across Europe. This week, he's heading to Vienna to officiate his seventh consecutive world championship.

"Yes, I will go for my seventh championship in a row, and of course I'm looking to have here some interesting and important games, especially in the playoffs, and I hope to be in the final. This is the same goal as with the players, to play in the final game. As referees - we want to be here, do a good job, and be in the final."

Czech Ice Hockey team,  photo: CTK
Vladimir will go to this year's World Hockey Championships after refereeing two international games in Germany, the Under-18 Championships in Plzen, and the last European Hockey Tour game in Sweden. On top of all this, he has another job, as a civil servant for the city of Plzen, since referees in the Czech Republic are not considered to be "professionals".

While all the traveling is a strain, there's a reason Vladimir is working his seventh consecutive world championship. His keen referees' eyes - which noted I was wearing a coat that was much too heavy for the temperature that day and spotted a ticket on a car from tens of metres away when we were walking through Plzen - revealed a person who doesn't miss much.

Vladimir will attend the championships with three other Czech officials. He confirmed that the Czech Republic would be sending more officials than any other country.

"Yes, that's true - we'll have two referees and two linesmen. The other countries will have a maximum of three referees, and I think this is the first time in history that one country will have four referees in the world championship."

I asked him why he thought there were going to be more Czech referees and linesmen at this year's tournament:

Czech Ice Hockey team,  photo: CTK
"I think that it depends on the result of the work of Czech referees and linesmen on the international level; and for a long time I think we've had good results. I also think that Austria is very close to Czech Republic, and that maybe this is one of the reasons. I don't know - I think the first point is more important."

Finally, we talked about Vladimir's predictions for the Czech team and the role of the NHL lockout in strengthening the team:

"We will have a very good team, with a lot of big stars playing for the Czech Republic, and I think we can expect very good results. I think it's good for the Czech team that all these (NHL) players played ice hockey for the whole season. I heard that some Canadian stars didn't play for the whole season, and only trained. I think it's better to play - it means the players are in better condition and better shape before the games."