Who are clubs to watch as new Czech ice hockey season begins?

Ice hockey players across Czechia are lacing up their skates for another season as the Extraliga returns. But who are the favourites to take the top flight title in 2023–2024? And how do hockey games here compare to, for instance, in the NHL? I spoke to Czech Radio hockey commentator František Kuna on the eve of the new season.

“There are three teams favoured this season. One is Sparta Prague, the other is Třinec – they won the last four titles. The third is Pardubice from East Bohemia, they are a team with a lot of money and great offensive players who have experience in the NHL.”

You mentioned NHL players who are now playing in the Czech leagues. What about Jaromír Jágr, is he going to be lacing up his skates for Kladno this season?

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“It’s been the same question for the last 10 years – you really never know. I checked recently on the official list of players, and Jágr was not there. So he may start later, or never. But in his case, you never know what he can do. He’s the owner of the club, he has a lot of work, and maybe needs some more time for training. So we’ll wait and see, he may play some games.”

Some of our listeners may not know much about the Extraliga, maybe they’ve only watched the NHL. When it comes to the fan culture at these games, what’s it like? How many fans are expected at the matches?

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“The culture is very different, there’s more cheering, drums and loud music in the Czech stadiums. In the NHL it’s completely different, it’s a quieter crowd. If people from the US and Canada could come and see the Czech league and the crowds, they’d see it’s more fun – not just for fans, but for the players as well. In Czechia the stadiums are not as big compared to the US or Canada. There are older stadiums like in Kladno or Olomouc with a great atmosphere for five or six thousand fans. The atmosphere in these stadiums can be much bigger than the NHL ones.”

What about rivalries between teams? Of course in the NHL you’ve got big rivalries like Toronto and Montreal, is there anything comparable in the Czech league?

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“There are, we have Pardubice and Hradec Králové, and last year when Slavia Prague was in the Czech league there was a rivalry between Slavia and Sparta, but now Slavia is a league below. Also West Bohemia with Plzeň and Karlovy Vary, but it’s not as big as Pardubice and Hradec Králové.”

Do you think ice hockey is more popular than football nowadays in Czech sport culture?

“I don’t think so. When it’s the World Championships for ice hockey in May, than it’s really popular throughout the country. But if you imagine the small towns and villages, football fields are everywhere, football is so popular all over the world. Ice hockey on the other hand is only played in 15 countries all over the world. Football has many more players and fans here in Czechia, so football is still number one.”