Tuesday, 6 September 2016
Sergei's Hockey Tour - CHL - Sparta Praha v Cracovia - Friday, August 26, 2016
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, they say, so what do you do if you find yourself in Prague for a long weekend? That's right hockey!
I couldn't resist breaking away from the pub crawl my friends were on in the Czech capital, to take in this Champions Hockey League encounter, and at the price of around £6, it was a lot cheaper than what an adult would pay to watch the Whitley Warriors in England.
Sadly there wasn't a huge attendance, with the sweltering temperatures tempting locals to stay outside and sunbathe rather than sit in a cool arena, but their opponents did bring a sizeable following with them, and no sooner had I left the Metro station and arrived at the O2 Arena than I was greeted with a sea of red and white shirts as the Krakow fans made themselves heard.
The Arena itself is impressive and would easily pass for an NHL or KHL venue. I was located on the goal line, close to the Sparta ultras who were behind the goal the home side attack twice.
When Sparta Prague went into Krakow the previous Wednesday and beat Comarch Cracovia 7-2 in the CHL's debut in Poland, not many were surprised. Another easy victory was expected this time around – and that only increased when they got goals from Petr Vrana (24 seconds) and Miroslav Forman (60 seconds) to take a 2-0 lead by the game's 1:00 mark. But Cracovia had obviously learned a thing or two from the first game and out-scored Sparta 4-3 over the rest of the game, thanks to 60 saves from Rafal Radziszewski.
"At the beginning of game we were absolutely shocked by Sparta’s game and aggressiveness – so many quick combinations and most of all two quick goals. It looked like we must've given up, but we got ourselves back into the game. We started to skate better and play more aggressively." marvelled Cracovia coach Rudolf Rohacek after the game.
Sparta continued to carry the play after the two early goals and not many of their fans were too worried when Damian Slabon got Cracovia on the board in the 13th minute – much to the delight of the large throng of Polish supporters who made the trip to the Czech capital, who were situated behind the Sparta net. They went even wilder when Matus Chovan pulled them even early in the second on the power play. However, Lukas Pech put in a rebound in the 28th minute and then Cramo Top Scorer Tomas Netik converted on a 5-on-3 power play and Sparta's two-goal lead was restored.
As was the correct order of things, or so it seemed. Cracovia's own Top Scorer, Damian Kapica, drilled a one-timer to bring his team back within a goal in the last minute of the middle period, even though they were being out-shot 43-12.
Sparta fans went into full-blown panic when Filip Drzewicki pulled his team even again in the 45th minute, the second time they had come back from a two-goal deficit.
Sparta went to the power play when Slabon went off for hooking with 10:32 on the clock, but squeezed their sticks so tightly that they couldn't pull the trigger on the go-ahead goal, even though they had good puck possession. Things got downright crazy in the dying minutes as they continued to push hard for the goal, but Radziszewski wouldn't relinquish. Then another power play and finally a goal, Netik again with 4:30 on the clock, his 6th CHL goal of the season, with the Cracovia goalie diving across in vain.
"I’m quite happy that we ended up winning from this game, because it wasn’t really as easy as maybe some of our players had thought after the first game against Cracovia. We had almost 70 shots but our productivity was horrifying, I didn’t really like it. We had also almost no pressure in front of the net, we should have definitely scored more. But for us it’s important that we’ve made it to the next round, because that was our goal." noted Sparta coach Jiri Kalous.
With the win, Sparta qualify for the Round of 32, while Cracovia know their last Group O game in Karlstad will be their last in the CHL this season.
Still, coach Ruhacek was proud of his troops: "We came back from 0-2 and 2-4 to tie the game, which was quite tough. But lack of experience and Sparta’s perfect power play decided the game."
For me it was back to hotel before embarking on another pleasant evening on the banks of the River Vltava.