A year ago I sat here at the Little Café Near Home to watch the Czechs skate against Canada for the world championship. All the tables were reserved last year, but there was room for me and my guests at the bar.
A year has passed, and the puck will drop in fifteen more minutes as the Czechs defend their title against the Swedes. The Café is surprisingly empty tonight; there are a couple more options in the neighborhood now, but more important is that the NHL was on strike last year. Last year the rosters for the various nations reflected the best those countries had to offer (with a couple of notable exceptions); it was like several dream teams playing against one another.
Even the czech regular season was something special last year, as the best of the local boys got to play for their home towns rather than for some city across the Atlantic. (On a side note, the NHL would do well to play more games earlier in the day; there are a lot of people over here jonesing for a chance to see their local heroes play, but when games start at 3 am, the audience is limited.)
This year the NHL playoffs are still going, so the talent available for the IIHF championship is diluted, but there is still something special about this tournament in the hearts of every Czech.
The first period is over and the Little Café is pretty full now; the only empty table is the one directly under the television. Alas, the Czechs gave up two goals in the first twenty minutes, and Sweden is very hard to play catch-up against. The good guys had their chances, but never put the puck in the net.
Oh, the second period. Oh, the horror. The Swedes owned the Czechs at both ends of the ice. The Czech passing in particular was poor — it seemed like the Swedes knew where the Czechs were going to send the puck before they did. As the period progressed the Swedes got more and more uneven chances. In the period the Czechs had four shots on goal, all from the outside.
There was one point where the crowd here got excited. The cameras found the Czech Prime Minister in the crowd, and the entire bar started jeering. Something about politicians using their positions to enrich their friends. Good thing that could never happen in the US.
There’s still quite a bit of time on the clock, but the game is over. The Swedes are playing protect the puck, while the Czechs are playing miss the opportunity. (I was typing while watching the game and looked down to see that I had written pooprtunity. I almost left it in.) It looks like the Swedes will add a world championship to their Olympic gold. Oh, well. There’s no denying that they brought the better team to the game tonight.