In the last week, the New York Rangers won the previously fictional Victoria Cup (we assume they don’t let Lil Jon play with that one) in Switzerland and took the first two games of their regular season — in Prague. Like most Americans in Prague, the Rangers just hung out with other Americans, beating Tampa Bay twice to open the 2008–2009 slate.
Why, you might ask, is the NHL starting its season in the Czech Republic? (And Sweden, which hosted a series split between Ottawa and Pittsburgh?) Well, in case you haven’t noticed, these aren’t exactly the glory days for the NHL. The sport isn’t as invisible as anyone who just watches ESPN might think, but the league definitely needs to turn over a few more rocks in search of fans. Hence the games in Prague and Sweden, and even the possibility that the league could expand to Europe in the next few years. (Though a minor league is more likely.)
Which is all fine and good, unless you’re an actual player, forced to travel a third of the way around the world to play in front of fans who don’t know you. (But still cheer you: The games were big hits in both countries.) If you were a rabid hockey fan in New York, desperate for Rangers season to start, you were in luck: We have Czechs here, specifically in Queens, where the Rangers hosted a massive viewing party at a beer garden in Astoria.
The Rangers are returning home today — they have a game on Friday at the Garden, with plenty of tickets still available! — meaning they didn’t get to do much backpacking. But, of course, the team has almost as many Czechs and Swedes as Americans. And they are coming back 2–0, supposedly bonded as teammates and, we hope, all sporting guidebooks from the Kafka museum.