Prague is gorgeous
I guess we are important. Check that, the players are important. I just happen to be along for the ride. And what a ride it was from the airport to the team hotel; 30 exhilarating minutes with a police escort and the ability to blow through red lights and avoid Prague's traffic which probably wouldn't be so bad if the streets weren't all about a foot and a half wide.
The ride itself was prettier and prettier as we got closer to the city center. Every now and then you saw an advertising sign on the street promoting the Oct. 4 and 5 games with the Rangers; Vinny Lecavalier pictured on one side, New York's Scott Gomez on the other.
The Czech language does not offer many opportunities for foreigners to figure out what it is talking about, especially on store signs as you drive past. But just when you feel totally out of touch, there pops up a McDonald's or a KFC. The streets are full of people, and lots of young people, so there is a vibrancy here that was very evident when the team got to the practice arena in a suburb called Letnany. About 100 or so fans were there to meet the bus. As the players got off, the Czech natives (Vinny Prospal, Radim Vrbata and David Koci) were swarmed by kids seeking autographs and television and newspaper cameras. Vinny Lecavalier was treated as royalty as well. As he walked from the bus to the rink, at least six men snapping pictures walked backwards in front of him, all while a crowd asked for autographs.
"It's special," Prospal said later in the locker room. "It's my home country. It doesn't happen every day like that. I'll enjoy it for a couple of days. Now I know what Vinny has to do every day of his life."
"They look to the players like gods," Koci said of players such as Jaromir Jagr and Wayne Gretzky, whom he said made hockey popular in his country. "So for a check guy to play in the NHL, it's a big thing."
Not everyone got so much respect. While waiting for his players to put on their uniforms and gear in the O2 Arena (the big arena where the games against New York will be played) and then ride the bus to the practice rink, coach Barry Melrose tried to walk down a hallway to look at the ice. He was met by a stern looking guy with a yellow security jacket, who would not let him by.
"Can I see the ice?" Melrose asked.
The stern guy did not say anything. He just shook his head.
"Tough country," Melrose said. "I hope they let us out there (Saturday) to skate."
Later, associate coach Rick Tocchet tried to get by the same security guy with the same result; though one wonders if Melrose could not get through why Tocchet believed he could.
"I'm tougher," Tocchet said.
It wasn't until almost 8:30 p.m. local time (2:30 p.m. eastern time) that I got to my hotel, which is different than the high-end, and much pricier spot the Lightning is enjoying. Mine is a bit, shall we say, spartan. But it has Internet, a nice bed and a big bathroom and could not be in a better spot; next to the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square, the heart of the entertainment district.