Plekanec, Jagr Selling out Extraliga Arenas


By Radoslav Vavřina, Czech Correspondent for All Habs Hockey Magazine

LIBEREC, CZE —  Last Sunday was a special day for the city of Liberec. Finally, the Kladno Knights, full of NHL stars arrived to the northernmost major city of the country — with the team, the Jaromir Jágr fever travelled north as well. Kladno now plays in front of sold-out crowds wherever they go, because Jaromír Jágr is such a star, even among non-hockey public, that everyone wants to see him play.

There’s even a Facebook page trying to gather enough supporters for him for next year’s presidential election. However, the legendary Dallas Star told the media that he has no intention of becoming the Czech President in the near future.

Jagr managed to sell out the Tipsport Arena with a capacity of 7,500 spectators, which is the centrepiece of Liberec Sport Park facility.  Chris Stewart of the St. Louis Blues, the newest lockout acquisition of the Liberec White Tigers, referred to the arena as an NHL-caliber sports complex. That might be one of the reasons why the Kladno Knights seemed to comfortably conquer the arena on Sunday, with a 3-1 victory over the White Tigers.

Both teams had players missing. The home team couldn’t put Jets’ Ondřej Pavelec into the net, because of a clause in his contract, which says that he can’t play against his youth team. Both Stewart and Wayne Simmonds joined the team a day after so the only NHL’er in Tigers uniform was Oiler’s rearguard Ladislav Šmíd. And, of course, former NHL star Petr Nedvěd played in the game.

On the other side, Jágr missed the game with an injury which sidelined him for about three days, but all the other superstars made an appearance. Marek Židlický, Jiří Tlustý along with Montréal Canadiens’ Tomáš Plekanec and Tomáš Kaberle were on the ice that day.  NHL’ers are still getting used to their new teams — we noticed that Židlický, who plays for New Jersey, had two different sets of gloves, apparently, one for the first ten minutes of the period and the other for the rest of it.

I’m sure that Canadiens’ fans are curious about how ‘their’ players performed.  Both Plekanec and Kaberle had a good game, seeing significant powerplay time. Plekanec was also the centre of the first line with Tlustý and former OHL’er David Kuchejda. On the powerplay, the two NHL forwards played with Pavel Patera, who played 32 games between 1999 and 2001 for Dallas and Minnesota with the duo of Kaberle and Židlický on the blue line. I also noticed that Plekanec played regularly on penalty kill.

Eleven minutes into the game, the Kladno Knights were already up by one when Kaberle fired a low drive from the blue line all the way to the left bottom corner of the net, doubling up the lead to two-nothing. The Tigers backup goaltender Marek Pinc, who filled in for legally unavailable Pavelec, later said that he couldn’t stop his shot. An unstoppable shot, does this sound like the Kaberle you know?  He of course benefited from proper screening in front of the net. Worthy of a mention is the fact that Kaberle paired up with Židlický only on special teams, but had an ordinary Extraliga linemate during even-strength play.

Plekanec didn’t really get into many chances, but both Pinc and Tigers defenceman David Kajínek admitted that he and his fellow locked-out NHL’ers play was a couple levels above theirs. With this being said, Plekanec is in a good form and ready for the NHL to begin. I also noticed that Kaberle played better than I expected. He was said to be in a slump all the time since being traded out from the Leafs. On Sunday, he didn’t play like a player lacking motivation.

Maybe, if the NHL lockout keeps on making the lives of fans miserable a couple months longer, the next meeting of these two teams will be a bit more of a contest. For now, let’s end with the fact that Jágr and Plekanec keep on selling out the Extraliga arenas. On Tuesday, they even created a new league attendance record. In the O2 Arena, usually a home to the Slavia Prague, where they play only some games and only thanks to Jágr, 17,182 fans found their way to their seats.


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