The Czech Republic’s Para ice hockey team received more publicity and attention from sponsors and fans than ever before when it hosted the 2019 World Para Ice Hockey Championships at Ostravar Arena, which was packed wall-to-wall with spectators.
Ostrava 2019 boasted a record 65,000 spectators over the course of the tournament. It also resulted in highlight reels on major networks such as Czech TV, NBC Sports in USA and CBC Sports in Canada, and had a major ambassador of the event in NHL legend Dominik Hasek.
Even current hockey stars and teams, such as Patrick Kane, the Czech National Ice Hockey Team, and the NHL’s New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues posted about the event on their social media channels.
The fans were the “sixth man,” according to Czech captain Michal Geier, with the host nation’s players drawing strength from their screams of support from the stands.
With all the support behind them, the Czech Republic finished the tournament in fourth place, tied for their best finish in World Championships history and also their best finish at the event in seven years.
“The best memory was the feeling, energy and atmosphere of a full house, from the ice to the crowd and from the crowd to the ice,” Czech head coach Jiri Briza said.
But this season’s World Championships, to be held at the same venue from 19-26 June, will feel like a completely different event for the host nation.
“A lot has changed,” Briza said. “We’ve missed exhibition games during hockey season, went a few months without practice on the ice, and then worked from home while doing off-ice practice only. All the teams will likely be entering these World Championships without having played any games recently.”
The Czech Republic had three players retired and has not played a game against another country since November 2019.
Geier, who was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2019 World Championships after notching seven goals and four assists, will be looked to as the team leader once again in Ostrava and is eager to lead the newcomers.
“There has been a generational change in the team,” he said. “Thanks to the great reach of the media, we were able to get some new players. These new players will be hungry and will want to compete with the world's best.”
“We are lucky to be able to play at a professional level, as the closure of professional sports did not last long in the Czech Republic. We could not train on the ice for about three months, so everyone trained individually at home during that time,” Geier added.
It has yet to be determined if and how many spectators would be allowed in Ostravar Arena in June, with the focus for now on ensuring strict health and safety protocols are put in place for all involved in the event.
“First and foremost, our goal is to have the safest possible World Championships, and then after that we will hope fans will be allowed to be in the ice arena,” Briza said.