The National Hockey League will return to Prague later this year to open the 2019-2020 season, league officials confirmed last week.
In the first official NHL game of the 2019-2020 season, the Philadelphia Flyers will meet the Chicago Blackhawks at the Czech capital’s O2 Arena on October 4.
This isn’t the first time the NHL has held a season opener in Prague; previously, the New York Rangers met the Tampa Bay Lightning to kick off the 2008 season.
“This is truly a historic moment for the organization as we take our hockey club overseas for the very first time,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren told the press.
“Throughout our history we have had a number of players from many different countries worldwide call Philadelphia home. Now, we are excited to have this opportunity to represent the Flyers on the international stage.”
The popularity of hockey in the Czech Republic, and the sheer number of Czech players in the NHL, are two of the reasons the world’s premiere hockey league has been drawn to the country.
Philadelphia alone currently has three Czech players on the roster: Michal Neuvirth, Radko Gudas, and Jakub Voráček, the team’s star right winger and highest-paid player.
Both Voráček and Gudas are from Kladno, just outside of Prague, where NHL legend Jaromír Jágr still plays with the local team he co-owns.
“Obviously it’s something as a kid, you don’t think it’s possible,” said Voráček in a press release.
“But with the way the NHL is going, I think it’s great for us. To see all the friends and family, being able to attend an NHL game you can participate in, it’ll be special. It’s going to be exciting. I think everyone’s pretty pumped up for Prague.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said defenseman Gudas.
“There was one game in Czech a lot of years back and it had a really good [feel]. People really loved it and I believe the Czech people deserve an NHL game. They’re going to love it and it’s going to be a big deal for us.”
The Flyer-Blackhawks season opener in Prague will be the final stop on a European tour for both teams, who will play pre-season games in Lausanne and Berlin in September.
While the Flyers and Blackhawks will kick off the 2019-2020 season in Prague, neither team are expected to compete for the NHL’s highest prize; Vegas odds give both teams longshot 100-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup.