I remember being sat in a friend’s living room on a Saturday Night last Summer. Everyone was drinking, there was some terrible music playing, and the mood was light. I was alone on a couch, constantly refreshing my emails. I knew that it was also the night I was supposed to hear back from the NHL with regards to a credential for the Flyers’ season-opener in Prague.
Little did I know that the weekend would become so symbolic. Jake Voracek would treat the entire Flyers team to dinner and show him around the beautiful City, taking them to soccer games and visiting all the sights. It’s also the week in which the now-iconic Flyers victory song was founded. We’ll get to all of that.
My phone pinged. I have never roared so loudly in my life. My fist flew threw the air like a Rocket. My friends didn’t really know what a credential meant or what involved but I didn’t really care. We did it. Philly Sports Network had been approved by the NHL to cover the Philadelphia Flyers’ season opener.
We’d been covering Flyers games from the Wells Fargo Center for some time now. When we heard about the Global Series, a lightbulb went off in my head. I was only a 2-hour flight or so away from the Czech Republic and knowing fully well that most of the Philadelphia media would be unable to attend or make a much longer journey, it became something I craved. The idea of being able to provide a really unique insight into that week and prove that our site belonged with the big Dogs. That moment will always stand out to me. Knowing that the NHL recognized our site and that in a matter of weeks I’d be in Prague covering my first ever Ice Hockey game? Absolutely surreal.
I was then hit with a sudden wave of realization. I had never left England before. My first trip abroad wasn’t going to be a family holiday or a lad’s weekend, but instead covering the Flyers. What could possibly be dreamier?
The next day I started looking for flights and booked an apartment for the week. I was stunned at how cheap everything was. I had heard about Prague being the ultimate ‘beer drinkers’ holiday because of how low the prices were, but I was genuinely taken aback. This was also going to be my first time on a plane so was a little excited to be THAT guy taking a picture out of the window.
I spent the next few weeks researching intensely. I was familiar with the Flyers, I mean, I had to be. But my strength was always the Eagles. I wanted to gain a greater understanding of the cultural change the team had endured in the offseason and what that means moving forward. I was fascinated by the arrival of Alain Vigneault and his intent to bring in Kevin Hayes, someone he had nurtured to success during their time on the Rangers. I couldn’t wait to dive into that when I was able to step into the locker room.
On a long five-hour trip to Luton airport, I started to create mood-boards of the content I wanted to cover. It ranged from discussing Carter Hart’s second season with the man himself, to how someone like Travis Konecny was preparing to step up to the plate in 2020, and how the trip to Europe could act as the perfect opportunity to unify the locker room.
I’m a sucker for traveling. Any excuse to hop on a train, put on some headphones and just stare out of the window, and let the world pass me by while I slowly address every minor qualm in my head, I’ll take. This time was different. I was filled with butterflies.
When I finally boarded the plane, I was unable to work. I wasn’t sure if planes had Wi-fi, but that was soon answered. I also very quickly realized that being 6’3 has its downfalls. The window to peer out of was reminded me of holes poked through a cardboard box that contained a Puppy. The chair wasn’t all too comfortable and leg room was minimal. Great.
What really didn’t help my first ever experience in the sky was the man next to me. Listen, call me over-cautious, but anxiety is a thing and I felt a little sick. When the pilot requests all phones are set to ‘airplaine mode’ and we’re halfway down the runway and some absolute hooligan next to me is sat messaging his WhatsApp group screenshots of his favorite cue on ‘8-ball pool’, the urge to take his Phone and launch it down the aisle was too much. if you’re reading this, Mr 8-ball Pool connoisseur: I’d wipe the floor with you no matter what cue you use.
Somehow, the plane took off without much in the way of tragedy outside of the fact that I kept giving 8-ball Pool man death stares. I ordered some food which was a solid 6/10 and spent the next 2 hours in complete awe. Being so high, looking at all the lights, trying to work out exactly where we were, it was magical. My favorite pastime is to walk certain areas of London at around 7PM while listening to soppy music. This took that to a whole new level.
I wrote a poem about my ex-girlfriend because..well duh what else was I going to do? The trip was over so quickly. It felt like a few drops of Cola, a crunch of a BLT sandwich and a few daydreams later and I was in a completely new country.
The flight was delayed, which was fantastic. The lady checking me into my Apartment told me to meet her at 9PM and I got off the plane at 11 in proper LJ Fashion.
In less than 11 hours I’d be covering a Flyers practice from The 02 Arena. I stepped outside of the Airport and called an Uber. Prague is split into districts (not like the Hunger games) and I was staying in District 9. It was a fairly long trip, but I spent the next 45 minutes bonding with the Uber Driver, talking about the culture in Prague, what to expect, and what to do.
The views were gorgeous. Prague was a City almost lost in time. Parts of it were clearly preserved for historic beauty, others were almost stuck between modernization and escaping the clutches of an almost inevitable communist fate. A sense of rare blends of culture draped every building, every road. I mean, if I’m honest it felt like London…the only difference being I didn’t understand what any of the road-signs meant.
I was besotted. Prague felt so different, yet so familiar. Even at night, with the roads so quiet, the City felt so alive. I couldn’t wait for whatever lay ahead. It suddenly all felt so real.
I got to my apartment and immediately hit the hay. I didn’t think too much about it. I was exhausted and knew that after working on an American timezone for months, I now had to adjust and be up bright and early the next day to experience a pair of NHL practices and represent my company to the best of my ability.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I go over the first day of practice, some rare insight into player personalities and atmosphere, and some more personal tidbits!