Overpaid, over there

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

PILSEN, Czech Republic -- Overpaid, over-sexed and over here. That was the saying by British men when U.S. armed forces personnel arrived in England during World War II.

The same sort of complaint is why the Worldstars ended up playing here last night instead of Bratislava, Slovakia, as originally scheduled.

The promoters, who bought the Worldstars game from IMG, moved it to the home of Pilsner beer because a backlash in Slovakia about NHL players taking jobs away.

"With the anti-NHL player factor there, they smelled it and got nervous,'' admitted IMG agent J.P. Barry of the late switch in locales by the promoters.

"Lots of players lost their jobs in Slovakia and there's been a lot of fallout because of it. Most of the NHL players have left Slovakia now and gone to Sweden.''

Attendance is down in Slovakia. Not only do fans support the players who lost jobs, fans complain about games which are less pleasing to watch when the NHLers are on the ice. Slovakian fans prefer the eye-candy pretty pass plays to hitting and checking.

PLAYING WITH SKILL

So does Tony Amonte, who told a Prague press conference before the team came here: "For a player like me who plays under Ken Hitchcock, it's a nice change to play with skill. It's exciting to play on the bigger ice and use some skill.''

After a 1 1/2 hour bus trip, the Worldstars arrived here for their third game in three nights and fourth in five nights. The opposition was Pilsen's Czech league team known as H.C. Lasselberger.

If they were worried about a rude reception in Bratislava, there was no worry here.

As was the case with the tour opener in Latvia, this was a love-in.

"What great atmosphere,'' said Mats Sundin. "That was a great experience.''

About half of the 8,000 fans in the soldout arena stood for the entire game. They cheered both teams and brought their own team back on the ice for a curtain call from the dressing room even though they lost 8-3. Hundreds of fans surrounded the Worldstars team bus for autographs and to see the players up close. When all the players boarded the bus, the fans all waved as they left.

The fans were able to watch Dominik Hasek on Czech ice for the first time in a decade even if he did give up all three goals in his half of the game.

"It was a nice feeling to play in the Czech Republic for the first time in 10 years. I came here to play two games during the last lockout. I haven't played in Pilsen in 15 years,'' said Hasek.

"It was a very special game for me and it was obvious the people liked it.''

SETTLED THE TEAM DOWN

It was country-mate Tomas Vokoun, however, who came in for the second half of the game, subbing while Martin Brodeur played the Igor Larionov going-away game in Moscow, who settled the team down and shutout the Pilsners the rest of the way.

"At the end of the day the talent just took over,'' said coach Marty McSorley. "I think we felt great to be out of Russia.''

Eleven of the touring Worldstars played in all four games.

Brodeur, Sergei Fedorov, Kris Draper, Luc Robitaille and Ray Whitney all stayed in Russia for the Larionov game while Petr Nedved and Daniel Briere joined the team.

Nedved, Mats Sundin, Glenn Murray, Barret Jackman, Alexandre Daigle and Tie Domi scored singles and Amonte, enjoying the big ice, potted a pair.

But this stop wasn't about the game so much as the scene in this nation where 53 NHL players are spread around the country for their lockout season.

"We don't feel any controversy, but that's because the players here are playing not so much for the money in the Czech Republic,'' said H.C. Lasselberger president Karel Tejkai. "Most feel a responsibility to come back to their home teams in the towns where they were born.''

Czech expatriate Petr Svoboda, the Edmonton agent who has been watching games here for two weeks, agrees.

"When it's over, the fans all know they are going to leave. Attendance here has doubled. There were 16,000 in Prague the other night and that's unheard of for a Czech league game.''

The only negative here is Jaromir Jagr.

"Early in the season we had Jagr-mania. Every game he played was sold out,'' said Czech play-by-play broadcaster Michel Dusik of the time before Jagr sold out to go to Siberia. "People say 'Why Russia? Jaromir Jagr has enough money,' '' said Dusik.

Martin Straka and Martin Cibak are the only NHLers in Pilsen. Nedved is playing for Sparta Prague.

"The fans are happy to have us here,'' said Nedved. "It's a special season for hockey in the Czech Republic.''

Here last night, this was a special game.


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