The Life of an International NY Islanders Die-Hard: Czechia

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Since the NY Islanders' inaugural season in 1973, the organization has had only ten Czech-born players lace the skates up during a regular season game. While the Islanders may not have had the most distinguished history of Czech players, the nation has produced some of the league's top players, including Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek, and recently David Pastrnak.

At the heart of Czechia lies the capital city of Prague, home of Sparta Praha, one of Czech hockey's most successful clubs. In an area where hockey reigns supreme, there lies a pocket of Islanders fans cheering on the blue and orange from one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

"As a Czech, I've loved hockey since I was a child," said Ondra Musil, who runs the Islanders CZ Twitter (X) account. "From the first half of the 90s, I followed the NHL results from afar, especially teams where Czech players were active."

While the Islanders didn't have any of those big Czech names, the orgainization had one player in particular that appealed to Musil.

"It's hard to say exactly when I became an Islanders fan, but I vividly recall a moment when I was nine years old and saw Robert Reichel in an Islanders jersey on the TV program 'NHL Power Week,'" Musil said. "Yes, it was the fisherman jersey. I know many Islanders fans hate that jersey, but for me, seeing Robert Reichel wearing it was incredibly captivating. From that moment on, the Islanders became one of the teams I followed from a distance."

The biggest obstacle for any international Islanders fan remains the time difference. The difficulties of catching a live game come with consequences the following day as sleep deprivation kicks in.

"Most games are played when it's around two o'clock in the morning here," said Musil. "Of course, the most convenient is watching games during European prime time, but the Islanders usually don't play well then. Otherwise, I watch games through various streams or via NHL.TV. I admit that I watch many games retrospectively in the morning without knowing the outcome, skipping all the commercials and breaks. However, I never miss the playoff games live."

For Musil, born and raised in Prague, the Islanders' history drew him to becoming an international die-hard. While many people would be drawn in from the dynasty days while overlooking the struggles during the 90s and 2000s, those difficult times also drew Musil's attention.

"The more I read about the Islanders and their history, the more I was drawn to them," said Musil. "The history of the Islanders is fascinating to me. On one hand, you have the dynasty that is probably hard for anyone to surpass, like the number of consecutive playoff series wins. On the other hand, there were periods of absolute struggle, including the team being purchased by a fraud. And one day, I can't precisely say when, the Islanders became the only NHL team I rooted for - and it will remain that way. forever."

During the 1969-70 season, Jaroslav Jirik became the first Czech to ever play in an NHL game. His time in the league was short, playing only three games, but unlocked the door for the future Czech players who have left a lasting impact on the league. A nation built on hard work and passion, its citizens bring that same mentality to the rink every night for the game they love.

"Hockey isn't just a sport here," said Musil. "It's woven into the very fabric of our culture. Our arenas might be smaller, but the intensity and fervor with which fans support their teams rival any NHL arena."

While fans close to the Islanders feel the ups and downs of the game throughout the season, fans like Ondra, thousands of miles away, put themselves through the roller coaster of emotions as if they were here as well.

"Always remember that across the Atlantic, in the heart of Europe, you have kindred spirits cheering, celebrating, and sometimes commiserating alongside you, bound together by a shared love for this incredible game and for the New York Islanders."