Canadians are oft criticized for a lack of patriotism when it comes to their own country. However, this distinct lack of passion is really just a misunderstanding. For us, passion starts and ends with a 200 foot long sheet of white ice, a small black disk, and some sticks.
Every Christmas, a Canadian tradition unlike any other begins on Boxing Day. On a day when consumerism is at the forefront of the collective consciousness, passionate fans of ice hockey gather around the television set - tired, dazed, and some general malaise from the Christmas cheer - to watch, arguably, the most important annual hockey event for our country - the World Junior Hockey Championships. Twenty-three young men, amateurs, aged 17-19, travel the globe to compete in a test of wills with the other hockey powers.
It is the purest hockey tournament on the planet - people play for one reason only: to make their country proud. The Danes, who are just happy to be there. The Swedes, and their cool efficiency, and the passionate Finns. The Czechs, who bear no love for the Slovaks, and the Slovaks, who bear no love for the Czechs. The Americans, who, despite the lack of media attention, come year after year searching for Gold - accepting anything but as failure. Forget about the overpaid, spoiled, supremely talented players of professional hockey. These are not mercenaries for hire. The World Junior's are about pride. About representing your country. About the purity of sport. This tournament is for every sports fan that is tired of the sense of entitlement that pervades professional sports.
This tournament is for every Canadian who wants to believe in the future of our country, to be proud of whom we are. To take this all in, you have to be there. To support our team, and feel the genuine vibrancy of the collective consciousness that is Canada, you must attend.
This year, my friends and I followed the call: we followed to Pardubice, Czech Republic. Pardubice is a small industrial town about an hour outside of the capital, Prague. With very little to see from a tourist perspective, we decided to stay in Prague, and commute out to Pardubice for games. This ended up being an excellent decision.
The logistics of our pilgrimage were simple enough. First, we rented an apartment right off of Old Town square. With three of us, this was a very cost effective way to handle accommodation. The average price of a hostel room (shared accommodation) over the Christmas period was roughly 30E. We paid 40E per person for a 3 bedroom apartment, with a kitchen, television, internet, and a washer dryer. This became our base of operations.
Second, we purchased mileage banks from Czech Railways. This allowed us to hop on any trains, at any time, at a fixed (read reduced) cost. This made travel around the Czech Republic both simple, and cost effective. Day trips to Cesky Krumlov, Olumouc, Pardubice, were simple. Go to the station, jump on the next train, and you’re off. Considering how often we nearly missed trains (some left early, many arrived late on different platforms), the mileage bank was a godsend.
As for the Czech Republic? What can I say. The beer was cheap. The people are beautiful. The nightlife was lively. The architecture - amazing. And the history is interesting. This is a place where three guys were able to entertain themselves for thirteen days. Are you looking for a place to rock out with your friends? For whatever the reason, Prague is the place for you.
And the tournament itself? We won. There was drumming, dancing, and singing through the trains, and spilled out onto the streets. And a lot of drinking and rejoicing. I will likely never see any of the other three thousand Canadians who ventured there – but I don’t really ever need to. You see, my friends and I participated in something greater than ourselves that day. We all did. For a short period of time, we were something more than ourselves – we represented what it meant to be a Canadian. Well, most of the time anyway. Some drunken shenanigans may have occurred as well, but we fail to take responsibility for those!