Everybody in Slovakia is a big fan of ice hockey. Well, ok - there may be some exceptions, but they are very very very rare. It is a matter of national pride, demonstration of patriotism.
If you have been in Slovakia for some time, or know a Slovak person, you must have already noticed by now. So now I would like to give you some of the reasons why.
Come the World Championships in Ice Hockey, or winter Olympic games – ice hockey is topic number one in all Slovak media, social networks, staff rooms, work lunches and breaks, doctors’ waiting rooms, bus stops,… in one word - everywhere.
Everyone is super excited awaiting the glory and success of Slovak national hockey team. Everyone – including village grandmothers in traditional dresses or seven-year-old children is watching the games and commenting on them. I, myself am a big fan of the Slovak national hockey team (of course).
However, what surprises me much more is how quickly the enthusiasm of many of the Slovak hockey super fans quickly changes into cursing and moaning about how the players are crap, lazy, weak, good for nothing, …etc. this year; if the championships are not going as well as they hoped for, the team is losing games, or not scoring enough goals… Other people stop watching the games if Slovak team starts to lose, because they just “do not have the nerves” for that drama. Well, this attitude I could still understand.
I, as many others, always try to watch every game and support the national team (which can be really hard if you are living abroad), regardless of their actual placement in the charts. I am sure they are doing their best and am proud and grateful for their effort.
I remember, I was in New York City in 2002, just after Slovakia won the Ice Hockey World Championship. People there were asking me, if Slovakia is good at football.
-“No,” I replied – “we are great at hockey!”
-“Really?” they were surprised.
-“Of course – who do you think won the World Hockey Championships this year? “
- “No, they went out in the quarter finals!”
- “So Canada?” (in disbelief)
- “No they were defeated then too! (By our team..)”
- “So then we have no clue!”
Of course they had not clue – American TV stopped all the live streams from the International Hockey Championship in 2002 straight after their and Canadian teams were defeated in quarter finals. It was just not interesting for them anymore. Even if I said to everyone in New York Slovakia won the championships that year, they did not really believe me.
And what a victory that was!
After Slovak team won the quarter finals against Canada people were literally celebrating and dancing and singing everywhere in the streets. If you happened to be walking down a street in any given residential area you would know about each goal scored by Slovak team – so loud were the fans in their homes cheering and shouting.
The semi-finals against Sweden were already streamed live on big screens in the major city squares, all the pubs were full, people put national flags on top of their cars - the first time I remember something like that happening.
You have to understand all throughout the history of our nation Slovakia has always been occupied, annexed, invaded, ruled or oppressed by one country or the other. There were not many great heroic events following the Velvet Revolution or becoming an independent country in 1993. We were not yet a part of the European Union and most of the western countries did not really notice by now that Czechoslovakia had split. And here we were – beating one great big country after another in the ice hockey ring!
The final match of the 2002 Championships was against Russia, country that invaded us in 1968 with tanks – and now we were ready to show them we will not be overcome again. All Slovakia was watching the finals in breathless suspense. Could it be that our small hockey team will become golden against all odds?
When we actually won people were screaming and shouting, unable to calm down, until they lost their voice:
Slovenskoooo! Sme Majstri!!! (We are the champions!), sounding from each street corner, every window in our block of flats.
Champagne was popping in the streets, fans jumping on top of parked cars waving national flags, all drivers honking, people hugging random passers by – we are on the top of the world!!!
Finally we had a reason to be really proud of our country’s achievements. Finally we accomplished something great and truly worth remembering! No longer will we be confused for one of the countries of former Yugoslavia, or Soviet Union! We are Slovakia – the World Champions of Ice Hockey!
So, regardless of how our national team will do this particular year, on this particular championship, I will support them and forever remember that feeling of togetherness, belonging, pride and all embracing happiness I felt in the moment of their first great victory.