PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- There are lots of reasons why right winger Jake Voracek is excited to start the Flyers’ season in his homeland, the Czech Republic.
At the top of the list: His 86-year-old grandmother will get to attend one of his NHL games for the first time.
“She was at every game when I was a kid,” Voracek said of his mother’s mom, Ruzena Peca. “She always watches us when we play on TV. She always wakes up in the middle of the night and watches me.”
When the Flyers play 7 p.m. games, they start at 1 a.m. in the Czech Republic because of the six-hour time difference.
“I’ve been gone for almost 14 years, back when I was 17, and that’s the last time she watched me play live,” Voracek said. “When I asked her if she was coming to this game, she looked at me like I was stupid for asking, so it was kind of nice.
“But honestly, she’s pumped up.”
Voracek and the Flyers will open their season in Prague on Friday against Chicago (2 p.m.; NBC Sports Philadelphia, NHL Network).
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “When you’re growing up, you want to play hockey someday and maybe make some money out of it. And then you make it to the NHL … and then you play for the national team and be a captain of the national team, and it’s huge. And this is kind of like the next step that you don’t expect happening.”
A Czech hero
Voracek is one of the best NHL players the Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) has produced. He is a hero in these parts and will have the paparazzi following him this week. “Not all the time, but they are sneaky. They are behind the trees,” he said. “There’s going to be something in the papers, for sure.”
Playing on his home turf doesn’t seem real, Voracek said.
“I’m excited that I get to go back and see everybody because it doesn’t happen,” he said of playing an NHL game near where he grew up, 4,161 miles from Philadelphia. “It’s going to be awesome. I can make them proud. Like when I played in the world championship last [May] in Bratislava.”
He had 16 points in 10 games and was selected to the tourney all-star team.
“It’s always for them," he said of his family. "To see me play at home and what the people say about me in the stands, I think it’s going to give them a good feeling that they raised me well, and they did something right.”
He bought 70 tickets for family and friends.
“That’s a lot of ----ing money,” he cracked. “Some people I haven’t seen in five years are asking me for tickets.”
Voracek, 30, grew up in Kladno, about a half-hour drive from Prague. He is the Flyers’ unofficial tour guide this week. For fans traveling from the Philadelphia area to the game, he said there’s a pub on every corner and recommends stops at the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Prague Castle, and “sit down on the deck and have a couple cold ones, along with some fried cheese and potatoes, and Rizek [schnitzel]. We have all those thick sauces that mix with dumplings. That’s why all Czech players are so heavy because they want to win battles” for the puck.
Voracek, who plans to attend the Czech team’s soccer game Wednesday in the Champions League with many of his teammates, was asked where he thought he ranked with some of the all-time great NHL players from the Czech Republic. He has 639 career points, placing him 11th among NHL players from the Czech Republic, far behind the top two scorers, Jaromir Jagr (1,921) and Patrik Elias (1,025).
“Nobody ever is going to get to Jags’ level,” said Voracek, referring to the former Flyer (for one year) by his nickname. “I think I’ve been around for a while. I’ve had some success and played for some national teams, and I still have five more years to go” on his Flyers contract, so his stats will grow.
“My goal is to win the Cup and pass Elias in points one day and maybe be second behind Jags,” he added.
The Czech Republic, formerly known as Czechoslovakia, fell under influence of the Soviet Union for 41 years until 1989, when freedom from the Communist regime began. As for the years before 1989, Voracek said his dad “doesn’t talk about it that much, to be honest. I know some stories. I think we are glad – it’s going to be 30 years in November – that it’s this way. But it was crazy back in the day. From ’48 to ’89, it was a crazy time in Czech. Obviously, a lot of tough times back home. Kudos to him that he did what he did to raise a family like that, and we are tight as a family as well.”