PRAGUE, Oct 13 — Facing his first-ever ice hockey game in Britain’s fourth-tier competition, former Chelsea and Arsenal keeper Petr Cech insists there are few differences between the two sports.
“When you get hit by the puck in the wrong spot, it hurts even when you’re wearing the padding,” Cech said in an interview for his Czech agent yesterday.
“But then, when someone hits you from a meter’s distance in football, it hurts too,” chuckled the 37-year-old who retired from professional football in the summer.
On Wednesday, Cech, who currently works as a technical and performance adviser at Chelsea, announced signing up as a netminder with the Guildford Phoenix.
Founded in 2017 and based just south of London, the Phoenix are facing the Swindon Wildcats’ reserve team in the fourth tier of Britain’s ice hockey system on Sunday.
Cech said he was not afraid of the much rougher sport despite wearing a protective helmet even as a footballer following a skull fracture he had suffered in a 2006 Premier League game.
“The puck will hit you hard through the trapper but then you end up with a bruise at worst, that’s no disaster,” Cech said.
He found other parallels between football and ice hockey, the two most popular sports in his native Czech Republic.
“The warm-up will be the same as what I did in football,” said Cech.
“And the pre-match skate has a similar structure as the warm-up before a football game,” he added.
“Also the coach gives you information before the game, tells you what he wants from the team and you.”
In Dominik Hasek’s footsteps
“The only difference is that I don’t know anything about the opponents here — I would be able to gather more information at Chelsea,” Cech complained.
Like in football, the goalkeeping chore was the obvious choice for Cech, who loved watching and playing ice hockey as a child.
“I wasn’t keen to turn into a forward. I can only skate well enough for a netminder — I don’t think I could play up front,” he said.
Cech won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, the Champions League and the Europa League during his Chelsea career, with a further FA Cup success coming at Arsenal.
With Guildford, success is uncertain, but Cech, who owns the all-time record for the most clean sheets in the Premiership, is looking forward to the first game.
“I was allowed to practise with the team but I couldn’t play games. It’s great to have the opportunity now and I hope it will end well.”
As if to boost his chances, Cech chose a shirt number 39 once worn by Dominik Hasek, his childhood idol, two-time Stanley Cup winner and six-time Vezina Trophy holder for the NHL’s best goaltender.
Hasek, who is currently contemplating running for the Czech president, led the Czechs to a sensational win at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the first-ever Olympic tournament bringing together all NHL stars.
If there is a cause for concern, it is media interest, Cech said after his new career had made the headlines across the world.
“Nobody expected this. We have no idea what it will come down to at the rink on Sunday, but I guess we’ll have to curb the media interest somehow,” Cech said. — AFP