By Mary Paoletti
PRAGUE -- Step off the elevator and onto the drab concrete of the concourse. Breathe deeply.
Popcorn. That classic arena smell.
Huge signs over kiosks say "HOT DOGS" in block letters. Fans in hockey jerseys shift from one foot to the other while they wait in line. It's almost game time. It's almost time to step inside and feel that chill, cast your eyes down on that gorgeous sheet of ice.
For the moment, it's unscarred. In the shine you can see blurred reflections of the Bruins logos that glow on the 360 display halo. You stop and look down to take the scene in. And then your eyes move up.
Someone said that the designers visited most or all of the arenas in the United States to get ideas for the O2. But where they got the idea for rafters like this . . . ?
It should be so daunting. The visual elements for a European NHL premier are as impressive as you would imagine. And the fans dress the part, too.
In a single row sit seven fans wearing seven different hockey sweaters: Capitals, Sharks, Coyotes, Bruins, Ducks, Blues, Lightning. There are German STURM jerseys and Czech JAGR jerseys. These people are radiating excitement. They want to see hockey -- North American hockey.
But for the majority, the passion is for the plays and not the players. A few hundred Phoenix and Boston fans traveled from the U.S. to watch their home teams square off; the other thousands who fill balcony and trickle on down? Locals. Europeans.
This is how you know you aren't in Kansas (or Pittsburgh or Washington) anymore. The crowd applauds when they should -- for big hits and bigger goals -- so you know these people know the sport. There's just no general "Garden noise."
Cheers die as soon as they're born. The attempted "BOSTON! BOSTON! BOSTON!" chant doesn't seem to be taken seriously. Maybe because it sounds weird with a Czech accent. (BOHS-TOHN! BOHS-TOHN!)
And did you ever imagine that the in-game music would throw you off? It's as though the sound crew did a Google search for "American hockey soundtrack" to make the playlist but the search results returned "Stereotypical American warm-up songs" instead.
Scorpions - "Rock you like a hurricane"
Reel 2 Reel - "I like to move it"
Michael Jackson - "Beat it"
Survivor - "Eye of the tiger"
Lucas - "Lucas with the lid off"
At least one of them is comforting: Zombie Nation. Even if you hate it 90 percent of the time, when the Bruins light the lamp and that tune comes on . . . well, you're probably doing this:
You knew things would be different, though. It's just nice that the important things are the same.