PRAGUE - For a fleeting moment, Steve Konroyd thought the Russian MiG fighter jets roaring over the Vltava River and the tanks rumbling down the streets meant Prague was under attack.
Konroyd was a 24-year-old defenseman playing for Canada in the World Championship that May 1, 1985 day and had traveled to a city that remained in the grip of communism. So when the jets cruised overhead and the tanks clogged the streets, it was an unsettling moment. Soon, Konroyd discovered that the display of military force was merely part of a Labor Day celebration in the city and all was well.
It was Konroyd's first trip to Prague and 34 years later he is back in the city as a member of the Blackhawks television broadcast crew that will call the season opener against the Flyers on Friday at O2 Arena as part of the NHL's Global Series.
Konroyd has found Prague - which saw the fall of communism in 1989 - to be a much different city than it was in '85 as sightseeing boats filled with tourists are the main attraction on that portion of the Vltava these days. High-end retail stores, small souvenir shops and a virtual cornucopia of restaurants (try the goulash) now line the cobblestone streets.
"The city was very similar to what you see now but there was very little commerce," Konroyd said. "There were no stores, there were almost no restaurants. And the few restaurants they had were very poor. We had a tough time just trying to keep our weight on over here. We were at the Intercontinental Hotel and we basically ate pasta with butter on it and that was about it."
It was a bit of a surreal moment for Konroyd when the Blackhawks' media entourage arrived at the Intercontinental on Monday, the same hotel in which he stayed back those many years. Even then, Prague was a beautiful city with its sweeping architecture and it is even more so today with almost comically picturesque views in every direction one turns.
"It's gorgeous," Konroyd, 58, said. "Honestly, you think you're in a fairy [tale] book every time you turn a corner because everything looks like a facade, it looks like it's fake. But it's just an historic city."
When Konroyd was in Prague in 1985, he mostly explored the city with then-Flames teammate Jamie Macoun when not on the ice. Team Canada, which featured Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman, among others, went on to upset Russia in the semifinals before falling to host country Czechoslovakia in the gold-medal game.
During the Blackhawks' current trip, Konroyd is experiencing Prague with his wife, Juli, and one of his five children, son Declan, by his side.
"As I told my wife, the only thing I really did back then was go to the Old Town Square and the team took us to a crystal factory," said Konroyd, who spent 15 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman, including with the Blackhawks from 1988-92. "Just (Tuesday), we did a boat tour in the morning, we saw the (Prague Castle) in the afternoon and then at night we did a classical concert downtown. As a player, you're always worried about getting rest and not doing too much and here I'm just like, 'Let's do as much as we can.' I've really taken advantage of being here."