The TV hockey series Lajna found an audience not only among hockey fans. Hundreds of thousands of viewers followed the fate of the despotic coach Luboš Hrouzek at Seznam each week. However, few people know that the hockey players in the series were Charles University students – at home both in the study hall and on the ice.
The series Lajna tells the story of coach Hrouzek, a former Nagano ’98 champion, who lives and breathes for his sport. The main character was reportedly inspired by real managers; the script was written by Petr Kolečko. The opening series aired in 2017, the second two years later, and the third, last autumn. The final series saw Langmajer’s Hrouzek named coach of the Slovak national team, and many of the players who chased the puck down the ice under his guidance were students from Charles University and CU's own team.
How did the players score parts on the programme? They get recommendations from their coach Aleš Hybner, who served as an expert advisor for the series. “I was in charge of making everything look believable - from the right equipment and the layout in the locker room to the choreography of the action on the ice,” explains Hybner. “It's [one thing] for the script writer to describe a centre forward deking past wingers and combining with his winger on a play and score, but another to make it look real on screen. Everything had to be thought out and rehearsed,” Hybner says.
That's why the series featured real hockey players as well as actors. While in the second series the players were from HC Slavia Prague’s junior team, for the third series Hybner recommended his charges at CU, who were familiar with the previous two seasons and were thrilled to take part. There was, however, one catch: “For a long time we didn't know when filming would be scheduled, which left us worried it might clash with the exam period. In the end, shooting started in May, and by then everything had been shut down anyway because of Covid," defenceman Dominik Havelka says.
The third series run was mostly filmed in Prague, but there were some surprises. One time, the players had to film a scene on a train, which, according to the script, was to show Slovak hockey players traveling to Prague for the World Championship. “We thought that it would be filmed inside a standing train at the station at Smichovské nádraží. But when we got on, they suddenly told us: “Well, today we're going to Havířov,” Havelka laughs. [Havířov is on the other side of the Czech Republic – ed. note].
One thing they learned by taking part in filming was that on film sets actors as well as extras spend most of their time waiting. Waiting for hours. And then some. “Sometimes you started right away, but most of the time you had to wait. We’d be on call on the set at 5:30 in the morning, but were only called into action around 9 am,” Havelka recalls. Often what seemed like hours resulted led to only a few seconds on screen. “We did two scenes, of which only a few seconds were used, and we were still blurry somewhere in the background,” explains goalie Kristián Novák.
TV series coach Luboš Hrouzek and members of his "team": CU's Dominik Havelka and Filip Čmejla.
Sometimes the players would be on set for 10 to 12 hours a day. “When we were filming in the O2 arena, we had to be on skates for those ten hours! When you take your feet out of skates [after that long] they feel like wood," Dominik Havelka says. It was even worse for the actors who had to be in hockey gear as well. “Almost every day I told myself that I wouldn't last another day, the frequent waiting was terrible. But in retrospect, I think it was actually a really good experience,” says forward Filip Čmejla.
Logically, the CU students spent most of their time with the Slovak actors, gradually become friends. They also look fondly on Czech actors Hana Vágnerová (who played Deniska, coach Hrouzek’s girlfriend) or Zdeněk Piškula (the coach’s son). When you see Piškula’s skates on the ice in the series, you may be interested to know that those belonged to the university team's forward David Volf, who was his hockey double.
Actor Václav Neužil (who played hockey player Robin Guha), whose skills were praised by the hockey players themselves, did not need a stand-in on the ice. “It was very obvious how much he was enjoying the whole thing, and in between filming scenes he was always trying things out,” says Havelka. Neužil was one of the most popular characters in the series, playing a brawler returned from the NHL who often inserted English words into his sentences - creating iconic or cult phrases.
Shots with “Langoš” usually required one take
The main actor of the series, Jiří Langmajer, was a little more distant on the set, preparing for a scene or the next shot. “When I wasn't on the ice with the guys, I noticed how he was preparing. And he was always focused, always rehearsing his lines and stuff,” David Volf recalls. In any case, the players said Langmajer, nicknamed “Langoš”, lived up to his reputation as a consummate professional, and the hockey players were impressed that when the camera was rolling, the lead often nailed his shot on the first take.
However, they once experienced him as the despotic Luboš Hrouzek even when the cameras were off. “He yelled at us when we were taking shots on the ice as the pucks bouncing off the boards made quite a racket in the O2 arena,” laughs Filip Čmejla. “Once he also yelled at the extras who were the Russian team. It was just like in front of the camera, when he yells at everyone in the series,” Havelka adds.
CU’s hockey players came up through a number of elite junior clubs, so one question for them was whether they had ever experienced a coach like Hrouzek? “You come under quite a few bad-tempered people during your career, I guess everyone has,” says Kristián Novák with a wave of his hand. The character of Hrouzek is also an amalgam of several coaching extremes: “Perhaps the only thing missing in the series is that he would hit someone with a stick. But I experienced that too,” says David Volf.
David Volf and Kristián Novák during this year's Battle on Ice which Charles University won for the eighth time. Photo by Vladimír Šigut.
David Volf also had at least one funny experience as a result of the series. When the young forward is not playing university league games, he plays for Neratovice in the regional league. "Of course, the club knows that I play in the series. And when we didn't do well in one match, suddenly my teammates imitate Hrouzek! “So?! Explain what happened?!! Volf laughs.
Clearly the series was quite an experience and a chance to try something different: CU students and players were able to use their skills to make the game look natural on the screen, and also gained a bit of insight into how such series are made.
Left to right: Real-life CU coach Aleš Hybner with players David Volf, Dominik Havelka, Kristián Novák. Front: Filip Čmejla. Photo by Jiří Novák.
|Interviewees, members of UK Hockey Prague:|
|Aleš Hybner (trainer) - skills coach. Played for HC Sparta Praha.|
|Kristián Novák (goalie) – student at the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Education. Was trained by Liberec, also plays with Frýdlant.|
|Dominik Havelka (defenceman) – student at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport. Started with Kladno, plays for Tábor in the 2. league.|
|Filip Čmejla (forward) – student at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport. Started with Pražská Hvězda.|
|David Volf (forward) – student at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Started with Prague Letňany, plays for Neratovice besides the university team.|
|Other Charles University students who took part in the series: Frederik Hakl, Jiří Halberštát and Hynek Havelka.|