Thus begins the concluding part of my look back on the season that was, featuring the two sides which fell at the semi final stage, as well as both finalists, including the champions.
HC Plzeň 1929
Regular season result: 2nd place (99 points)
Playoff quarter-final result: Defeated PSG Zlín in seven games.
Playoff semi-final result: Lost to HC Kometa Brno in five games in the semi-finals.
|So close, yet so far once again for Martin Straka|
Photo: Milan Podpera, hcplzen.cz
So the playoffs came around with Plzeň really struggling to find their best form, and play-in qualifiers Zlín took them to seven games, with forward Nicholas Johnson scoring the series winning goal late in the third period of the final game. The semi-final saw them up against HC Kometa Brno, who were the form team going into the semis following their victory over title favourites HC Sparta Praha in the quarter-finals. However, two and a half minutes into Game 1, you could be forgiven for thinking that Kometa simply got lucky against Sparta. Goals by Johnson and defenceman Dan Růžička gave Plzeň a 2:0 lead in no time at all. The tide began to turn though, and despite Johnson getting his second in the middle frame, Kometa would score twice in the remaining two periods, with Jakub Svoboda scoring the winning goal with five and a half minutes to go in the game. So Plzeň had lost the home ice advantage, but now it was imperative to not lose both games at home. One man would not hear a word of it though. Jiří Trvaj was in imperious form in Game 2, making all 28 saves as Kometa shut out the previously free scoring Plzeň, with Róbert Petrovický getting the only goal in the third frame. The series moved to the Czech Republic's second city, and once again, Trvaj was at his best. Kometa were outshot 32:18, but Trvaj stopped all 32 shots as Kometa took a second 1:0 victory in a row. Plzeň were on the verge of getting swept, which many would have thought preposterous at the start of the playoffs. Pavel Vostřák scored two minutes into Game 4, finally snapping Trvaj's shutout streak after the veteran keeper shut up shop for 152 minutes in succession. Plzeň would be spared the blushes of getting swept by Kometa, as they took Game 4 by a score of 3:2, but Game 5 would be the end of the line. Plzeň went with Marek Mazanec in goal for the fifth game, but the young goalie lasted only five minutes, as Kometa scored three times in that spell. Plzeň were humiliated in front of their home fans, as Kometa thrashed them 7:2, leaving a forlorn Martin Straka looking crushed on the bench in the final few minutes of the game. It was another playoff collapse for Plzeň, and Straka must believe that his luck will turn sooner rather than later.
Player of the season: Radek Duda
This was a really difficult one, as it's sometimes unfair just to pick the player that scored the most goals. However, after a turbulent career, and countless teams, it seems that Duda really began to find his groove in Plzeň. The bad boy of Czech hockey, Duda polarises opinion, and it's fair to say, has a pretty big ego on his shoulders. The now 33 year old had his best season points wise so far, and although he has yet to decide on where he will be playing for next season, it's inconceivable to think that he'll end up back in the 1.liga. Duda disappointed in the playoffs, but against the defensive juggernaut that Kometa were in the playoffs, the blame can't fall squarely at his feet. Duda has talent in abundance, and maybe Stráka was finally the man to direct that talent and aggression in the right direction.
Bílí Tygři Liberec
Regular season result: 4th place (84 points)
Playoff quarter-final result: Defeated České Budějovice in five games.
Playoff semi-final result: Lost to HC Pardubice in six games.
|Extraliga player of the year Petr Nedvěd was|
nigh on impossible in 2011-2012
Photo: Petr Zbranek, fotozbranek.cz
After their relative dominance (in Extraliga terms) against České Budějovice, the series against Pardubice was shaping up to be a very intriguing one. With Game 1 in Pardubice, Liberec played one of their best games of the playoffs. Jaroslav Kudrna scored a hatrick, whilst Jan Víšek had three assists as Liberec took the first game by a score of 5:3, taking home advantage away from Pardubice. Game 2 saw Pardubice blow away Liberec in the second period, scoring three goals to take a strangehold of the second game of the series, with the game finishing 4:2 to the hosts. The series moved back to Liberec, and in front of a raucous home crowd, Liberec once again took the lead in the series. Jaroslav Kudrna, after being held pointless in the first five playoff games, was proving to be Pardubice's achilles heel, as he scored a first period brace against his former club. Kudrna's efforts were all Liberec needed on the goals front in Game 3, as Pinc made 30 saves to take a close game by a 2:1 scoreline. Game 4 in Liberec was the White Tigers' chance to take a hold of the series, but they were undone by Pardubice's scoring depth. Two second period goals by Václav Kočí and Lukáš Radil helped Pardubice on their way to a 3:1 victory, levelling the series at two, and giving Pardubice home ice advantage once again. Game 5 was a real turn up for the books, as Pardubice dominated the game from start to finish. The home side scored four times in the first period, with Radíl and Petr Koukal both scoring two goals as Pardubice romped to an 8:1 win, which knocked the stuffing out of Liberec, who could never really rebound from such a crushing loss, as they slumped to a 4:2 loss in Game 6 of the series, which saw them knocked out of contention. It was strange to see how it all suddenly went so wrong for Liberec. Pardubice's superior scoring depth no doubt was a key factor in their defeat of Liberec, but as champions often do, Pardubice were able to find that extra gear when they were in trouble, which helped them over the challenge of Nedvěd and his White Tigers.
Player of the season - Petr Nedvěd
A no-brainer here, as the veteran forward had his best season on home soil and the Extraliga player of the year will surely be the player of the season for his team. Leading the league in points with a whopping 61, Nedvěd rolled back the years and arguably displayed form reminiscent to his NHL glory days for Liberec, and they will be delighted that they managed to secure his services for the upcoming season, fighting off the temptations of retirement or the jump to Lev Praha in the KHL. Nedvěd's knack of finding the net, plus his poise on the puck are arguably unmatched in the Extraliga today, and it will be no surprise if he is at the top of the scoring charts in 2012-2013, that's of course if his body can stand up to a full season of regular season play.
HC Kometa Brno
Regular season result: 8th place (75 points)
Playoff qualification result: Defeated HC Kladno in three games.
Playoff quarter-final result: Defeated HC Sparta Praha in six games.
Playoff semi-final result: Defeated Bili Tygri Liberec in six games
Playoff final result: Lost to HC Pardubice in six games.
|Extraliga runners up Kometa Brno|
impressed with their play in this years playoffs
Photo: Michal Eger, hc-kometa.cz
|Jiří Trvaj celebrates the victory|
over Sparta Praha in the quarter-final
Photo: Michal Eger hc-kometa.cz
Kometa's series' against Kladno, Sparta and Liberec have been covered in more detail in the respective teams reviews, whilst the final will be covered in Pardubice's section. After a brave fight, where Kometa won Games 2 and 3, Pardubice unlocked the secret to defeating Kometa, winning the final three games of the series. Kometa's run, which was seized upon with fervour in the Czech Republic's second city was a joy to watch, and the emotion and spirit they played the game in was palpable. Whilst it was not Kometa's year, they have shown that are now a true player in the Extraliga, and as their progress continues, they will rise further up the table, and you would not put it past them to have their name inscribed on the championship trophy within the next decade.
Player of the season - Jiří Trvaj
This was perhaps the most difficult choice I've made so far. Miroslav Holec was the star in the regular season, but his injury woes excluded him from the playoffs, whilst Tomáš Divíšek only joined the team half way through the season, despite his incredible playoff performances. Therefore, I found it fair to go with veteran netminder Jiří Trvaj as my player of the season for Kometa. No doubt his teams system helped him, but Trvaj was back to his best, reminiscent of his days as Znojmo's top talent in 2004-2006. His incredible performances against Liberec were the toast of the town, as he was only beaten by feared scorer Petr Nedvěd once in six games, whilst he kept Sparta's feared line of Ton-Bližňák-Tenkrát under wraps for the majority of the series. Trvaj doesn't have many more yewars ahead of him, but with another fine team assembled around him, who's to say that he can't play as he did in the playoffs again. Of course, the team will need another quality goalie beside him, because fatigue will eventually set in, which is why Kometa have brought in Martin Falter, who has been around the block before. So despite the fine scoring form of Divíšek, in my opinion, Trvaj was Kometa's player of the season.
Regular season result: 3rd place (86 points)
Playoff quarter-final result: Defeated HC Vitkovice Steel in seven games
Playoff semi-final result: Defeated Bílí Tygři Liberec in six games
Playoff final result: Defeated HC Kometa Brno in six games
|Jan Kolář was part of Pardubice's feared 1-2|
punch alongside Petr Koukal
Photo: Jan Jedlička, hcpce.cz
|Pardubice lift the title in Brno|
Photo: Martin Kocourek, fotokocourek.cz
Player of the season - Petr Koukal
Another difficult call to make, but Koukal is one of my favourite Extraliga players, so there might be some bias in this listing! Koukal is your archetypical number one centre. Incredibly skilled offensively, an amazing ability to link the play between the forwards and the defence, whilst having an impeccable work rate and two way game. Koukal has been a great servant for his club over the past decade, and it's only right that he goes off to make his payday in Russia. A 51 point season with a further 9 in the playoffs all added up to make him, in my opinion, the most valuable player on the Pardubice roster, and a huge hole to fill for next season.
So there you have it folks, this long, winding journey comes to a close, and it's only right to toast what was an incredible Extraliga season, featuring thrills and spills, brilliant individual efforts, and in the end, a brilliant team performance by Pardubice to win the crown.
With my work with Slovan, I may not have as much time as I used to to concentrate on the Czech Extraliga, which is a shame, but is a fact of life. It will still remain one of, if not, my favourite league to watch, and from a fan point of view, I'll be sure to keep tabs on Slavia's results in the coming season.
Hope you enjoyed it! A lot of work went into this!