Friday, 6 July 2012

Czech Extraliga 2011-2012 Review: Part 3

The champions, and those so close.

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,
So near, and yet again so far for Martin Straka's men. The team which has been the most successful in the regular season over the last three years once again crashed out of the playoffs before having a chance to play for the Extraliga trophy. Straka must think by now that he, or his team, are cursed, as the great hockey that they seem to play in the regular season always disappears come the post-season. Still, at least the team went one better this year, and managed to make it out of the quarter-finals. Plzeň were the top seeds in the semi-finals due to the elimination of top seeds HC Sparta Praha, and faced off against an eighth seed full of confidence in Kometa, who then put Plzeň to the sword, taking the first three games of the series, and eventually winning in five games. On seeing their playoff performances, few could believe that Plzeň were the team that were running Sparta so close for the regular season title in January. Through the festive period, Straka's team went on a twelve game winning streak, not least helped by the form of Radek Duda. The journeyman forward, who had spent the previous two seasons bouncing around the 1.liga came back with a bang. During Plzeň's fine form, he netted 16 points in the month of January, helping his team climb to the top of the table. However, as the season progressed, Duda's form began to dip, reflecting his teams drop in play. Plzeň closed the season winning just three of their last ten games, and the two week rest period whilst the play-ins were conducted did nothing to turn around the team's run of form, as despite winning their quarter-final against Zlin, they looked less than impressive. Duda, who finished as the second top point scorer in the Extraliga with 59 points struggled to replicate his form in the playoffs, picking up just 7 points in the 12 games his side played, and the same could be said of his team-mates. Václav Pletka and Ondřej Kratěna both underperformed in the playoffs, failing to continue their fine scoring pace in the post-season. 22 year old forward Jan Kovář could well be excused from scathing criticism, as the promising young forward had his best season so far, scoring 51 points and forming a lethal partnership with Duda. Kovář managed 8 points in the playoffs, but even that wasn't enough to help his team reach the final. Plzeň were the top scoring team in the Extraliga regular season in 2011-2012, mainly thanks to the high scoring Duda and Kovář, but another name that should not be overlooked is that of Martin Straka himself. Despite doing almost every job behind the scenes at Plzeň, he still proved to be a quality player at the Extraliga level, even at 39 years of age. A 47 point regular season, combined with a team high 13 points in the playoffs showed that he's still the knack of scoring points, and could explain why he's signed up to play at least one more season on the ice. It was a surprise not to see Tomáš Vlasák at the top of the scorers charts this season. The 37 year old forward, who bagged a 68 point season in 2010-2011 struggled with injuries throughout 2011-2012, which limited him to only 18 regular season games, and meant that he was never able to reach his top form in the playoffs. Vlasák, who was Plzeň's top scorer for the previous for seasons was a big gap to fill on the forward lines, not least due to his almost telepathic chemistry with Martin Stráka. The one thing that stopped Plzeň from reaching top spot in the table was their defensive performance, which really should have done better, considering the big name talent it possessed. Featuring former NHLer František Kaberle, Jiří Vykoukal, Jiří Marušák, Jiří Hanzlík, and even Jaroslav Modry, who came out of retirement for the final part of the season, Plzeň had some of the best defencemen of the Extraliga era on their roster. Albeit, aging defencemen, as all of the players listed above were in their mid to late thirties (except Modry, who is now 41!). Perhaps the rigours of a long regular season were simply too much for the veterans to handle, although it's fair to say that Adam Svoboda struggled to reach his best form playing in the Plzeň net. The veteran netminder, who has one championship ring to his name with Slavia, was solid, but unspectacular, and unspectacular doesn't win you championships. He was far outplayed by Jiří Trvaj in the semi-finals, and numerous times he was left to sit on the bench, as young back-up Marek Mazanec took to the ice. 

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,
It could just as easily say "Petr Nedvěd" for the team name for Liberec. The veteran forward scored almost twice as many points as anyone else on his team, and the 40 year old captain was the integral cog in Liberec reaching the playoff semi-finals. The White Tigers, who showed flashes of brilliance alongside puzzling results had a fair season, finishing in a respectable fourth position in the regular season. They could have finished higher if they hadn't have gone on an eight game losing skid in December, which saw them go from regular season championship contenders to looking over their shoulder towards the play-ins. However, the side managed to recover, and ensure that they would go into the quarter-finals with home ice advantage, where they dispatched of České Budějovice in five games, before going down to Pardubice after winning two of the first three games in the series. As has been touched on, there were simply not enough superlatives for Petr Nedvěd in 2011-2012, who had his best season since returning to the Extraliga in 2007. Injuries have hampered his progress in his five years back in the Czech Republic, but a 55 point season in 2010-2011 was followed up by a league high 61 points in last season's campaign. He played his way into the Czech Republic national squad, representing his country for the first time since the 1996 World Cup, and helped the Czech side to their second consecutive bronze medal at the World Championships. It was clear that Nedvěd was the key player to shutdown when facing Liberec, and he was put under all sorts of pressure in the playoffs, but shone in the later games of the České Budějovice series, scoring twice in both Games 4 and 5 to lead Liberec over the top. However, he wasn't so prolific against Pardubice, who managed for the most part, to keep a lid on his scoring talent. Nedvěd had one assist and a -4 rating in the final two games against Pardubice, whilst he only managed to find the back of the net once in the series, which came in the Game 1 victory. Nedvěd was inspired in 2011-2012, and whilst he did have some assistance from his teammates, on the whole, it was lacking. Jaroslav Kudrna and Milan Bartovič comprised the secondary threat for Liberec, and no doubt an injury to Bartovič which saw him miss nearly twenty games hindered Liberec's progress. Kudrna put up another 30+ point season, but he has never really been able to recapture his scoring touch which he possessed for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the RSL and KHL. Both found their form drop in the playoffs, as they were unable to break into double figures for points in the playoffs. Below their first line, Liberec had very little to shout about. Tomáš Vak had a rotten season compared to previous seasons, whilst Lukáš VantuchTomáš UrbanAntonín Dušek and Daniel Špaček struggled to find consistent form throughout the season. There was some optimism in the Liberec camp, as two young forwards began to establish themselves in the lineup as Michal Bulíř and Lukáš Krajíček both impressed on their first full seasons in the Extraliga, with the former shooting to prominence following a hatrick in Game 1 of the quarter-final series against České Budějovice. In Marek Trončinský, Liberec possessed the most productive defenceman in the Extraliga, and although the defensive side of his game often leaves a fair bit to be desired, his 28 points from the blueline proved invaluable to Liberec, and he will be sorely missed next season, as he makes the jump to the KHL to play for Yugra. Defensively the White Tigers were average. Martin Čakajík had an impressive playoffs after having a disappointing regular season, whilst the duo of Jan Holub and Lukáš Derner were able to log up big minutes on the blueline. Liberec went into the season with Marek Pinc as their #1, which was surprising after his awful performance in the playoffs the season before. However, the often temperamental goalie had a fairly solid season. Statistically he was the third best goalie who had played over thirty games, with a .928 save percentage, and he especially in the first half of Liberec's playoff run, composed and played well. It was a bit of a netminding merry go round in the series against Pardubice, as Pinc started Game 1, only to be replaced by 22 year old Tomáš Vošvrda in Game 2. The flashpoint game in Game 6, where Pinc flew off the handle after his side had an awful first period. Pinc conceded three goals on 12 shots in the opening 17 minutes. He would go on to play Game 6, only to then seemingly pull himself after the second period with Pardubice 3:0 up. Strange times indeed!

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,
Where do you start with Kometa Brno? Their Cinderella story was only two victories away from a perfect ending, but after a miraculous playoff run, it finally came to an end in the final. This was the first time that Kometa had made the playoffs since their return to the Extraliga in 2009, and they certainly made their mark, cementing their position in the Extraliga after two years of flirting with relegation. Kometa's season was full of winning runs followed by losing skids. The team got off to an average start, but an 8:2 hammering by Kladno threatened to derail their season in the early stages. Kometa went on a terrible run of one win in nine games which stretched from October to November, and the team were always dangling between the play-in and play-out places. However, as the year turned, the team began to find some form, going on a fine run of 13 wins in 15 games to cushion the gap between themselves and the relegation fodder. The team couldn't lift themselves up into the top six after three straight losses to close out the season, but considering they had finished in 12th and 11th in their two previous Extraliga seasons, there were clear signs of progress. Kometa went into the play-ins facing a Kladno side who they had mixed fortunes against in the regular season. Both teams won twice, with both of Kometa's victories being 1:0 shutouts. Buoyed by their raucous home support, Kometa managed to defeat the resurgent Kladno side, sweeping the play-in thanks mainly to Tomáš Divíšek, who had six points in the three games. Divíšek, who joined Kometa on loan from Swiss side Davos in the second half of the season was in inspired form in the playoffs, and eventually finished as the top point scorer in the post-season. He had 17 points in 26 regular season games after joining the Brno side, but he was arguably back to his best in the playoffs. Divíšek has always been an enigma. The big bodied forward seems to have all the talent in the world to go far, but often is never able to put it all together on the night. 26 points in 20 playoff games has put his name back on the map as one of the premier Extraliga forwards; although Kometa will be hoping that his form wasn't just a flash in the pan. Divíšek's main partners in crime in the playoffs were Jakub Svoboda and Leoš Čermák. Jakub Svoboda had a break out season in 2011-2012, and the 22 year old went from a bottom six grafter to a top line forward in the space of a year. He had 7 goals and 8 assists in the playoffs, benefitting greatly from the experience of players such as Čermák. Now 34 years of age, Čermák has split the majority of his career between the Extraliga and the Russian top divisions, and after a poor season with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Čermák returned to the Czech Republic with Kometa. He impressed with 33 points in the regular season, but his clutch performances in the playoffs were key Kometa's miraculous run. He also picked up 15 points. Kometa's scoring depth could not compete with Pardubice's in the end, and part of the reason for this was the loss of regular season top scorer Miroslav Holec, who after picking up 37 points in the regular season was unable to play more than five games in the playoffs. Holec, who has bounced between the Extraliga and 1.liga for the past five seasons broke into life after finally leaving Slavia. The 24 year old centre had never scored more than five points in an Extraliga season before moving to Brno. However, another Slavia product had another solid playoff performance, as Tomáš Svoboda, who shone in Slavia's run to the semi-finals last season sparkled once again after moving to Kometa mid season. He bagged eight goals for Kometa, highlighting that he is arguably one of the premier playoff producers in the Extraliga at present. Kometa were able to outshoot their opponents in the majority of their playoff games, which was in part due to the brilliant defensive system orchestrated by head coach Zdeněk Venera and anchored by Extraliga veterans Tomáš Žižka, Radim Bičánek, Jiří Vašíček and Tomáš Malec, whilst Slovak defenceman Jozef Kováčik impressed after joining from Slovak Extraliga side Nitra. However, a solid defensive unit needs a top quality goalie, and despite now being 38 years of age, Jiří Trvaj rolled back the years and provided his team with some outstanding goaltending, especially in the playoffs. He kept a 152 minute shutout streak in the semi finals against Liberec, whilst he only conceded three goals in the final three games of the quarter-final series against Sparta. Trvaj, who spent the previous two seasons competing with Finnish netminder Sasu Hovi for the starters jersey outplayed his counterpart towards the end of the season, and despite getting off to a slow start against Kladno in the play-ins, he ended up starting each playoff game for his side. Trvaj gave his team every chance to win in the playoffs, but by the end of the final series he ran out of steam, as Pardubice scored a combined 11 goals in Games 5 and 6 to seal their championship victory.
Jiří Trvaj celebrates the victory
over Sparta Praha in the quarter-final
Photo: Michal Eger

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.

HC Pardubice
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,
Pardubice were the team that eventually hoisted the Extraliga crown, after a thrilling series with Kometa, it was the Bohemian side who won their second title in three years. A team that was somewhat inconsistent all season managed to turn on the heat when it mattered, as they came back from series deficits in all three of their post-season match-ups in order to take overall victory. It was testament to a side which may not have shown up every night, but when everyone came to the party, Pardubice were simply unstoppable. They were able to bounce back from a 6:1 loss against Vitkovice in Game 6 of the quarter-final series, only to win Game 7, as well as coming back from 2:1 down in both the semi-final and final. Pardubice only managed to finish third in the regular season, as their inconsistent form hindered them from going on the long winning runs that their rivals at the top of the table were able to do, but whilst they were not able to pick up a big run of wins on the spin, they were able to prevent themselves from going on long losing skids. It's difficult where to start with Pardubice, as the one thing that they did better than any other side in the Extraliga this year was the ability to get a goal from every single one of their forward lines. At the top of the order it was a familiar story, as club captain Petr Koukal and Jan Kolář both topped the clubs scoring charts with 51 points each. Koukal and Kolář both enjoyed their most productive seasons to date, and Kolář especially shone, scoring 26 goals which was the second most in the Extraliga this season behind Karlovy Vary's Petr Kumstát. Koukal is one of the most complete players in the Extraliga, as the 29 year old centre is adept at both ends of the rink, and his hard working nature made him one of the most highly prized Extraliga players this off-season. However, the championship win in 2011-2012 will be the last time these two don a Pardubice jersey  at least for the time being, as both players have signed with Neftekhimik Nizhekamsk in the KHL, where they will be hopeful that their form will continue in the second best league in the world. However, Pardubice have been able to keep a hold of arguably their best player in the playoffs, as Slovak forward Martin Bartek has signed with the club for 2012-2013. Bartek, who suffered an injury plagued regular season was back to his best in the playoffs, top scoring for his side with 22 points in 19 games. Bartek was a huge part of what everything Pardubice did this season, and was scoring at a fine rate before injury struck him, as he was limited to just 28 regular season games. Bartek has impressed significantly since joining from the DEL in 2010, and has consistently scored near a point per game in his two seasons for the club so far. However, it is not just about the big guns for Pardubice, because as already mentioned, their secondary scoring was superb all season. Jan Starý and Robert Buchtele led the charge from this department, scoring 31 and 28 points respectively, but Starý shone in the playoffs, bagging 13 points for joint second best on the team. Buchtele, who is still only 21 years of age, had his breakout season in the Extraliga, and although his playoff performance was somewhat lacking, he could go a long way to replacing Koukal's production next season. Also adding to the bounty were Robert Kousal, Radovan Somík, Lukáš Radil and Tomáš Zohorna with the latter shining in the post-season, where he joined a host of other Pardubice players with 13 points. Daniel Rákos was another that made a name for himself in the playoffs, as the 25 year old who has never really been able to cement an Extraliga place prior to this season burst onto the scene, scoring the series winning goal against Vitkovice in the quarter-finals, as well as four other key goals to help his team reach the trophy. However, it's not all about goal scoring, and Pardubice possessed a very strong backline and a brilliant young netminder in Martin RůžičkaRůžička, who was the backup to Dominik Hašek in 2009-2010 had a somewhat disappointing regular season compared to his first year as starter the year before, but the 25 year old Pardubice native shone in the playoffs, starting all 18 games and recording a 0.928 save percentage. Leading the charge on the backend were Aleš Píša and the second Jan Kolář, with the former scoring 24 points this season, whilst contributions by Vladimír SičákVáclav Kočí and Václav Benák went a long way to securing the Extraliga crown, especially after the departure of Jakub Nakladal mid way through the season.

Pardubice lift the title in Brno
Photo: Martin Kocourek,
So Pardubice were extremely close to leaving the playoffs at the first hurdle, as after a back and forth series with sixth seeds Vitkovice after Daniel Rákos' 55th second overtime winner in Game 7, and this result seemed to galvanise the side and make them even stronger. They were in trouble against Liberec in the semi-final, as they lost both Games 1 and 3 before going on a tear in the final three games of the series, which included an 8:1 victory in Game 5 which really broke Liberec's resistance. This led the team on to the final, where they faced the unlikely opponents of Kometa Brno, the side who had previously defeated the first and second seeds in the playoffs. Game 1 was in Pardubice, and was a thriller of a contest. Pardubice took the lead four times in the contest, only to be pegged back at each occasion. Both teams combined for six goals in a frantic final period of regulation play, with Tomáš Žižka's game tying goal coming with four minutes to go in bizarre circumstances, as the defenceman's weak attempt from the red line went straight through Růžička's five hole. The game went to a shootout, with Sasu Hovi getting the nod for Kometa. Petr Koukal scored the first goal in the shootout in the third round of shooters, before Růžička made a stunning glove save on Leoš Čermák to win the game and make up for his previous mistake. Game 2 was also in Pardubice, and once again it was an incredible contest. Kometa seemed to have command of the game, as they were 3:1 up through two periods, which was stretched to 6:2 with eight and a half minutes to go. Few would believe that Pardubice could get back into the game, but three goals in ninety seconds turned the game completely. Goals by Píša, Jiří Cetkovsky and Jan Starý put Pardubice in it, and then Píša struck the post on a 5 on 3 powerplay with just two minutes to go. Kometa would hold on to the game, and the series was all square as it headed back to Brno. The series calmed in Brno, despite the raucous home side for the outsiders. It was a bit of a tepid affair, with Radovan Somík scoring the only goal through two periods. However, Kometa turned on the style in the final frame, scoring twice through Jakub Svoboda and Hynek Zohorna to give them a one goal lead with ten minutes to go. Trvaj made 30 saves for the home side as they took the lead in the series. Game 4 was a carbon copy of Game 3, with the game going scoreless through forty minutes. If the first two games was a showdown between the shooters, then the second pair of games was a battle of the netminders. Trvaj made 38 saves in Game 4, whilst his counterpart in the Pardubice net made 29. Jozef Balej broke the deadlock at 45 minutes for the hosts, but Martin Bartek found the twine with little over five minutes to go. The game would once again go to a shootout, with Pardubice winning once again, as Jan Kolář I. bagged the winning goal. The series went back to Pardubice all square, and once again there were goals to be had at the ČEZ Aréna. Pardubice dominated in the opening frame, scoring three times through Cetkovsky, Lukáš Nahodil and Radovan Somík, and in the second period they scored once more through Píša to get Trvaj pulled from the game. Kometa rallied back in the second period, scoring three times to send the teams into the second intermission at 4:3. However, Pardubice had too much for Kometa to handle in the final frame, as Cetkovský scored his second before Bartek added the empty netter to seal Game 5, and leave Pardubice with just one more win necessary to lift the Extraliga title. Kometa had to win on their home ice, but instead of finishing strong, they bowed out with a whimper. Starý scored six minutes in, and although defenceman Jiří Vašíček was able to reply in the dying minutes of the first frame, Pardubice were able to pull away in the second. Benák, Koukal and Zohorna found the net in the third period, to give Pardubice, who were outshot 40:25 in Game 6, a commanding lead. Kolář I. put the icing on the cake in the third period by taking the score to 5:1, which was how the game, and the season would finish, to the delight of the travelling fans, and to the dismay of the home support. Pardubice, who have been a powerhouse of the modern Czech game, once again lifted the title.

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!

1 comment:

  1. Very thorough review, Jon, and a pleasure to read