|Martin Růžička - The best in the Extraliga?|
Photo: Marian Ježowicz
There's nothing much better that signalling your arrival home than scoring six points in the first two games of the season. Růžička beat up on Pardubice and Karlovy Vary as the team better known as the Steelers quickly vaulted to the top of the Extraliga tree. Nothing is more endemic of just how good of a scorer Růžička is at Extraliga level than looking at his points picked up during the ten games played so far. Not only has he scored 12 goals, but he opened the season scoring in nine straight games, only being blanked in his side's most recent loss to Zlin on Sunday. Not since his 33 points in 18 playoff games in Třinec's 2011 Championship run has he scored at such a rate of knots.
|KHL: A step too far?|
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
For many, that playoff performance was his great 'introduction' into the upper echelons of Czech hockey. His first entry in a journal which could possibly span for a good 8-10 years more. However, many will know that this type of production has been expected from the Beroun native. Of course, no expected him to shatter Palffy's record in the way he did, but he had been on the cusp of the national team for a good number of years following his break-out year in 2009-10, where he scored 47 points in the regular season, after going scoreless in 11 playoff games the season before. This got his name noticed and gained him a spot on the Czech Republic roster for both the EuroHockeyTour and the World Championships, although he failed to really make a mark at either of these events.
After all the notoriety of the lockout, with the likes of Jagr, Plekanec and Sobotka returning to the Extraliga, it might be strange to proclaim Růžička as the best player in the Extraliga. However, Růžička offers that something a little bit different. He's a gamechanger. A dynamic forward who can change the direction of a game in a split second. After a season of indifference last year, Třinec now sit in third, behind a Kometa Brno side not feeling the effects of a finals hangover, and Zlin, who always start well, but you can guarantee will not make it past the playoff quarter-finals come March. After a mammoth fall in his production last year, linemate and former NHL veteran Radek Bonk has blossomed once more, with 13 points in 10 games, and on pace for his best season since his return from the NHL back in 2009. Of course it can be argued now that Třinec are a one man team, and to use a football metaphor, he is very much like Robin van Persie was at Arsenal. However, he's a damn good player to be your solitary man. He may be overshadowed by the NHLers returning back to the Extraliga, and looking at performances, players like Plekanec have been scoring for fun. However the threat of the lockout ending will loom over Kladno and other teams for the remainder of the season, and even then, I believe that come playoff time, Růžička will out-perform any of the NHLers (if they are still in the league, that is.)
Who knows what the future holds for him, as if he continues in this rich vein of form, surely offers from Russia or Switzerland will winging their way to the 26 year old. For the moment though, Třinec won't care, as in Růžička they have the best player in the Extraliga, and could very well be on their way to a second championship in three years.
Around the league:
Although we are only ten games into the season, a look at the Extraliga table is fascinating. After running away with the President's Trophy last year, HC Sparta Praha sit rooted to the bottom of the table with only five points. The season seemed to start out okay as they picked up two straight wins, but then the wheels have fallen off. Eight straight losses have put the capital side rooted to the bottom of the table. Michal Neuvirth has lost all of the six games he's started in, whilst Petr Ton is "slumping" with only eight points in ten games.
|Chomutov's goaltending tandem|
Photo: Jan Pidrman
While Kometa are looking as fresh as a daisy at the top of the table, their opponents in last years final HC Pardubice are still looking drunk from the party. Wallowing in ninth place, the losses of Jan Kolar and Petr Koukal look all the more devastating the way they have looked in front of goal. The reigning champions have looked nothing of the sort so far, but you would be a fool to count out Pardubice, no matter how bad they appear to be at the moment.
However, it would be wrong to just focus on the bad. After three truly awful seasons, have Litvinov finally turned the corner? Currently they sit in sixth place, and finally look to have picked up some solid netminding as 22 year old youngster Pavel Francouz looks to have made his name in the Extraliga. It will be interesting to see if they can keep it up, and whether or not they wheel Jiří Šlégr out of retirement one more time. Still, if Viktor Hübl continues with his incredible scoring pace, then they probably wouldn't need him! Another team defying expectations is KLH Chomutov, not least the fact that they seem to be playing remarkably well defensively. Veteran Slovak netminder Matúš Kostúr is looking a worldbeater with his .954 save percentage at the moment. However the season is still young, and they could still soon get 'found out' at the top level. Radek Duda still looks to be as good as ever, and the performances of Extraliga veteran David Hruška have been extraordinary. With seven goals, he's joint second in the top scorers race.
|Dominik Pacovsky - The only light|
in a dark season for Sparta so far
And finally, a special mention to Kometa's Jan Hruška. While no spring chicken at the age of 26, the Brno native has been waiting a long time for his shot at Extraliga hockey, spending a large amount of time between Hradec Kralove in the 1.liga and Technicka Brno in the 2.liga. However, after a very good season in Slovakia for Skalica last year, his hometown side Kometa Brno decided to take a punt on the centre, and their gamble looks to have paid off dividends. Sitting with 12 points (6+6) through ten games, Hruška looks to be another shrewd signing by the Kometa management, who have done wonders ever since the team moved up from the 1.liga.
The lockout may be overshadowing some of the performances by players mentioned, but in Europe's most competitive league, it remains the domestic Czech players who are putting on the performances that are making this the best league in the world to watch.