After we looked at the sides that missed out on the playoffs, it's time to look at the teams that fell at the first stage of the Czech Extraliga playoffs. I'll be covering them in ascending order based on their league position, which means we start with the seventh placed team in the regular season....
Regular season result: 7th place (76 points)
Play in result: Defeated HC Oceláři Třinec in five games (3-2)
Playoff result: Lost to HC Plzeň 1929 in seven games (4-3)
|Another great season for Petr Leška, but|
another playoff disappointment for Zlín
Photo: Jiří Zaňát - www.hcplzen.cz
Zlín, who managed to just overcome the challenge of Třinec after winning the final two games of the series went into the playoff series against second placed Plzeň with no real pressure on them, whilst Plzeň, arguably the most consistent team in the Czech Republic over the past three years went into the playoffs which huge doubts over the return of Martin Straka, as well as an aging squad. The series looked lost after two games, especially after Game 2, where Plzeň thrashed Zlín 5:1, putting young netminder Jakub Sedláček to the sword. However, a thrilling 1:0 victory on home ice, with Luboš Horčička bagging a 25 shot shutout gave Zlín some hope, which they built on through a 5:4 victory in overtime Game 4, levelling the series. Petr Čajánek bagged a second period brace, before Petr Leška pounced on a giveaway by Tomáš Vlasák, giving him an overtime breakaway with 20 seconds left in the ten minute period. A beautiful backhand move fooled backup goalie Marek Mazanec, and once again, Leška was Zlín's hero, levelling the series at two. Game 5 took the series back to Plzeň, and it was another thriller. The teams combined for 91 shots on target, and both Sedláček and Plzeň's starter Adam Svoboda both had brilliant games. A late Čajánek goal levelled the game at two, and an end to end overtime period resulted in no goals. Václav Pletka scored the game winning shootout goal for the home side, meaning that Zlín had to win the last two games in order to save their playoff hopes. Game 6 was one of the few times where Zlín's depth scoring came through. Ondřej Vesely scored two second period goals, whilst Marek Melenovsky had a goal and two assists, as Zlín took a 3:0 lead through two periods, and managed to hold on to take a 4:2 victory, giving them three wins out of three on home ice, and setting up a Game 7 in Plzeň. However, it simply wasn't to be for Zlín. Both teams were level throughout the game, but a late Nicholas Johnson goal broke a 2:2 tie with just over two minutes to go. A Radek Duda empty net goal sealed Zlín's fate, and despite a brave fight, it was over for the seventh seeds Zlín. With a large amount of returning veterans, as well as the return of Jaroslav Balaštík, Zlín appear to be in good shape for next season, although the loss of Lukáš Galvas after eight seasons will be a big hole to fill on the blueline.
Player of the season: Petr Leška
It couldn't be anyone else. Leading his team in scoring in both regular season and playoff scoring, Leška not only puts points on the board, he does it when it matters most. The amount of points that Zlin have gained due to late plays or shootout goals by their diminutive leader are invaluable, and just proves what a key player he is for this team. We don't know how many years he's got in the tank, but it's almost blasphemy to imagine him playing anywhere else apart from Zlín. An absolute joy to watch, even though his career is winding down, Leška will no doubt be running his teams first line, powerplay unit and penalty kill in 2012-2013, and Zlín wouldn't have it any other way.
HC Vitkovice Steel
Regular season result: 6th place (77 points)
Playoff result: Lost to HC Pardubice in seven games (4-3)
|Filip Šindelář was called upon in the playoffs|
following Roman Málek's poor form
Photo: Jan Jedlička - www.hcpce.cz
Pardubice were the opponents in the first round of the playoffs, and they arguably gave Pardubice their toughest challenge in the post-season. Three out of the seven games went beyond the sixty minute mark, with two of them going to a shootout. The big question mark surrounding the series was Roman Málek. The 34 year old netminder has so often been Pardubice's nemesis in the playoffs, and many Pardubice fans were joking that Málek would be the one to crush their hopes once more. However, after Game 1, many could be forgiven for thinking Roman who? Málek was yanked from Game 1 after conceding five goals, as Vitkovice slumped to a 5:2 defeat, after taking the lead in the first period. Pardubice were able to score quickly, in bunches, against the Ostrava side, and this was a repeating trend throughout the series. Game 2 was much tighter, as Vitkovice elected to start with Filip Šindelář in goal, and the veteran back-up certainly outdid his partner. 31 saves in a 3:2 shootout victory was just what his team needed, as Ujčík scored the winning penalty shot against Dušan Salfický, who failed in his shootout relief bid for Pardubice. Vitkovice certainly seemed to be benefiting from the Extraliga's rule of shootouts in the playoffs, as they also claimed Game 3 in a shootout; the winning shot scored by Burger. A Juraj Štefanka goal with ten seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, and Vitkovice were able to squeeze by, taking a 2:1 lead in the series. The Ostrava side were certainly on the Šindelář bandwagon, as he had won both Games 2 and 3, but this was soon about to change. After another solid game in Game 4, where Vitkovice lost 3:2, Šindelář and his team crumbled back in Pardubice for Game 5. Pardubice won 6:0, lighting up the 32 year old and scoring six times on 30 shots. However, Games 5 and 6 summed up Vitkovice's season perfectly, and Game 6 saw Vitkovice at their free flowing best. Málek made 41 saves in his return to action, whilst Viktor Ujčík scored a hatrick in a 6:1 which sent Pardubice back home with their tails between their legs, and setting up a thrilling Game 7. Vitkovice took the lead on four separate occasions, but each time they were pegged back by the hosts, with Martin Bartek scoring at 59:29 to tie the game at 4:4, before Daniel Rákos' overtime winner, 29 seconds into the extra frame, broke Vitkovice's hearts. It concluded what was a fantastic series full of back and forth action, and once again, it was Pardubice who had eliminated Vitkovice.
Player of the season: Jiří Burger
Despite being well into his 30s, Burger appears to be improving year on year. He had his best season in well over a decade, and took his team to the brink of the semi finals, losing to a much fancied Pardubice side. Burger was much more prolific on the goal sheet than in years gone past, as 23 goals was good for a team high, as well as tying the most goals he's scored in a season. He truly is "Mr. Ostrava", and despite being a Kladno native, he is the face of the Vitkovice franchise. Another season beckons as Vitkovice's #1 centre, and with the form he's showing, you wouldn't put it past him to better his points totals once again in 2012-2013.
HC MOUNTFIELD České Budějovice
Regular season result: 5th place (83 points)
Playoff result: Lost to HC Bili Tygri Liberec in five games (4-1)
|Jakub Kovář starred for České Budějovice|
and the Czech National Team
Photo: Vladimír Jína - http://www.hcbilitygri.cz
As a result, a match up against Petr Nedvěd's fourth placed Liberec awaited, and things looked bleak following Game 1. Kovář was pulled halfway through the game with Liberec 4:1 up, thanks to a remarkable hatrick by youngster Michal Bulíř, and the game eventually finished 6:2 to the White Tigers, with České Budějovice seemingly on the ropes already. However, after a thrilling second game, things were all square. The teams combined for ten goals in a thrilling contest in Liberec, with Kovář bouncing back to make 42 saves, whilst Jiří Šimánek was the pick of the outskaters, scoring two goals and adding an assist in his teams victory. However, that was all the joy that the side from the south was going to have, as they appeared to have scored all of their goals for the series in Game 2. České Budějovice only managed to score twice in the remaining three games, as Marek Pinc shut up shop and had a brilliant series for Liberec. In Game 3 Pinc was perfect, saving all 31 shots he faced as Liberec came away with a 1:0 victory thanks to Lukáš Vantuch's solitary goal, whilst Game 4 saw Petr Nedvěd dominate the game, scoring twice and adding an assist as Liberec won 3:1, and claiming the spoils in both of the games in České Budějovice. Game 5 was up in Liberec, with České Budějovice facing elimination. Things looked bleak from the go, as Nedvěd found the net once more just two and a half minutes into the first period. František Ptáček tied the game, but then three minutes later Liberec regained the lead, which they would not relinquish. Nedvěd scored once more in the third period, to give him four goals in the final two games of the series, and to crush České Budějovice's championship hopes. Once again, their lack of consistent scoring was their downfall, which sees their long championship drought stretch into a 62nd year.
Player of the season: Jakub Kovář
It's hard not to discuss Kovář when mentioning České Budějovice, as he is the one true star on that team. He is one of a number of promising young Czech netminders to come through the ranks in recent years, and has quickly established himself as one of the Extraliga's best. At only 23 years of age, he is still developing, and it is no surprise that teams from other leagues are already monitoring his progress. His performances for the Czech Republic capped off what has been a year he can be proud of, and whilst he crumbled under the pressure in Game 1 against Liberec, he can hardly be blamed for his teams defeat in the series, as České Budějovice's snakebitten offence once again failed to light the lamp on a regular basis. Kovář, who relies heavily on agility and reflexes has all the tools to be a top netminder in Europe, and with two straight seasons playing 50+ games and recording a save percentage well into the .920s, he has already shown that he is more than capable. It would be save to assume that Kovář, who has signed for 2012-2013, will be leaving the Extraliga following next season, and České Budějovice need to start finding the pieces, especially up front, to help him bring a title to South Bohemia.
HC Sparta Praha
Regular season result: 1st (107 points)
Playoff result: Lost to HC Kometa Brno in six games (4-2)
|Regular season joy, but post season heartache for Sparta|
Photo: Michal Eger www.hc-kometa.cz
Sparta went into the playoffs on the back of a shootout loss to their deadly rivals Slavia, and this form continued into Game 1, where Kometa Brno won a back and forth encounter, with the game winner coming just 67 seconds from the final buzzer, as Jakub Svoboda stole home advantage away from the top seeds, as he pounced to fire the puck past Tomáš Pöpperle. The second game of the series was crucial for Sparta, as you had the feeling that with one victory, they would regain their composure and defeat Kometa. Game 2 was filled with penalties, and once again Kometa got an early goal, only to be pegged back by Sparta. The game would go into overtime with the score at 2:2, and as the home side outshot Kometa 36:25, the pressure was truly on veteran netminder Jiří Trvaj. A shootout beckoned, and Sasu Hovi took to the crease, but once again, Petr Ton came to his sides rescue, scoring the winning penalty shot to level the series. Game 3 was at the rowdy Kajot Arena in Brno, and saw Sparta play their best hockey of the series. Kometa took a 1:0 lead into the first intermission, but Sparta dominated the second period, as Alex Foster, Petr Ton and Michal Sersen all found the back of the net. Ton added two assists in the third period to go with his goal, as linemates Bližňák and Tenkrát scored to give Sparta a 5:2 win, and a strangehold of the series. However, it all began to go wrong following their Game 3 victory. Sparta were dreadful in Game 4, mustering only 20 shots, as they crashed to a 3:1 defeat, before Game 5 in Prague saw Jiří Trvaj make 32 saves and goals from Radek Dlouhy and Leoš Čermák giving Kometa a come from behind victory and a 3:2 lead in the series. Game 5 saw Sparta make the brave decision to go with backup netminder Martin Falter, and the Slovakian made 35 saves, but couldn't do enough to give his team the victory. Game 6 was in Brno, and the Kometa fans were in jubilant mood. Sparta forced the best out of Trvaj, who made 38 saves, whilst two goals in a minute in the first period saw Sparta with a mountain to climb. Tenkrát made it 2:1 in the first minute of the second period, but couldn't grab another before Tomáš Divíšek scored to make it 3:1 late in the middle frame. Kometa would score once more, to take a 4:1 victory, and a miraculous series win. The eighth seeds had defeated the regular season champions, and Sparta's chance to grab their fifth Extraliga title vanished.
Player of the season: Petr Ton
It was a difficult decision between Ton and Pöpperle, but I've gone with "Mr. Sparta" as my pick for Sparta's player of the season. Ton, who has been with Sparta since 2003, closes in on a decade of success for the club from the capital, and the team and fans alike will be delighted that HC Lev didn't get their mitts on him. Time is running out for Ton in regards to his career, and with two Extraliga titles to his name so far, you can bet that he will do everything in order to get his third for Sparta in 2012-2013. Sparta, who trail the great Vsetin franchise in championships by two, are desperate to grab the title as most successful Extraliga team, and with Ton unlikely to go anywhere else before he hangs them up, they have a great chance. Ton's chemistry with Petr Tenkrát was invaluable to the regular season champions, and while they didn't shine as bright in the playoffs, they are still arguably the best 1-2 punch in the Extraliga for the coming season.