Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Around the Boards #3: Crisis in Zlín?

Welcome to Around the Boards, Velvet Hockey’s guide to the week that was in the Czech Republic and Slovakia hockey world. This week, Slovan picked up a new head coach, Zlín continued to struggle and Ryan Hollweg picked up a ten game ban.

Petri Matikainen named new Slovan coach
Former Avangard coach Matikainen takes the helm
Despite all the Miloš Říha was due to return to Slovan, the club announced this week that former Avangard Omsk head coach Petri Matikainen would take up the post as Slovan Bratislava head coach. Matikainen, who was previously the assistant coach of the Finnish side for two years, joins after a disappointing year where he lost two jobs, one at Avangard Omsk and the other at EBEL club Graz 99ers. The 37 year old left Finland in acrimonious circumstances in 2012, after HIFK sent players to Espoo Blues in order to secure his services, only for Matikainen to jump ship to the KHL (Credit to Antti Laurila, @supermurs for that story).

Slovan’s website quotes General Manager Maros Krajči in saying: "From the group of candidates for the position of head coach, we have chosen Petri Matikainen based on excellent references. He is an experienced Finnish coach, an excellent motivator and strategist, with the added bonus of experience on the bench at Avangard Omsk. Our new trainer promises to bring us a more attacking style, especially at home. A strong Slovan support team is already at Matikainen's disposal today, ready to do all they can to help him adapt to our country as quickly as possible."

Matikainen will get his first taste of KHL action later on Wednesday, as Slovan host Medveščak Zagreb at the Slovnaft Arena.

Zlín in crisis?
Zlín currently prop up the Extraliga after four straight losses
Photo: Jiří Zaňát,
It has not been a good start to the year for last season’s champions PSG Zlín. Despite keeping nearly the exact same roster from last season, it seems that a cloud is hanging over the Moravian club at the moment. Losses to Extraliga newboys Mladá Boleslav and Olomouc in the opening few games of the Extraliga season have taken the stuffing out of the champions, who on Tuesday night, were battered in Sweden 8-0 by Djurgården in the Champions Hockey League.

Now, there were some mitigating circumstances for the loss in Sweden, as veterans Petr Čajanek, Petr Leška and Ondřej Veselý did not travel, but it is endemic of a side whose defence has gone from being feared to looking as porous as a colander. Luboš Horčička conceded 6 goals on 18 shots against Djurgården.

In an interview posted on Tuesday, Ondřej Veselý said: ‘It would be more useful if we regenerate and rest in order to prepare for Friday’s home game with Pardubice. The worst part is the travel. If we were playing at home it would be something else. When I woke up at eight am, I remembered the guys were already on the road for three hours. I felt sorry for them.’

Speaking about his team’s rotten start to the season, where they currently sit bottom of the Extraliga without a point, Veselý added: ‘Maybe we underestimated the first games we played against the newcomers. It may be that in the middle you lose four times in a row. For us it has happened at the start of the season, and we hope we can improve soon' (source).

Sparta thrash Slavia while Karlovy Vary get going
Delight at the o2 Arena for Sparta as they thrash city rivals Slavia
Photo: Pavel Draslar,
Sunday saw the first Prague derby of the season take place, and it was bad news for Ladislav Lubina, as his charges capitulated in the first period and went down 5-2 at the o2 Arena against a rampant Sparta side. Sparta chased Dominik Furch from the game in the first period, as they ended the first period three goals to the good. After a false start to get the season underway, it looks like Sparta are starting to fire on all cylinders, as they have climbed up to 8th in the table. Slavia’s ill-discipline cost them the points, as Sparta scored three times with the man advantage. Goaltender Adam Svoboda, said after the game: 'We did not skate. Sparta skated great. We unfortunately just stood there and then the guys have to take penalties. If we do not play a disciplined game at 100% for 60 minutes, then we don’t have a chance against a team like Sparta'.(source). 

Another team who had a good week after a rotten start to the season was Karlovy Vary. The unfancied side from the spa town picked up their first two wins of the season to get off the bottom of the table. A 4-1 win over Sparta in Gameday 4 was followed by a close fought 2-1 win over early season flyers Hradec Kralove. In both games, 23 year old Vladislav Habal was in top form between the pipes. In the two games this week, he made 75 saves on 77 shots. Habal spent most of last season in the 2.liga with HC Banik Sokolov.

At the top of the table, Litvinov continue to set the pace picking up two more wins to give them a one point lead over Vitkovice. A Jiří Gula goal with just 14 seconds left in the third period gave the Bohemian side a 4-3 victory over Mladá Boleslav, before thrashing Kometa Brno 6-1 on Sunday. Vitkovice also had two wins out of two this week, edging fellow contenders Třinec and basement dwellers Zlín.

It is starting to look a bit grim for Olomouc though, as the Moravian newcomers lost to Kometa Brno and Pardubice this week. With only four points through five games, they have slipped into 13th place in the early Extraliga table.

Six point night for Patrik Moskal
In Czech 1.liga news, Salith Šumperk forward Patrik Moskal made headlines last Wednesday, as he picked up six points (2+4) in his side’s 7-4 victory over Motor Češke Budějovice. Moskal currently has 13 points through 5 games as Šumperk sit 5th in the 1.liga table.

The current pacesetters in the Czech second division are Horácká Slavia Třebíč, who are undefeated through five games. Hot on their heels are Benátky nad Jizerou and Stadion Litoměřice, with the latter having a remarkable defensive record thanks to the early season performances of Tomáš Kral, who has a save percentage of 96.5% through in the four games he has played for Litoměřice.

Piráti Chomutov have continued their rotten form from last season in the Extraliga, as they currently sit in 10th place having lost their last game against Benátky nad Jizerou. The other relegated Extraliga side, Rytíři Kladno, are searching for consistency but currently sit in 4th place in the table with three wins from five games. A 5-2 win last Wednesday was followed up by a lacklustre 2-0 loss to Češke Budějovice.

Player of the week: Martin Ručinský (HC Verva Litvinov)
Ručinský celebrates with Viktor Hubl, who just recorded
his 550th game in a Litvinov jersey
The oldest player in the Czech Extraliga is currently the best, as 43 year old Martin Ručinský takes this week’s accolade. The former NHLer picked up six points in two games, including a goal and three assists in Litvinov’s demolition of Kometa Brno on Sunday. Still, the Olympic gold medal winner from the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano was coy about his resurgence, saying, ‘I don’t care that much [about points]. The only points that interested me today are the three points we got as a team.’ Ručinský almost retired during the off-season but was convinced to take the ice for one more season by coaches Radim Rulík and Miloslav Hořava, and the Most native has repaid their faith as Litvinov currently sit top of the Extraliga table and Ručinský is currently the Extraliga’s top scorer (source).

This week’s pick of the action:
Friday: Kometa Brno vs Sparta Praha (17:20 GMT)
Sunday: Plzeň vs Hradec Kralove (16:30 GMT)

Tuesday: Poprad vs Banska Bystrica (16:00 GMT)

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