The 44 rounds of the regular EBEL season are now behind us. Medveščak ended the regular part on the 6th place and secured playoffs, as the only non-Austrian team! After three »dry« KHL seasons, Zagreb is again going to see the playoffs, which also means that the primary goal for this season, that saw ups and downs so far, was achieved, and this asks for an analysis by the sports commentator and reporter Igor Oslić.
Return from KHL to EBEL meant a complete new assembly of Medveščak's team during the break. From the last season only Nathan Perkovich, Tom Zanoški, Ivan Janković and Jan Smolec remained. Many new players arrived to the roster, and the role of the main coach was entrusted to a young expert Connor Cameron. It was obvious that it required some time for the team to fit together and reach the shape, which was done very well at the preparations, and there were many expectations for the season. Some names that arrived to »the Den« also brought hope for success. Sondre Olden, a Norwegian national team player, Tero Koskiranta of Finland, elder brother of excellent Jarno who plays in KHL for years, his experienced countrymen Marko Poyhonen and Harri Tikkanen; all of them players with a number of great performances in matches of the very strong Finnish Liiga. Then, Tomas Netik and Jozef Baley, attackers with great experience in different leagues all around the world, and for the third time Gašpar Krošelj, who also put on Medveščak jersey, goalie who could be expected to be one of the best of the league. When budgets and payrolls of the different teams are compared, Medveščak was still an »ugly duckling« of the league, with the lowest budget. But, as they say in Dalmatia, »not everything is about dough«.
EBEL returned to Zagreb! The start of the season unfortunately was not very promising. Bad performances made the team management say thank you to Krošelj, the captain Perkovich was badly injured and away for a long time, some other players were also injured. First win of the season was achieved in the 4th round, on the road in Dornbirn, and in the following round home fans also had a reason to celebrate for the first time in the season, when Medveščak beat Graz 5:2 in the Ice Hall. After Krošelj left, Drew McIntyre, an old acquaintance, arrived to protect the net, while the attack was enforced with Samson Mahbod, who in the previous season played for Medveščak in KHL. The team picked up and made a series of good results, and a great move from the club management was to bring in Kevin Poulin, a goalie who saved the net when McIntyre left.
The strongest teams of the league fell in the Ice Hall: Vienna, KAC, Linz and Red Bull, and in one moment it seemed like the playoffs are going to be secured long time before the end of the regular part of the season. On November 26th, Linz also lost in Zagreb 4:3, and it was 7th Medveščak's win out of 9 games. The day later guests in Zagreb were Dornbirn, and beating the Bulldogs would bring Medvešak to the 3rd place. Unfortunately, what followed was probably the most difficult part of this season. Medveščak did not manage to beat Dornbirn (they lost 0:3 in Zagreb), and after this the series of 8 consecutive defeats followed, in a time frame of a single month, from a secure participant of the playoffs Medveščak ended up in the bottom part of the standings, and many thought that the playoffs are not going to happen.
The club management had no other choice but to fire the coach Cameron, and as a savior they brought experienced Douglas Bradley, a man who was a director of hockey operations in the first Medveščak's season, while in the second he inherited Ted Sator as a coach and brought his team to the playoffs. Shock-therapy proved to be a success; with Bradley's arrival the team twitched and started to play much better. With some ups and a few downs, they secured playoffs with two wins away, against Alba Volan and Znojmo. Regular part of the season they finished in the high 6th place, with 2 more points than 7th team Dornbirn, which shows that situation was tense and uncertain until the very end of the regular season. But when it was most needed, the team proved their quality and calmness, and they deserved to win a direct qualification to the playoffs among the top 6. With this, Medveščak is the only non-Austrian team that managed to qualify for the playoffs direclty.
Let's look back to the stats of the season so far. Medveščak had 21 wins and 23 loses. Of the 21 wins, 17 were secured in 60 minutes, and 4 in overtime or after shootouts. Regarding defeats, 19 games were lost in regular 60 minutes, and 4 more in overtime or after shootouts. Goal difference is »zero«, 139-139, which means that Medveščak had 5th most effective attack and 8th most effective defense of the league. The positive thing is a fantastic score of the first attack line, Olden-Morley-Mahbod, who scored 60 out of Medveščak's 139 goals, almost a half. Tyler Morley, 26-year-old Canadian, deserves a special mention; this is his first season outside North America. The club, lead by the sports director Aaron Fox and the director of hockey operations Marko Belinić, definitely did well when they brought him in, because Morley is the first player of the league with 58 points (23+35) from 44 games. Also, Michael Boivin's achievements must be mentioned; he is a defenseman with very offensive inclinations: 27-year-old Canadian scored 25 points (14+11) in 42 games.
Unluckily, the defense was crippled with injuries of defensemen and changes of goaltenders. We already mentioned that the Bears changed their goalies too often this season. After Krošelj, McIntyre and Poulin, Kevin Carr arrived, a goalie that played only a few games so far, so it is too early for a serious assessment and analysis of his performance. Of course, young Croatian goaltender Vilim Rosandić must also be mentioned, who in this season took advantage of all the opportunities, whenever he got a chance, and in 11 games reached very good 91.9% saves ratio, which puts him on the excellent 5th place among the league goaltenders, and who was voted the best young player of the league, EBEL YoungStar, for December.
The Bears enter the intermediate round with some changes on their roster. Just a few days before the round started, Samson Mahbod decided to leave to the Czech Republic, while the team was reinforced with an experienced Mikko Lehtonen from Finland and a young Croat with international experience Ivan Puzić.
According to the league point system, Medveščak enters the intermediate round with no points on their account. Vienna has 6, Red Bull Salzburg 4, Linz 2, KAC 1, and Innsbruck and Medveščak zero points. The competition system is as follows: there are 10 games, round-robin tournament home and away; a win in the regular part of the game brings 3 points, after overtime or shootout 2 points, and defeat after overtime or shootouts brings 1 point. The opponents are going to be hard. Vienna Capitals, the current champions and a team with best chances to win this championship too, beat Zagreb team 3 times, with one loss. Mighty Red Bull Salzburg won and lost with Medveščak 2 times, Linz won once and lost once, while they two more games after overtime and after shootouts respectively, which also means that Medveščak could have win those games. With KAC, Medveščak has a positive score, two wins and one defeat in the regular time, with one win after overtime in Klagenfurt. Regarding the Sharks of Innsbruck, Medveščak has 50% success, same like with Salzburg, with 2 wins and 2 loses. The final ranking is decided after 10 rounds, and top 4 teams have the home ice advantage. Teams from 7th to 12th place will play the same system after the regular part of the season. There will be a stiff fight among them, because only two best teams enter the playoffs after 10 rounds. As we already mentioned, first 4 teams have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The interesting thing is that 3 best team from the »upper house« of the intermediate round have right to choose their opponents for the 1st round of the playoffs, and the 4th team plays with the remaining team, that nobody decided to choose. It would be a truly great success for Medveščak if they manage to secure home ice advantage in the first round, in the quarterfinals, and if the Bears manage to come to position to choose their opponent, even better. Can they do this? We hope and we believe that they can...
The Bears open the cycle of 10 games – 5 home and 5 away – tonight as guest in Vienna (7.15 p.m.), and they play their first home game of the Intermediate Round in the Ice Hall on Sunday, February 4th, at 5.30 p.m. versus Linz.
Author: Igor Oslić