On February 14th, Valentine's Day, ice hockey men tournament begins at the Winter Olympics in South Korean PyeongChang.
Hockey Hall of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea
Twelve teams will take part in the tournament, and even though there will not be players from the strongest world league NHL, the tournament will be of high quality and uncertain. What is interesting to us is the fact that seven players who, at a certain point of their career played for Medveščak in either EBEL or KHL, will also take part.
This is who they are:
CZECHIA, TOMAS MERTL
31-year old Czech center played 98 games for Medveščak in their 3rd and 4th KHL season, with 46 points (18+28).
Mertl played in Medveščak's jersey for two KHL seasons
He is an aggressive and high quality player, who gained sympathies of Zagreb fans with his hard work and devotion, and interesting is the fact that, before Medveščak, he spent his whole career in his homeland, playing mostly for his home town team, Česke Budejovice, with an exception of two seasons in Hradec Kralova. He did not end his 2nd KHL season in Zagreb. After 43 games, he went to a very strong team from Russian autonomous region of Bashkiria, Salavat Julaev from the town of Ufa, where he scored 5 points (4+1) in 10 games. With this team, he managed to get to the playoffs, but they lost in the first round. This season, Mertl plays excellent for the leading team of the Czech Extraliga, Plzen, and in 47 games so far has scored 56 points (29+27). These are the first Olympics in the Czech jersey to the experienced center.
CANADA; KEVIN POULIN AND GILBERT BRULE
Kevin Poulin was born in 1990 in Montreal, Canada. In 2008 he was drafted by New York Islanders in the 5th round of the draft, as 126th selection in total. Poulin started his professional career in 2010, in an Islanders' subsidy, AHL team Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Up until 2016 he played in AHL, with occasional engagements in the world strongest league at the Islanders' goal, where he took part in 50 games with 90% saves. In AHL he played 185 games for Bridgeport, Syracuse and Stockton, with 91.2% saves. Last season for the first time he played outside of North America, for a team from Kazakhstan, Barys Astana. In the "Snow Leopards" jersey he played 14 games, with 91% successful saves. Poulin was without club for a while at the start of this season, waiting for a good offer by some of the KHL teams. But since it never arrived, Medveščak used the opportunity and brought the brilliant Canadian to their roster.
It was always Poulin's dream to play for Team Canada at the Olympics
Poulin was definitely not a disappointment; we could only remember some of his great plays with the league top teams, such as Vienna, Linz, KAC and Salzburg. He protected the Bears goal in 22 games, with 91.4% saves. Great performances in the blue jersey were not unnoticed by the coaching staff of the Canadian national team, so Poulin, together with Justin Peters and Ben Scrivens, will protect the Canadian goal in South Korea. Unfortunately for us, the Canadian did not get the invitation to the Olympics while wearing Medveščak's jersey, but the one from Swiss team Kloten, but in 22 games for the Zagreb team we all got a good impression of what kind of a goalie he really is.
31-year-old Brule was born on the first day of 1987 in Edmonton, Canada. In 2005 he was drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets, as a very high 6th choice of the NHL draft, and he debuted for the club in the same season. He played total of 299 NHL games, for Columbus, Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes, with 95 points (43+52), and 93 games in AHL for Syracuse Crunch, Springfield Falcons, Oklahoma City Barons and Portland Pirates, with 64 points (33+31). He arrived to Medveščak for their 3rd KHL season start, from Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg, and took part in 70 KHL games with 34 points (19+15).
Besides his excellent performances, Brule stood out in the team as a great guitar player.
The fighting and brisk Canadian left Medveščak for another KHL team, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, in the midst of the 2016/17 season, and he started current season in Traktor Chelyabinsk, to continue it with the only Chinese team in the KHL, Kunlun Red Star, where he is today. For Brule, these are also his first Olympics, and with his speed and courage he should be a great danger for the opponent's defenses.
UNITED STATES, BOBBY BUTLER
Butler arrived to Europe in 2015 and he wore Medveščak's jersey already in 2016.
Bobby Butler was born in April 1987 in Marlborough, Massachusetts. He spent 4 years at New Hampshire University, and even though he was not drafted, he managed to get an engagement in the NHL, as a member of Ottawa Senators. He played total of 130 games for Ottawa, New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers, and scored 49 points (20+29). Since he had a "two-way" contract, at the same time he also took part in AHL, with total of 221 games for Binghamton Senators, Albany Devils and San Antonio Rampage, and scored 166 points (87+79). As a member of USA national team, he won the bronze medal at the 2013 World Championship. He stared his European career in 2015 as a member of Swedish MODO, and after some time in Finland, he got to Medveščak just before the beginning of 2016/17 season. In Medveščak's last KHL season, Butler played 37 games in the blue jersey, with 16 points (6+10). He did not enroll at the scorers list often, but in some of the matches he performed really brilliantly, for example vs. the mighty SKA in Zagreb, where he was one of the scorers for Medveščak's win 5:4 after overtime. After 37 games, he left for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and reached playoffs with them, but did not manage to pass the first round. This season Butler plays in AHL, for Milwaukee Admirals, and in 46 games so far he scored 34 points (21+13).
SLOVAKIA- JURAJ VALACH
Slovak defenseman Juraj Valach was born on February 1st 1989 in Topolčani, the same town as the legend of Slovak ice hockey Miroslav Šatan. He started his career in Zvolen, and in 2006 he decided to try his luck in North America. After two years in WHL league, he returned back home and for the next three years played in Zvolen again. In 2011 he moved to Czech Extraliga, where he played 4 seasons in Komet Brno and Slavia Prague. Just before the 2015/16 season start, he arrived to Medveščak, he took part in summer preparations for the KHL season, but did not meet the coaching staff expectations, so he left the club without taking part in any of the official games. Still, he did play in KHL for that season, as a member of Slovan Bratislava, but he ended the season in the Czech Republic, playing for Pirat Chomutovo, where he is still today. He played for the Slovak national team at the 2014 World Championship. These are his first Olympic Games, too. He played a total of 299 games in Czech Extraliga, with 84 points (30+54), and 147 games in Slovak league with 26 points (9+17). In KHL, he played 25 games for Slovan, with one assist.
Valach was in Zagreb just for a few weeks.
SLOVENIA – GAŠPER KROŠELJ, ANDREJ HEBAR, MARCEL RODMAN, SABAHUDIN KOVAČEVIĆ
Gašper Krošelj was born in Ljubljana on February 9th 1987. He spent his junior years and "grew up" as a hockey player in Slovenia and Slovakia, and in 2006, as a 19-years-old, became Medveščak's goaltender for the first time, at the time when the club still played in Interliga. He stayed with Meveščak until 2011, when he left the club for the first time. For the following 4 years he protected the net of Slovenian Jesenice, Danish Aab and Herlev Eagles, and Norwegian Sparta from Sarpsborg. In 2015 he was back to Medveščak, this time as a part of the KHL team, but after just one season he left again, to AIK in Swedish second league. He stayed there for one season, and last summer he put on Medveščak's jersey for the third time, for the returning EBEL season.
Krošelj wore Medveščak's jersey for three times.
But after 6 games only, partly because of his injury, and party because of bad shape, Krošelj again, for the third time, left Medveščak, this time to Danish Rodovre, where he is today. So far, in three occasions, he protected Medveščak's net on the total of 133 games, in different competitions: Interliga, Slohokej, Croatian Championship, EBEL and KHL. His fabulous performances in the qualifiers for the Olympics tournament last year are worth mentioning, because he achieved fantastic 96.3% saves in 3 games, and he was the one who deserved most credits for the fact that the Slovenian team managed to qualify for the Olympics again. Krošelj obviously prefers tournament-style competitions, and if he succeeds to maintain the quality level he achieved in the qualifiers, Slovenia can definitely rely on him.
Just like Krošelj, Hebar was also born in Ljubljana, on September 7th 1984. He went abroad as a junior, and boosted his skills and experiences in Swedish and Czech leagues, at the same playing for the Slovenian junior national team. He spent his first senior years in Czech Trinec, with occasional performances for his home town team, Olimpija, and then in 2007 he became a member of Jesenice, who were at the time competing in EBEL. In 2010 he moved to Olimpija, who were also competing in EBEL, and spent the next two seasons there, also with occasional "excursions", to Colorado Eagles (CHL) and Troya Ljungby (Swedish Second League).
He arrived to Medveščak from Olimpija, and then left to Olimpija from Medveščak.
In 2012 Hebar arrived to Medvešak, who were at the start of their 4th EBEL season. But the Slovenian didn't stay long in "the Den". He had serious problems with injuries, so he played only 6 games for the Bears, and afterwards returned home to Ljubljana, again to Olimpija. From then on, Hebar spent most of the time playing for "the Ljubljana Dragons", but from time to time he also played for other teams, in different leagues: Slovak Zvolen, French Grenoble and Hungarian Ujpesti. In the Slovenian national team he took part 61 games, with 46 points (25+21). He was a member of national team at World Championships and at the Olympics qualifying tournament. Taking part at the Olympics is definitely going to be a crown of the career for the 33-year-old Dragons' wing.
Rodman actively took part in Medveščak charity campaigns.
Marcel Rodman was born in September 1981 in Jesenice. He played for all age groups of the Slovenian national team as a junior, and polished his ice hockey skills in Canadian junior leagues. In 2001 he started his professional career in his home town of Jesenice. From then to this day he played in many different teams and leagues. He was a member of Jesenice, Graz 99-ers, and then Krefeld Penguins, a team from German DEL league. In 2009 the played for Vienna Capitals, where he spent the next three seasons. In 2012 he was back to Germany, firstly in the second league as a member of Bietingheim Steelers, and then again in DEL, with Schwenninger Wild Wings. In 2014 he joined Medveščak, for the team's 2nd KHL season. Unfortunately, he had quite some problems with injuries that season, so he played only 9 games in the Bears' jersey, with no points. Before the end of the season he left Medveščak for KAC, where he played for the rest of the season. The next season he started in German second league as a member of Dresdner Eislowen; from there he returned back to Biettingheim Steelers, and then left for Tolzer Lowen, where he is now. The Slovenian "rolling stone" won 3 Slovenian national championships with Jesenice so far, and in his career played total of 313 EBEL games with 287 points (104-183), and 91 games in German DEL with 26 points (8+18). He is a standard member of Slovenian national team from 2001, and played for "Dežela" in previous Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 (5 games, one goal and one assist), as well as on several World Championships, so his great experience with big tournaments could be of great help to his teammates in South Korea.
Just like Rodman, Kovačević was also born in Jesenice in 1986, where he matured as a player and played for all age groups of the Slovenian junior national team. He started his professional career in 2005. He played for his home town club from 2005 to 2010, when he moved to Italian Asiago. After Italy, he played in Danish Herlev, followed by two seasons in Slovak Poprad. From 2013 to 2015 he played in the second rank of the Russian hockey, VHL league, as a member of Saryark Karaganda and Kuban Krasnodar. Then he wore Austrian Graz jersey, and was on probation in Medveščak, for the preparations of Medveščak's 3rd KHL season. He did not manage to get a place in the roster, so he continued his career in Graz. Last season he played in Belarus, with Yunost Minsk, and he started the current season in the Slovak team Nove Zamky, to continue in the Czech second league team Karlovy Vary, where he is today. The experienced defenseman is a standard member of the Slovenian national team since 2008; he also took part at the last Olympics in Sochi (4 games, one goal, one assist), as well as at several World Championships. He was 4 times Slovenian champion with Jesenice. He played 215 games in EBEL with 68 points (23+45), 106 games in Slovakia, and 74 games in VHL. With Kovačević, Slovenians can count on an experienced and reliable defenseman, who could be of a great help to his team in the fight for medals.
Kovačević played for Slovenia at the Sochi Olympics in Russia
For the conclusion, we must note that Medveščak's coaching stuff obviously knows how to recognize valuable players and true sport talents. For many of them Zagreb was a place where they boosted their professional careers. Thanks to the above players, Medveščak will also in a way be represented at the Olympic sport and unity celebration in South Korea. So - it really doesn't matter who you support, what is important is to enjoy the play and all athletes' performances, including the hockey players who spent some parts of their careers with us in Zagreb. Good luck, dear friends, and let the best win!
Enjoy the Winter Olympics!
Photo: MDVPRes/Archive; MDVPress/Pixsell; I.Šoban; HockeyPortal.cz; Aktuality.sk; RajaNews/Getty; Pyeongchang2018.org; Sportida