There have been a lot of rumours and anticipation since mid-February when Medvescak's first team finished their season. Today those rumours were put to rest and a confirmation that Medvescak will have a team in the EBEL Championship was announced.
In regards to this important decision we talked to Club's President Damir Gojanovic about plans for next season, this decision, the implication it has for the Club and him personally, and about plans for the team and coaching staff…
It was confirmed today that Medvescak will join EBEL after four incredible years in the best hockey league outside of North America, the KHL?
Yes, today, in accordance to a deadline agreed with EBEL's Presidency, we confirmed our participation in the Austrian Championship next season. We will have an opportunity to watch games between Medvescak and the best teams from Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. I believe we will be able to gather a competitive team and that the fans will be able to enjoy good games and the Bears winning. I am grateful to all the EBEL clubs as well as to the EBEL Presidency for accepting our application and allowing us to compete in this multiregional, European championship. EBEL was the starting point of our revitalization of Medvescak and without EBEL there would be no big and worthy, ‘new-old’ Medvescak we have today. With all due respect to club’s history.
What is your view on the past four years today?
For the past four years I've enjoyed the best of the best who came on our ice to compete thanks to the KHL. In Dom sportova we watched the best possible hockey we could see or imagine and there is nothing better than it outside of North America. Of course, it became something normal for us, like it's understood and it's there; we all get used to the best pretty quickly... Before a home crowd Medvescak welcomed the biggest and best in the world – clubs SKA, CSKA, DYNAMO MOSCOW, SPARTAK, all true institutions of hockey... and the best players – Radulov, Kovalchuk, Mozyakin, Cheechoo... just to name a few. Zagreb saw world's highest level of hockey being played and Medvescak, despite having the smallest budget, successfully competed and often won against those teams and players. Medvescak brought some great players like Cheechoo, Montador and Foster to Zagreb team. Had someone once told me that something like this would happen, that we would have all of that in Zagreb, I'd laugh at his face. But we did it and we enabled top hockey for our fans. One sports journalist had a great description of our last four year by using 'Believe it or not'.
What’s your point of view on the ‘new-old’ beginning in EBEL?
Joining EBEL I see as a new step in Club's operation. We go on together and I am sure that in these new decisions everyone will find the pleasure of enjoying ice hockey. I am sure EBEL brings a new dimension to our club, and also a new emotion for our fans. When push comes to shove, I believe Club comes above everything.
And you? Are you staying in the club with this decision? What are your plans?
I am staying in the club, this is my life currently. Finally, it is my Club where I went from player to President. I want to find and implement a model for the club to be stable and I want to leave it to someone who will continue to lead it responsibly and with love, someone who will share a vision of the great and eternal Medvescak just like my teammates and I did nine years ago when we entered this story. We owe it to our fans, legends, we owe it to our Ferdo, too. Maybe things didn't go as smoothly as I planned, but I never gave up, even though there were moments when I thought to myself 'why do I need all this', and I don't plan on it soon. I believe in this club, I believe in Medvescak.
There is no need to repeat that this Medvescak's project is costly and is financed by sponsors. Do you know what budget you will have available for next season's EBEL team?
What one should know is that Medvescak is not only the KHL or the EBEL team. We have a big number of teams and they all require attention. Of course, our first team has the biggest presence and is the most attractive, but we can't forget other teams and their success. May I remind you that our EBYSL team was a runner-up last season and our second team won the Croatian Championship for the twentieth time.
It is too early to go into great details at this point, our teams have started planning and preparing next season today. We anticipate we will need a budget of about 2.5 million euro to be competitive in the EBEL Championship and we hope to secure it through sponsorships in Croatia and Europe. We are talking about club's basic budget, with no additional special events, no additional marketing campaigns or projects of social responsibility.
I have to draw attention to the fact that Medvescak secures the biggest part of the budget, around 80% through sponsorships. The rest is collected from ticket sales, media and marketing activations, royalties from logo and name exploitation and all other sources of income, including private investment. We must not forget that the Club is largely financed by sponsors and while there are sponsors and their investments, the Club will be able to compete in quality championships such as EBEL is.
A few months ago you mentioned that you would like to see some players again in Medvescak jersey, are you in talks with any of our 'old' EBEL players?
I will take the liberty to consider this and all similar questions a 'business secret' for now, and until contracts are signed even though I know this is what our fans are eager to know. I'm sorry, but it would be frivolous to talk about names, wish lists and plans while negotiations and scouting haven't even began.
Our sports team will make some projections for our team and in the following days I will meet with them to listen to their suggestions. I would certainly be glad to see some of our former and present players in our EBEL team, but I do not alow myself to name any names because I do not know how realistic those wishes are and thus I do not want to influence the negotiations and the work of the sports team.
Will our players, not just the younger ones, get a chance to play in EBEL?
We should see to it. Our sports team has some guidelines and due to the point system we need to have more domestic and younger players. But let's make something clear, anyone who puts in the effort during trainings and proves to be a quality player before the coach and the sports team, can play in our first team. There was never a case of someone entering the team because I or someone on the Club's Presidency urged for him or because I liked him. Just remember all the drama of a disagreement between former coaches and players. I never interfered with them nor do I intent to. Prove yourself and you will play. Of course, I won't stand for injustice. That is how it will be going forward. Certainly I expect our, domestic, younger players in EBEL team, especially the guys who were part of our KHL team and who demonstrated their quality and professionalism.
Can we expect some of the KHL players to stay on and be part of Medvescak's EBEL team?
Our sports team will decide on that, but I'm sure we can. I cannot talk about names because the players and their agents will for sure try and find another KHL club. Plus, I don't want to cause any possible problems for our sports team by naming names or in any way affect negotiations, talks or deals with any former or future players.
Who would you like to see coaching the EBEL team?
I have no options nor do I have a name I'm thinking about. That's for the sports team to solve and I expect of them to present me with names in accordance to out possibilities and expectations. I believe they will do their best to bring in some quality names, of course, in accordance to the budget they will have at their disposal. I would like to see a person with experience, preferably one who played hockey, a person with a vision and attitude and one who will demand players' respect. We have good experience in this area from both the KHL and EBEL and I don't think there should be any problems in plans and choices.
What do you expect of the EBEL season? Is there a goal?
Well, our first goal is to assemble a quality team that breathes as a team. You know, you are not and you do not become a team just because you were put together to work. You are a team because you believe, respect and take care of each other. That's the kind of team I want us to have. Then we have to go through training camp, have the season opening and be competitive. That is a very important goal at this point. After that we hope for playoffs and going as far as we can. With some luck, I do hope to see EBEL Final in Zagreb.
Will we still have a team competing in EBYSL?
I consider it to be important and I think we should, and if I'm not mistaking, it's also in the league rules. Of course, this is all considering we have the players needed. So it's better to say, we will compete in the selection for which we have the players. Kolombo has been leading the team for years now and I know it wasn't always easy and simple, but I trust his decisions and coaching qualities.
Should we expect any special projects like the one in Pula Arena or the return of Winter Classic on Salata?
Hopefully there will be an opportunity for something, especially Winter Classic. We want to bring it back, that was an event that showcased a true city spirit of hockey and Medvescak. Of course, it will all in accordance with our possibilities, primarily the financial ones. Medvescak offered and brought forth something new with every season and I am certain that will be the case in the future. It is too early to talk about spectacles like the one in Pula Arena. We are ready for such happenings, we know the challenges their organization brings. If sponsors have any interest, we are open to dialogue and cooperation and we can start preparing such a spectacle today.
An unavoidable question is the one about unresolved relations with former players. What faze is that in?
Ah, that is the question that makes all the good things we do fall to shade. Unfortunately that is our reality and we have to deal with it. It's no secret, we still have some unresolved issues, but we are doing everything we can to normalize them, to pay our debts and fulfill our obligations. And we will do it. Some people involved understand, they cooperate while some lash out on social media and we have to deal with that. They are harming everyone in the process, especially our wish to resolve everything, but we can't fight against it, we are solving obligations as we receive the means. It is certain that we will meet all the obligations, I'm sorry some are delayed, but that is the reality we live in. We depend on resources from various sides and sometimes we have some unplanned expense. But, I can assure you, the Club will not collapse or disappear due to those obligations. Furthermore, supported by our partners we will enter EBEL with a clear and viable financial plan.
And one last question, one that is of greatest interest to our most fateful fans - season ticket holders. When will they be able to renew their season tickets?
We have some principal projections regarding that and they should be confirmed in the following days with everyone involved in this organizational process. I believe our season ticket holders can expect some sort of an announcement in the next seven days and they will go on sale in the beginning of next month. There is still time until September, but we must not fool ourselves, hockey will be back in Zagreb before we know it.