''Children are the future''. We often hear that said in various contexts, and it applies to hockey too. Medvescak believes in that saying and has felt it over the past six seasons since 2009 when it was time to put together a team for the premiere EBEL season and the club had to rely on foreign players since Croatian hockey was on the sidelines back then. However, the problem in Croatia isn't the players' bases, it's that there is a shortage of ice and little ability to develop when compared to players growing up in other European hockey countries. All that started to change, though, when Medvescak began working with EBEL some 5 years ago to tackle the problem and solve it in an efficient manner. Of course, the EBEL 'mathematicians' haven't quite come up with the perfect equation to solve the problem, but they're certainly on the right track toward improving the league and future Croatian hockey players along the way.
''Over the past five years EBEL, together with several clubs including Medvescak, has worked on creating a development program in which young players who don't play in EBEL can aspire to one day play for the primary team. First we started with the U20 league, EBYSL, and then the next season alongside EBYSL we created EBJL which is intended for players under the age of eighteen. Considering the success of those two junior leagues, we came up with the idea that players under the age of sixteen should have a quality competition like that, but not in league form, rather as a tournament'', began Medvescak's Director of Hockey Operation Markoantonio Belinic, who sits on EBEL's Development Committee. The idea will be built upon developing European Union projects and would be called the ''European Rookie Cup U16''.
''The EU is worried that so many kids are sitting in front of computers playing video games and aren't taking part in physical activities... Even though we might not be aware of it, all of that brings different illnesses at a young age, from diabetes to obesity to lack of coordination. That's why the EU created a fund to finance projects that promote health, sports, physical activities, and health through sports.''
The slogan 'healthy body, healthy soul' gave life to this idea to organize EBEL and a group of clubs, but quickly blossomed into even bigger goals.
''We want to expose young players to a professional environment as early as possible, for them to prepare in the spirit of pro sports, to grow up with that mentality, and to develop in hockey. That's the only way they will be able to see what it means to be a pro athlete, that it's not just about coming to a game and playing it, and rather that there's a lot of preparation, practice, obligations, sacrifice, healthy eating... And that's how they'll develop the self-confidence they need to play in the U18 and U20 leagues and make it to the senior level. We know that this will be a gruelling task considering the lack of ice. But we don't want to give up on what we've tried to do for the past six seasons, and that's to create space for development for our young Croatian players because who knows, maybe there's another Borna Rendulic hiding in them.''
The developing European Rookie Cup U16 project didn't come up all of a sudden. It's been over a year of hard work on it.
''Throughout that year we've collected lots of documents and made countless studies in order to present our idea more vividly to the EU because there is a possibility that the EU will finance that tournament as a development project. The EU sent us a positive answer a few days ago. Nothing's final yet, but we're a step closer. We still have to provide some documents after which the EU will decide whether they will give us the green light.''
What the competition would look like, and exactly which countries and clubs would be involved is not yet know, but not everything is uncertain.
''The tournament would be held every year from mid-February until the end of April, and the right to play in it would be reserved to clubs that take part in EBEL, be it seniors or juniors. Each club would organize a tournament in which teams from the clubs that join the project would play. It will have players up to the age of sixteen taking part in it, which means that players at the age of fourteen and fifteen who could play at that level would have an opportunity. We will iron out all further details once we see what the word from the EU is. As far as Medvescak is concerned, the concept of the team would be the same as the U20 and U18. We would play under the name Medvescak, but it would really be a selection of players put together with players from all Croatian hockey teams. That way we would once again open the doors for other Croatian clubs to have their players develop their talent because who knows, maybe they have a potential player who could break through the way Borna Rendulic did'', clarified Belinic, adding:
''It's because of these projects that help develop young players that we are happy to have remained in good relations with EBEL despite crossing over to the KHL and that we are still working together on projects. Whether we like to admit it or not, EBEL is our reality, and all that happened with the KHL is a huge success and an incredible dream that we can now have. Unfortunately, with Russian clubs, mostly because of geographical distances, we can't develop young players in this way!''
If everything pans out as hoped and the EU finally says 'yes' in the next month, the first edition of the regional U16 tournament could be held as early as 2015.