Today Medvescak players will step on the ice for the first time in the new season and start their race for points. In Togliatti, in the arena that so far remains unconquerable for the Bears, Canadian Shaone Morrisonn will enter in his third season with Zagreb’s club and celebrate his 100th game in the Bears’ jersey.
“It feels like the time has blown by. When I came here, I was good friends with Michael Ryan and he only had the best things to say about the city, the fans and the culture and history of the team. Everything's lived up to expectations and beyond. Croatia's a hidden gem of Europe, I always promote it. This could be our best year since I've been here,” said Bears’ pillar of defense who wore ‘C’ on his sweater in the last exhibition game and helped the team stay on an unbeaten track:
“Guys are really gelling, we worked on our systems. The guys have bought in, as our plays showed. We went undefeated in exhibition. We didn't play the strongest teams, but we got the job done. Russia will be a different story, but I think we're ready. Everybody's happy with training camp, coaches and staff. We're all excited to get going, and that's the big thing.“
During the season, Morrisonn is an alternate captain. He takes this job just as seriously as he takes his role in the game:
“It's an honour and I don't take it for granted. I want to lead on and off the ice, be a good teammate, do my job well and help the young guys out. We have a lot of leaders on this team, everyone can step up. It's not just about something you wear on your jersey. It's about doing what you do best and making everybody around you better.“
And what is what the Bears' top 4 D-man does best, he explained himself: “To do my job well, I want to be good in my own zone, move the puck well and prevent the other team from scoring. That's usually what I'm good at. As long as I can help the team win, I'm happy.”
The plan for Bears’ defense this season is: “What we want is to play fast. Get the puck quick to the forwards, they will be our scorers. We want to play little in our zone. The game's evolved so much. It's a speed game now. You need to be able to skate and that's what we want to do.”
His new teammates should help with that: “We have signed some pretty good D-men. As a group, if we can stay healthy, everything's going to be fine. You saw it last season, when injuries hit us, problems started.“
The team always comes first, but personal goals for the new season are: ”Personally, I want to have the season like I did last year. Plus, I want to make the playoffs. I never got to be in the PO with this team, and I think it would be amazing to see what would happen in this city. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it because I know we have the best fans in the league and they deserve it. That's our ultimate goal.“
But, the road to the playoffs is a long one. And as coach Dwyer said, we’re taking it one step at a time. The first one being in Togliatti, against a team we almost traditionally have problems gaining points against:
“I know... I remember that game like it was yesterday. We played well against Kazan, this year we play them second, and we have that first game against Lada. They are a young team, they work hard. I don't know what happened. Maybe it was because they were at the bottom of the standing and we tought: 'Ok, finally we're going to have an easy game,' but there are no easy games in this league and we paid the price. This time we've had enough time to prepare and everyone's on an even keel. It's the start of the season, no one's at first, no one's at last. It's not going to be easy in that rink, tough.“
If last season is any indicator, road games are in general harder to play for us: “We do really well in our home rink. There we can play against anybody. We have our fans and we just play. It's comfortable for us. But some of the road teams... it's tough, it's a different element in Russia.“
During the years in the KHL and with the Bears, Morrisonn often faced off against the best players in the league. Without naming anyone in specific, there are some teams that make it hard to play against them: “There are so many great and talented players in this league, it's hard to just pick one out. It was weird last season, we played so well against CSKA and I loved playing against Radulov. And then we play against some teams, like in Astana and we have problems. It was always difficult to play there, even when I was in Spartak. And in Omsk too. Every time we go there, it's like they have six guys out there.“
It's a specific season for the Bears with half the roster returning to the Den. “From the very start we all felt pretty comfortable with each other and we felt good chemistry. A lot of us had played together before, and that helped with the new guys coming in, they felt the atmosphere.
And everyone just got along. We know that on some nights we're against the eight ball, we know there are some big budget teams in the league, but every night we could beat anybody. We saw that last year. That's what's exciting being on this team, you're always the underdog. A lot of us like that. And we like to rise to the challenge.“
And while Morrisonn rises to the challenge the attacking forwards put in front of him, he rarely goes beyond the neutral zone. But, he’s no stranger to challenging the goalies during practice, if it is to be believed to Danny Taylor who says Morrisonn has the most unpredictable shot in the team:
“Haha... Yes, I like to play mind games with Taylor sometimes in practice. I'm not known as an offensive guy, so in practice I like to challenge the goalies sometimes, get under their skin a bit and score a few goals. But, we're having fun. It's nice to have Taylor back, and with Niko and Sergei, we'll have great goaltending. And like you've seen, you win games on your goalie in this league. So, if I can frustrate Taylor in practice, then it will be easier, because he's got Datsyuk this year to worry about. And that will be really frustrating.“
Video source: www.khl.ru
Except for the players, we have a returning coach as well: “It's great he's back. That was a big factor in my decision to return. When a new coach from North America comes in, it's tough to get adjusted to the league, the travel, the style of the game.
Gordie is in his second year, so he knows what to expect and he had more time to prepare this year. He knows the other teams, players on other team, the schedule, when he needs to push us, and when to lay off us a bit. He's experience will be a great asset to us.“
How well have the Bears prepared, we'll see today starting at 5 PM CEST when the puck drops in Lada Arena.
Lada, the hockey club, will play the host to the Croatian representative for the third time in the KHL. In Togliatti they've taken all six points, and in Dom sportova out of the two games played, they took one win.
Medvescak has six wins from six exhibition games, while Lada won two games and lost one in Riga and then finished third in Lada Cup 2016 on home ice.
Broadcast of the game is announced on SportKlub 1.