NOVE ZAMKY, Slovakia – In just their second season in the MOL Liga, HC Nove Zamky laid claim on the championship. They disposed of Romanian side Corona Brasov in six games to bring the cup to Slovakia for the first ever time in its existence.
Despite a packed Olympic Arena with 2,600 fans cheering on the home side and a 12-hour road trip, the Slovaks were not intimidated when facing Brasov in game 6. After Erik Caladi had put the team on track in the first period, it was Peter Polcik who buried a great feed of veteran Marek Uram just 24 seconds into the second period to silence the crowd.
Things got worse for Brasov halfway through the game when former Slovak Extraliga star Erik Weissmann showed some of his class. His fake pass eluded everyone including Brasov netminder Patrik Polc. The veteran sniper was left with a trademark finish to extend the lead to 3-0 with a shorthanded goal.
Ivan Dornic cut the deficit back to two goals and gave Brasov a small lifeline going into the final period, but Nove Zamky did not collapse under pressure and eventually put an end to any comeback hopes with an empty net goal.
“We have made great strides since the start in September,” said defenceman Michal Siska. “It took some time before we built chemistry. We also hit a slump and saw a coaching change which is never an easy thing. But we picked it up from there and performed beyond expectations since. The team spirit was definitely a key factor.”
Coming into the finals as the second-seeded team, the Slovaks couldn’t have wished for a better start of the series winning both their home games to take a 2-0 lead.
A dominant third period with three goals saw Nove Zamky take the series opener 4-2. Game 2 required an overtime Vladimir Kames power-play goal to make the team’s dominance count. Brasov was outshot 45-24 during the game but kept faith in a good result thanks to a stellar goaltending performance by Polc.
With the series now moving back to Romania for two back-to-back games, Brasov was given fresh hope. Helped by a Levent Zsok hat trick and a 39-save performance by their goaltender, they took game 3 with a 6-3 victory.
After Nove Zamky defeated Brasov 6-5 in game 4, the Slovaks had the opportunity to clinch the series on home ice but Brasov and more particularly Patrik Polc once again proved tough opposition. Despite a 44-22 shot advantage, Brasov kept the series alive with a 3-2 win.
Nevertheless their joy was short-lived as the Slovaks took revenge themselves by defeating Brasov in Romania in game 6.
“It is logic to be disappointed after losing the finals,” Brasov coach Kari Rauhanen commented. “But I’m sure that when we look back this season we can be proud of ourselves. When you compare where we started and where we are now we have performed very well. The experience in the Slovak team made the difference. We played well but not good enough. For us it’s now important to get this behind us and focus on the Romanian championship.”
Brasov will try to win its first ever domestic title in the final against HSC Csikszereda, which has won the domestic title the past seven years.
The 2013/2014 MOL Liga marked the first time no Hungarian team was participating in the final of the league consisting of teams from Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. It also meant DAB Dunaujvaros were not going to win the league for a third consecutive time in a row. The reigning champions were once again the top team during the regular season but eventually found their Waterloo in a series against Brasov. All four games in the series were one-goal games but eventually Brasov won the best-of-five to advance to the final.
Nove Zamky also needed four games to get past Hungarian Miskolci JJSE to complete the Hungarian scalp.
Former Slovak national junior team defenceman Michal Siska made his debut in the MOL Liga this year and was both optimistic and critical on the league. “Financially the teams in the league are all in a healthy state but the travelling is quite a problem, especially with the Romanian teams being so far away,” Siska has experienced. “Furthermore the limited number of teams and import limits is not really benefiting the league from growth, but there’s certainly potential for this league to grow in stature in the next few years.”
2013/2014 MOL Liga awards:
Best Goalkeeper: Jan Chovan (HC Nove Zamky)
Best Defenceman: Kevin Wehrs (Corona Brasov)
Best Forward: Balazs Ladanyi (DAB Dunaujvaros)
Playoff MVP: Levente Zsok (Corona Brasov)