HEERENVEEN – For the third time this season, they were able to celebrate. The Flyers Heerenveen completed their raid with a 3-1 final series win over HYS The Hague and with that captured the triple; Not only did the team win the 2016-17 BeNeLiga season, the top league of the Netherlands and Belgium. The team also claimed the Dutch national and Dutch Cup trophies on the way to the season finale.
A former powerhouse in the Netherlands, Heerenveen won seven straight league titles between 1977 and 1983. When the win streak was broken, it lasted over three decades before the team from the north of country could celebrate a championship again. With arch rivals Tilburg Trappers deciding to start playing in the German third-tier Oberliga, Heerenveen was crowned Dutch champions by virtue of being the highest-rank team in the Belgian/Dutch BeNeLiga despite the final series ending up won by Belgian team HYC Herentals last year.
No such thing this year. The troops of head coach and former player Mike Nason were a dominant force all season long winning most of their regular season games.
The success translated into the post-season as well as the team swept the Silverdome Panters and Liege Bulldogs on their way to the final.
Where most people anticipated a repeat of last year’s final, it was HYS The Hague that sent the reigning BeNeLiga champion HYC Herentals packing.
Game 1 saw Heerenveen taking an early 3-0 lead, but their opponents turned the deficit around with three power-play goals in the last 30 minutes of the game only to fall behind in the series in overtime; 4-3.
Another three-goal effort in game 2 leveled the series. This time, on home ice, HYS The Hague turned a 3-2 deficit into a solid 5-3 surprise victory.
Heerenveen took full advantage of playing on home ice winning game three of the series winning 4-3 before putting an end to the series in game 4.
Adam Bezak, son of former Heerenveen and Czechoslovak national team player Marian Bezak, opened the scoring with 1:04 left to play in the first period. The Hague had to swallow a bitter pill when Kevin Nijland doubled the lead scoring a power-play goal four seconds before the buzzer.
“Those two late first-period goals were of great value to us,” said coach Mike Nason. “The Hague certainly proved their worth and played tactically very strong and made it a genuine final series.”
When veteran Tony Demelinne scored the Flyers’ third goal, the series was seemingly concluded but HYS The Hague did not give up and got a goal themselves via defenceman Thomas Roosendaal. Any hopes of another three-goal comeback were quickly put to and end though as long time national team player Marco Postma replied 100 seconds later to restore Heerenveen’s three-goal lead.
In front of a packed Uithof arena with 3,300 spectators Captain Tony Demelinne could raise the team’s third trophy of the season. The Dutch Cup competition went to Heerenveen thanks to an 8-1 romping of the Eaters Limburg while the team also proved too strong for HYS The Hague in the Dutch Championships final; 5-3.
“This BeNeLiga title is the most beautiful of all three,” Demelinne commented afterwards. “Because it’s won here in The Hague where I grew up and my parents live next to the ice rink. This series was a hard fought one and showed great entertainment for hockey fans in the Netherlands.”
Meanwhile in Belgium, HYC Herentals rebounded from their semi-final BeNeLiga exit by winning the Belgian championship against the Liege Bulldogs.
In a two-game series the Bulldogs won their home game 8-4 but HYC responded with a 6-2 victory in game 2. This forced the series to go into a 20 minutes overtime in which Herentals won 3-1 to reclaim the Belgian domestic championships title.
With both domestic leagues concluded the focus shifted towards the upcoming World Championship tournaments.
Belgium will participate in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A which started on Monday in Romania. In total 14 of the 20 players nominated appeared on either the HYC Herentals or Bulldogs Liege roster. Belgium will battle for promotion against hosts Romania, Australia, Spain, Serbia and Iceland.
The Dutch will have to wait a bit longer after gaining promotion to Division I Group B. The tournament in Belfast won’t start until 23rd April.
With Tilburg Trappers still active in the Oberliga playoffs, head coach Chris Eimers selected a large pre-tournament roster consisting out of 60 players. Main headliner on the roster is that of Amsterdam-born, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Daniel Sprong who has not donned the Orange jersey in official competition before.
In preparation to the tournament, the Dutch will play two exhibition games against Japan on 19 & 20 April. Japan will be one of the opponents in their division which also consists of hosts Great Britain, Lithuania, Croatia and Estonia.