TILBURG, Netherlands – Celebrating their 75th anniversary, winning silverware was the prime target all season long. Dutch giants Tilburg Trappers coped with the pressure and brought home their 14th ever Dutch title in a thrilling six-game series against archrivals HYS The Hague.
It had been six years since Tilburg was last crowned champions and during that dry spell The Hague turned out to be the new force in the Netherlands capturing no less than three titles.
“This (title) is a very special one,” forward Peter van Biezen said. “Three years ago we started a new strategy based on young domestic players. We couldn’t capitalize the last few years but as of day 1 this season we wanted to make sure to be successful this year. Although the pressure was immense and we don’t have much left in the tank we did succeed.”
The final best-of-seven series between the two top teams in the league was anything but one sided. Even though Tilburg came out strong with two wins, 6-2 and 3-2, The Hague were unfazed and won game 3 in Tilburg 5-3.
After losing the next game 4-2, The Hague seemed down and out, but once again last year’s champions turned out to be mentally strong. They had already accomplished a near impossible comeback in the semi-finals against the Friesland Flyers in which they rebounded from a 3-0 deficit in the series to win 4-3 and they played the role of party spoilers in a sold-out Stappegoor Arena in Tilburg in game 5 to perfection.
With the hosts having set up everything in order to celebrate the title including the presence of a string of former star players, The Hague tied the score at 2-2 late in the third before Raphael Joly scored the game winning goal in overtime – his fourth game winning goal in the post season.
The series moved back to The Hague where the fans were sitting on the edge of their seats. The game went scoreless through the first 47 minutes before the Trappers’ Bob Teunissen broke the deadlock with a well placed shot in the top corner behind HYS goaltender Tomas Pek.
The lone goal proved enough to clinch the title as Nick Broadwater registered his third and most important shutout of the playoffs.
The series between both teams was a classic case of the team with probably the best forward unit in the league versus the team with the most depth.
The Hague could rely on a top unit consisting of Les Reaney, Greg Collins and Raphael Joly which combined for 63 points in 13 post season games. Joly also grabbed the league’s scorer title amassing over 100 points during the regular season.
Tilburg, which, had been front runners all year long, scoring the most goals and conceding fewest, on their end lacked that immense firepower. Instead they were able to play with three or four competitive lines. In the end that depth was too strong for The Hague to fight against meaning the title switched hands.
Tilburg Trappers’ head coach Paul Gardner was clear in his response: “I think we’re deserved winners. We never, never quit, and that’s what I’m proud of,” he spoke of his squad. “From day one in training camp we worked as a group. We’ve worked so hard and won big games. Not only in the finals but in Heerenveen too. We believed in ourselves, that we could do it and we got the job done.”
The 2013/2014 Tilburg Trappers golden season shone even more bright thanks to the team also bringing home the Dutch Cup for the second consecutive season after a 2-1 victory over the Friesland Flyers.
2013/2014 Eredivisie awards:
Best Goalkeeper: Martijn Oosterwijk, Friesland Flyers
Best Defenceman: Will Colbert, Tilburg Trappers
Best Forward: Raphael Joly, HYS The Hague
Most Valuable Talent: Danny Stempher, Eindhoven Kemphanen
Liege Bulldogs unmuzzled
LIEGE, Belgium – Similar to the Dutch 2013/2014 season, also the Belgian season saw the same team capture ‘the double’.
For the first time since 1974, Liege can call themselves Belgium’s best again after somewhat surprisingly defeating favourites White Caps Turnhout. Although it must be said that Turnhout was forced to play without several of its key players due to injuries sustained in the semi-final.
The best-of-five series needed just three games in which the talented Bulldogs outclassed their opponents. The 9-3 win in the series opener already cautioned a warning that Liege were a team destined for the title. It was followed by a commanding 5-1 victory in Turnhout before once again leaving the White Caps no chance in game 3 in which the Bulldogs skated away with a 4-1 score.
“The semi-final series against Leuven Chiefs ruined it for us,” White Caps chairman Johnny Badewyn commented afterwards. “We did win this series but we paid a huge price for it as lost Marek Ziarny, Spencer Heichman and Niki de Herdt. I’m convinced that with these players available Liege wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
Earlier this season, the Bulldogs edged the Turnhout White Caps 4-3 in the Belgian Cup final, making this loss extra sour.
The rise of Liege does not come completely out of the blue though. As reported earlier, the city has built a brand-new arena and the Bulldogs are developing at the same pace the last few years. Mainly constructed out of talented young Belgians and home-grown players, the core of the team that captured the title is 23 years of age or younger.
After having made great strides last season, the ambitions were high for this season. “This title we had put on the first place of our season targets,” the coaching staff consisting of Danny Peeters and Jac Scholtes said. “It’s true that the final games weren’t really close as our opponents were missing players but that also shows the power of our squad,” the coaching staff revealed. “We have worked hard to get a quality roster with depth on the ice this season because that can mean the difference during a long season as it showed.”
Next season the Bulldogs will have to take their next step in development. No longer will they be the chasing dogs but this time they will be chased on, which will be a new situation for the Liege-based team.
2013-14 Belgian Championship awards:
Best Goalkeeper: Arthur Legrand, Phantoms Antwerp
Best Defenceman: Michael Distate, Bulldogs Liege
Best Forward: Spencer Heichman, White Caps Turnhout
Most Valuable Talent: Frank Neven, Bulldogs Liege