Realizing a dream

Zlin makes up for loss last season, wins Extraliga

28.04.2014
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The PSG Zlin players were the first to hoist the brand-new Czech Extraliga trophy. Photo: Pavel Hrabovrsky / Zlin Press

ZLIN, Czech Republic – Ten years after celebrating their first Czech league title, PSG Zlin can celebrate again. Having lost last season’s Extraliga final in game seven in overtime, the blue and yellow brigade made sure not to make it another nail biting series. They surrendered just a single loss and were able to celebrate on home ice.

PSG Zlin may not have the offensive firepower of teams like Sparta Prague or Ocelari Trinec, nor do they rely on the service of long-time NHLers like many other Extraliga teams. Nevertheless it is fair to state that the team is probably one of the most successful Czech teams of the past decade.

Their victory over Kometa Brno not only meant their second title but also marked the fourth time the team reached the Extraliga finals since 2004. No other team can show similar numbers. On top of that PSG Zlin has only failed to reach the post season once in the last ten seasons.

The master minds behind the most recent success are head coach Rostislav Vlach and veteran Petr Cajanek.

When PSG Zlin won its title in 2004, Rostislav Vlach was one of the leaders of the team. The same summer he decided to hang up his skates and start a new career in coaching. In that role he returned to PSG Zlin in 2008 where he started as assistant coach. In 2011, Vlach took over from Zdenek Venera and proved an immediate hit leading the team to the Extraliga finals twice.

“This victory is a performance of the collective,” the coach commented to the media. “The guys were humble and modest and we didn’t have any dissension during the season. They stuck to the game plan.”

Heading into the final series against Brno also brought back memories from the painful overtime loss against HC Plzen last season.

“We surely were disappointed last season but we vowed to give it another go this year. Motivating them for this series therefore wasn’t a problem. Other than that for some players it might have been the last chance of their careers.”

One of the players Vlach is referring to is Petr Cajanek, who served as the mentor on the ice for the coach.

Vlach: “Every season Cajanek states that he will quit, but every time he starts skating again. Ivan Hlinka once told me that quitting your career on a high is a stupid thing. You should play until no longer possible.”

And Cajanek is still capable of holding his own in the Extraliga. He registered 32 points in 49 regular season games but come playoff time was one of the players his coach could rely on to produce. He had four goals and 15 points in 17 playoffs games to lead all players in playoff scoring.

His last point of the playoffs proved a vital one.

Brno had an excellent opportunity to take the momentum of game five when Petr Cajanek was sent to the penalty box for 2 minutes where he’d accompany his team mate Petr Leska who was sent away for a double minor seconds earlier.

The 5-on-3 situation was bravely defended by PSG Zlin and when Cajanek was back on the ice, the team captain took the life out of Brno when he scored a short-handed goal.

“Instead of scoring ourselves we conceded a goal. That was the turning point and cost us the game,” Kometa Brno captain Leos Cermak knew afterwards.

“It were the other guys on the team that did a great job killing that penalty,” Cajanek played down his role in the win.

PSG Zlin extended the score to 3-1 by the end of the first period and eventually won the game 5-3 and with that the series in five games.

Right from the start, Zlin had the upper hand over HC Kometa Brno who were a surprising finalist having finished the regular season in sixth position. Although the Brno-based club had provided upsets in the quarter finals, eliminating reigning champions HC Plzen, and in the semi-finals top-seeded Sparta Prague, they were unable to sting again.

PSG Zlin won its first two home games by a score of 3-0 and was on the way for a sweep winning game three by a score of 4-1. The celebrations were delayed after Kometa Brno saved the honours winning game four, but PSG Zlin made sure the series was not going to end up in another seven-game thriller, wrapping it up on home ice.

“Right now we’re disappointed but this season was excellent. Perhaps the series against Sparta cost too much energy,” Brno veteran Tomas Zizka said. “Losing a final is tough but in due time this second place will be appreciated.”

While the Brno players left the ice, they saw what a difference of fortunes a year can make. After being in a similar situation last year, Captain Cajanek had his name called to receive the brand-new Extraliga trophy: The Masaryk Cup.

Under a wave of rousing applause and noise, the veteran lifted the trophy he and his team mates missed out on last season. A three-time World Champion, Cajanek finally was able to hoist a domestic cup and it happened to be a brand new one.

“It was heavy and I had difficulty passing it on to a team mate, perhaps I’m not so strong,” Cajanek joked. “This trophy is a beautiful one compared to the one the league had before. I’m delighted to be the first one raising it.”

Asked whether this Czech title is a highlight Cajanek is clear.

“The World Championship is the pinnacle of every player’s career, winning a club trophy after a long season is something different. It was a childhood dream to ever win it and I was able to do so on home ice, no wonder I was out there on the ice for full last minute.”

Soon to be 39, Cajanek proved there’s no best-before date when it comes to realizing a childhood dream.

JOERI LOONEN

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