KOSICE, Slovakia – After a mediocre regular season, HC Kosice found its form in time to capture the second title in as many years. Archrival and playoff favourite Slovan Bratislava was beaten in six games.
The key to the title were the two road wins that gave HC Kosice a flying start into the series.
In the first game of the series, the steel-city club took a 3-0 lead in the first period and laid the foundation for a 5-2 victory. Game Two was more evened, but eventually Kosice edged their rivals with two unanswered second-period goals to take the score to 6-3.
Both teams exchanged one-goal victories in the third and fourth games after which the HC Kosice could clinch the title on opposition ice. Slovan Bratislava spoiled the party and sent the Kosice fan base home with a 4-1 defeat.
The Extraliga title-holder made sure it did not waste the second chance. Slovan Bratislava twice managed to come back from behind, but could not recover a third time. At 48:34, Czech forward Petr Sachl gave Kosice a 3-2 lead and it ended up as the game-winning goal. Veteran Peter Bartos and Vladimir Dravecky extended the lead to 5-2 in the third period resulting in early celebrations in the arena packed with 8,347 fans.
“We are excited to have won the title,” goal scorer Dravecky said. “Luckily we didn’t have to be nervous at the end of the game as we had opened up a three-goal gap.”
Slovan head coach Antonin Stavjana was clearly disappointed, but also realistic. “It’s very difficult for us. We’ve been playing well for so long this season and only lost two games in a row twice this season. Unfortunately one of those was in the final series.”
Based on the regular season, all odds were on the capital city giant. The Slovak champion of 2007 and 2008 only lost 7 out of 47 games and finished with 117 points, 21 more than runner-up HC Banska Bystrica and 36 more than HC Kosice. “Contrary to Kosice our performance fluctuated in the post-season.”
Kosice’s fortunes changed drastically over the last few months. Things looked anything but rosy at the end of 2009.
Defending their title, HC Kosice had a terrible start of the season and had lost four of its first eight games. A coaching change was deemed necessary and Rostislav Cada was lured from Switzerland’s Ambrì-Piotta where he was a junior coach most recently.
Cada previously coached HC Kosice in 2007 and 2008 and always kept in close contact with the club. “In never regretted going back even though we struggled a lot and played bad hockey,” he said about his return.
The experienced coach realized he had to change things and he made some drastic decisions mid-January. He sent away three experienced players with Jaroslav Kmit, Juraj Faith and Juraj Kledrowetz. “That was the problem we had to solve and so we did. But that’s history now and we only look forward,” Cada said about the expulsions.
Slowly but surely Kosice found its way into the elevator that would take them up in the standings and by the end of the regular season Kosice was back on a respectable third place.
The team was able to remain hot throughout the playoffs. They only lost one game in their quarterfinal series against HK Poprad. Also in the semi-finals, HC Kosice was done in five games playing against MHC Martin.
Meanwhile Slovan Bratislava also had a comfortable ride giving up just a single game against HKM Zvolen in the quarterfinals before sweeping HK Nitra in the next round.
It was clear that Slovakia’s two best teams would decide on the championship.
Veteran Peter Bartos has been in many finals during his career and therefore knows well that results from the past don’t matter anymore when the season is in its final stage. “Such games are always difficult, you can’t miss a step or make mistakes,” the forward said. “Slovan is a quality team and beat us in all four games we played against them in the regular season. To win the first two games in the series was a hurdle we had overcome. It’s unbelievable we won this title.”
Bartos also had something to say to the fans who were very critical on the team earlier in the year. “In January we were booed off the ice and each player was bad. I don’t think we deserved that. To those people who felt that we were not worthy of wearing the jersey we showed that can win and play good hockey and have fun.”
Forward Juraj Sykora has now won four championships in a row – two with Slovan and the last two years with HC Kosice. “This title was much more difficult. We won because we have a good bunch of players and a terrific coach in Rostislav Cada.”
This year’s title marks the fifth time Kosice has won the Slovak Extraliga. It was the first gold medal for Rostislav Cada though.
“This title means a lot to me. It satisfies me that the players could benefit from my work and hopefully the fans enjoyed it as well and will return next season,” said Cada.
With the gold medal dangling around his neck, Cada realized this championship is one of his most precious achievements.
“It’s the best and happiest day of my hockey life,” Cada said.Notebook:
- Game six of the Extraliga final was the first game in which the home team scored first. In all previous five matches, the away team got off to a good start.
- Rostislav Cada became only the second Czech coach to win a Slovak championship. Previously Milos Riha captured two titles with Slovan Bratislava in 2002 and 2005. With both Slovan coach Antonin Stavjana and Cada hailing from the Czech Republic it was already clear Riha would get a successor.
- Stavjana will leave Slovan Bratislava this summer and most likely will sign a new contract in the Czech Republic. Karlovy Vary and Vitkovice Ostrava are rumoured to be possible destinations.
- Lubomir Vaic ended up as the league’s top scorer with 20 goals and 73 points in 61 games. The Slovan Bratislava forward succeeds Ziggy Palffy, who could not repeat his history-breaking numbers of last season. Palffy finished third with 65 points from 42 games.
- Martin Kulha of Slovan Bratislava was crowned as the top goal scorer of the league with just 32 goals. It’s a record low number. The previous low record was held by Marian Gaborik (2005) and Lubomir Kolnik (2006) with 33 goals. For comparison, last year Zigmund Palffy had twice as many goals than Kulha.
- Despite having lost, Slovan Bratislava remains Slovakia’s most successful team with seven titles. HC Kosice is now trailing by two while Dukla Trencin has won three championships.