PRAGUE – Czech sport dailies are working extra hours these days. No, Jaromir Jagr hasn’t announced his homecoming, nor did the Czech team win another major tournament. It’s a seemingly harmless loan move that led to one of the stiffest fines given in Extraliga history.
An announcement made the other week by Stanislav Sulc, the director of APK – the Czech association of professional clubs – sent a shock wave throughout the Extraliga. The message concerned the eligibility, or rather ineligibility, of players dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season.
After an investigation by the APK, a number of players have been deemed not to have their registration completed after having been transferred from one team to another during this past summer. The effect is that all points gained by the teams icing the ineligible players have been deducted.
Three teams were heavily affected. Kladno was deducted six points from the 16 they gained so far. Plzen lost 19 out of their 32 points for dressing goalie Petr Prikryl and defenceman Tomas Frolo while Mlada Boleslav dopped rock bottom with just nine points after a deduction of 22 points.
Plzen and Mlada Boleslav are not happy – to say the least – and they have publicly stated mistrust with current administrative system.
The ball started rolling when HC Plzen tried to send summer signing Prikryl on loan to lower division team HC Litomerice. Only later did they find out that he was still registered to his old club, Sparta Prague. Many hours and several investigations later, a number of players from numerous teams were found still registered with their former clubs.
“Having properly registered players is an essential condition for their eligibility in the Extraliga,” explains Sulc. “This applies even for the smallest club in a regional championship. Clubs are responsible that all formalities have been fulfilled.”
The penalty for dressing an ineligible player is a forfeited game. Sulc: “Another kind of penalty is not possible. These are the rules. It’s not the fault of the system or the league. The clubs did not fulfil their requirements. They should not put the blame elsewhere.”
Despite Sulc’ words, HK Mlada Boleslav and HC Plzen have joined together in an effort to get the penalty revoked and they have already hired legal support.
“We disagree with the verdict and consider on how to proceed next,” says HK Mlada Boleslav General Manager Cyril Suk.
Martin Straka, HC Plzen director and co-owner, was fuming last week when he was confronted with the news. “The current system is one big mess. Before the season Sulc signed off our roster. Yes, he did tell us that something was missing and we plead guilty there, but if we would not have sent out Prikryl on loan, this issue might not have even surfaced. No one really knows which information can be trusted.”
Moreover, Straka was not happy with the way it was announced. “Mr. Sulc promised me that this issue will be dealt in a general meeting with all teams, and suddenly it becomes public.”
Sulc explained that although he didn’t have any intentions to go public, he was confronted with questions from journalists about the matter, questions that he felt he could not simply ignore. “Therefore we published a statement on our website,” explained Sulc. “I deeply regret that the General Manager of Plzen is upset, but it wasn’t me who had fed the media with the information.”
Whenever a domestic transfer is processed, the teams involved not only have to send the information to the APK for approval of Mr. Sulc, but they are also obliged to send documentation to the Czech Ice Hockey Association (CSLH) to complete the transfer. In the current situation, these documents were never sent to the CSLH headquarters.
The third team involved, HC Kladno, takes a less feisty approach. Executive director Milan Volf admitted his team had not followed the rules and that the club is ready to take responsibility for it.
The reactions of the other Extraliga teams are mixed. Ceske Budejovice sporting director Josef Zajic is against the points forfeit.
“For me it’s just an administrative error. Transfers are mainly an agreement between two teams,” he said, downplaying the importance of administrative paperwork. “I’m afraid that our hockey could be damaged by this.”
His counterpart from Kometa Brno echoes the sentiments. “This decision could undermine the activities of our league,” fears Jaroslav Medlik. Also HC Trinec’s Jana Czudka is not in favour of punishing the teams by deducting points. “The game is played on and not off the ice. It is not that they dressed another player under a false name.”
There are, however, teams that feel strongly different. “Identical cases have happened before in the league and unfortunately the league can not do anything else than play by the book and forfeit these games,” Zbynek Kusy, the GM of reigning champion HC Pardubice, said in a statement.
Jiri Bubla of HC Litvinov is even more outspoken and feels there is nothing really to discuss. “There are rules and regulations that need to be followed. For some teams it’s sad, but that’s the way it is. We can’t change the rules in the middle of the season.”
There is consensus on one issue though. The whole process regarding the administration of transfers must be simplified as of next season to avoid future incidents in order to save the league’s credibility. “This case is certainly very bad for Czech hockey and casts our sport in a dark cloud,” Vitkovice Ostrava’s Petr Husicka claimed.
In the meantime Stanislav Sulc, a former director of HC Plzen, became a target of personal attacks. “I’ve been in hockey for a long time, and I have grown a pretty thick skin against criticism, but what is happening now is beyond me,” he said.
He received a string of verbal abuse via phone calls and text messages with several of them being far over the edge of what can be tolerated. “I understand that fans are not always objective, but I have never witnessed such an array of primitivism before.”
The meeting between the clubs and the APK took place last Tuesday. The conversation was heated at times, and Sulc promised to announce his final verdict on Friday.
There were three options on the table. Either the three teams involved would get punished by forfeited games with points deduction, or they would get the points deducted, but without the opposition team gaining any.
The third option was to count the scores and issue stiff fines. But this would present a precedent that could open up a loophole and an option for the rich teams in the future. Commit a mistake and pay your way out.
“None of the options is ideal,” said Sulc in the days before the final verdict, “but we’ll try to take a decision which is the least bad.”
That decision turned out to be the one in the middle.
“This decision least interferes with the current standings and only affects the three teams involved. We tried to minimize the effect of the penalty on the league,” Sulc said after the verdict on Friday.
One consequence is that HC Plzen director Jaroslav Zavoral resigned and all three teams now occupy the bottom spots in the Extraliga standings. The teams will have to play catch-up hockey in order to get back into a playoff spot.