GELEEN, Netherlands – It has been a long and frustrating wait, but after 44 years, the Smoke Eaters Geleen were finally crowned Dutch champions.
Being an ice hockey bastion located in the South of the Netherlands for decades, Geleen seemed cursed when it comes to winning the Dutch league playoffs. Six times before the team had reached the final but they always ended up on the wrong side.
Not this year.
After a very consistent regular season performance the team finished second behind last year’s champions HYS The Hague. Both top seeds swept their opponents in the semi-finals of the playoffs to set up a thrilling final series which needed all five series games to crown a winner.
HYS The Hague won their home games by the narrowest of margins, twice 3-2, while Geleen took full advantage of playing in front of their own crowd winning 3-1. With game four on the line both teams had to deal with injuries to their main players. The Hague lost their starting goaltender Imrich Petrik whereas Geleen had to do without top scorer Ian McDonald.
The Smoke Eaters coped best and convincingly defeated The Hague 5-2 to stretch the series to the limit.
Despite having home ice advantage, HYS The Hague never looked confident of retaining their title. Although the 2-1 deficit after 20 minutes did not mean the game was out of reach, undisciplined play in the second and third period were catastrophic for the team of player/coach Alexander Selivanov.
With a grand total of 50 penalty Minutes, The Hague not only dug themselves a huge hole but also opened the way for Geleen to take full advantage of the extra man. With five power play goals in the last 40 minutes, coach Chris Eimers’ team dethroned the 2010-11 champion with a scoreline that has little room for argument; 7-1.
Alternate captain David Burgess led the way with four assists while Shawn Collymore tallied twice and also posted four points on the night.
As the clock winded down, several loyal Geleen fans went down on their knees and started crying after realizing the long drought had finally come to an end and the curse was broken.
During the celebrations special attention was given to team captain Dennis Ten Bokkel who was recently underwent surgery on a brain tumor and missed most of the playoffs.HYC Herentals sweeps Belgian league silverware
It was a season not to forget for HYC Herentals. After winning five consecutive Belgian Championships in the mid-‘90s, the fans’ patience was tested severely with only a 2009 title to show for.
The 2011-12 season proved it was worth the wait as HYC Herentals ruled the Belgian league and captured both the national Cup as well as the domestic championship.
Led by a strong core of Belgian players strengthened by a group of imports, Herentals immediately took on the role of the favourite and was able to cope with the pressure that came with it.
While the Belgian Cup final was a close call, a narrow 4-3 win against White Caps Turnhout, the Belgian Championship gave fewer problems. Having won all eight of the preliminary games, Herentals took their dominant play with them in the best-of-five series against IHC Leuven Chiefs.
A 5-3 victory in the opening game had Leuven thinking of an upset but Herentals never let their opponents come close in game 2 (7-2) and game 3 (7-1) and with that captured the league title, going undefeated in 11 games.
For coach Bill Morgan it was special moment to see his son and team captain Vincent Morgan hoist the cup for the first time in his career. Next to that his other son Mitch, one of the few Belgian raised players to have played in the QMJHL, also lifted the cup to make it a perfect night for the Morgan family.
Both players hope to carry over their good form to the Belgian national team which will battle for gold in the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B in Sofia in early April. With 10 players from HYC Herentals on the team, there won’t be a lack of winning attitude within the Belgian national team going up against Bulgaria, Israel, South Africa and China.
JOERI LOONENHYC Herentals won the Belgian title. Photo: Kurt Tops