MLADA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic – In the 21st century there’s plenty of help available for rookies. Whether you’re searching for a handbook for first-time buyers, first-time parents or even first-time principals. But you’ll head out of library disappointed when you find out there’s no handbook for first-time promoted hockey teams.
In the year that BK Mlada Boleslav celebrated its 100-year anniversary, it was rewarded with the best gift possible: The promotion to the Czech Extraliga for the first time in club history.
The question for the culb this summer was how to get a competitive team on the ice and ensure the stay in the top flight lasts more than just a single year. History has proven there are several ways to answer that question.
Consider the Czech Republic promotion and relegation results since the Extraliga introduced the series in 2000:
Karlovy Vary *
* denotes Extraliga status retained
Each team has its own history and future after earning promotion to the Extraliga. Traditional Extraliga teams Ceske Budejovice and Kladno returned after a one-year stint in the second league. Both had a poor season and made sure things turned around in time, both are also now stable Extraliga teams.
Znojmo Orli took full advantage of the name it had built. Despite not having a big budget, it was a favourite for players. This was strengthened by the family-like environment, which ensured a safe place in a rather small town. The past few years Znojmo has made a name for itself for developing unknown players into established Extraliga players. However, there are rumours that the team will move to ambitious neighbour Olomouc, which is run by legend Jiri Dopita.
Liberec’s promotion was fuelled by the money of a local building tycoon, enabling the team to make the immediate jump from 1. Liga to the top of the Extraliga. A position they are still in today.
The downfall of Vsetin has been highlighted on IIHF.com before.
That leaves Havirov, Dukla Jihlava and Slovan Usti nad Labem. After their relegations, they never made a comeback to the top level. They struggled both financially and with management. To gain short term success, the teams acquired a large number of veteran players who could not live up to expectations. Jihlava’s fate was sealed when they were unable to add any NHL players during the NHL lock-out.
Mlada Boleslav’s fate won’t be known for at least a year but they have been chasing promotion for the last three seasons. Initially, they tried to move up with a roster full of Extraliga veterans. Twice they found their Waterloo in Slovan Usti nad Labem. Last year they changed strategies and went with young players and 1. Liga prospects. It paid off as the team was successful in their promotion series against Usti nad Labem. Backed by Skoda, they have secured a solid financial position.
The team installed a new General Manager this summer, Cyril Suk. Although he doesn’t hold a strong hockey pedigree, he has a wealth of experience on and off the field. Suk is a former tennis player who won five Grand Slam and 32 ATP tournaments and held management positions after his playing career. “Mr. Suk has a long-time experience with sports in general and was the leader of our Davis Cup team. We are convinced his personality, leadership skills, knowledge in sports and network will be of great value to our team’s goal to stay in the Extraliga,” says Mlada Boleslav’s PR manager Petr Plintovic to IIHF.com.
Asked about the team’s ambitions, the new General Manager is crystal clear. “To survive in the Extraliga this year and the years to come.” Nevertheless, all 14 Extraliga teams will try the same, so what sets Mlada Boleslav apart from the others. Suk: “We have a group of people here that have been working hard to get to the Extraliga for the past four years. Now we’re finally there, I’m convinced their experience and enthusiasm will be a key to our success.”
A stable organisation is a must for a successful season but also on the ice the players will have to produce. The team welcomed a number of new faces who bring both experience and talent.
Between the pipes, Jan Chabera has a chance to step out of Roman Turek’s shadow. Stuck as a back-up, Chabera will now look to show that he’s a worthy Extraliga goaltender. Defensively, Marek Posmyk (from Ceske Budejovice), Robert Schnabel (Kladno), Jiri Marusak (Vitkovice) and Martin Cech (Zlin) bring loads of experience and ensure no player on defence will be without Extraliga experience going into the season. Offensively, Mlada Boleslav obtained the services of Slovakian power forward Roman Tomas (Trinec), Martin Strba (Sparta Prague) and German Jan Benda (Litvinov).
“The gap between 1.Liga and Extraliga is really big so it’s very important to us to have these new players here to help us stay in the top league,” Suk says. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get more funds from sponsors in order to continue strengthening our team”. One of the sources for those funds might be the earlier mentioned Skoda company. The link between the team and the long-time hockey-supporting company is easily made. “Skoda has the main factory in Mlada Boleslav,” the General Manager says. “It is also good for them to have a team sponsored by them playing in the Extraliga and to have people who work in the local factory, our regular fan base, enjoy high quality entertainment.”
The team also saw a new man arrive behind the bench. Petr Kankovsky, who guided them to the Extraliga, was suddenly sent away. Although no official reason was given, Suk admitted, “there were major problems in the dressing room which left us with no other choice than to part ways with Mr. Kankovsky.” He was replaced by former national team player Jiri Sejba while another national team legend, Leo Gudas, stays as the assistant coach.
On Tuesday the team debuted in the Extraliga with a 1-0 defeat at Vitkovice Ostrava despite outshooting them 32-30. The pre-season results give reason for optimism from the following games. Mlada Boleslav defeated several Extraliga teams in the TipSport Cup including high flying Sparta Prague (2-0), Pardubice (5-2) and Liberec (2-1). In the pre-season opener, they lost just 1-0 to Spartak Moscow, who was already well underway in their campaign. It remains to be seen whether Mlada Boleslav can take its pre-season form into the regular season but the preconditions are in place for reaching the target of avoiding relegation.
- Despite never playing at the top level, Mlada Boleslav has a few familiar NHL faces from the town. The most notable native of Mlada Boleslav is Radim Vrbata. Originally a seventh-round pick by Colorado in 1999, Vrbata went on to play over 400 NHL games. Last season he posted career numbers for Phoenix before moving to the Tampa Bay.
- Another Mlada Boleslav native has seen NHL action is St. Louis Blues goaltender Marek Schwarz.
- Vaclav Pletka also hails from Mlada Boleslav. The former Philadelphia draft pick was called up for an NHL game in 2002 and played two seasons for the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms. Currently, Pletka plays for HC Liberec.
- The most successful NHL player from Mlada Boleslav is Jiri Hrdina. The forward joined the NHL at the age of 30, arriving with the Calgary Flames during the 87-88 season and winning the Stanley Cup straight that same season. Later, he moved to Pittsburgh where he won another two Stanley Cups alongside Jaromir Jagr. It was Hrdina, who stuck to Jagr when he first moved to North America and helped him acclimate. After retiring in 1992, Hrdina became a scout for Calgary and Dallas.