ZVOLEN, Slovakia – In total HC Kosice scored as many goals as their opponents in the Slovak Extraliga finals. Yet after the fifth game, HKM Zvolen clinched the series 4-1 and showed it doesn’t matter by what score you win.
Kamil Brabenec couldn’t have found a better time to tip in the rebound. With the deciding game tied at 1-1 and 90 seconds left on the clock, the Czech forward reacted quickest to a loose puck in the crease to give Zvolen a 2-1 lead and earn the team their second ever Slovak Extraliga title.
“It’s nice to score the decisive goal, but not just for me but for the whole team,” the Zvolen hero composedly spoke. “I’m glad that we won the title in our own arena and it’s one of the highlights of my career that I finally managed to win a championship.”
That Extraliga title can be largely contributed the 36-year-old Brno, Czech Republic born forward. After a lifelong career in his home country and Sweden he moved to Zvolen two seasons ago and has been playing as if in his mid 20s.
In the final series against Kosice, Brabenec was lethal scoring three game-winning goals in an otherwise very close final series.
After both teams traded third-period goals the Czech veteran was the lone player to find the net in the decisive penalty shoot out.
One day later, the same player was receiving the plaudits. His goal with 100 seconds left to play doubled Zvolen’s lead to 2-0 in game 2 of the series. The goal fell at a moment when Kosice was close to tie the game enjoying a two-man advantage. Marcel Hascak did manage to bring Kosice back to within one goal but once again Zvolen came out on top of this close contest with a 2-1 victory.
Frustrated by the two narrow losses, HC Kosice came out flying in game 3 on home ice. They peppered the Zvolen net with 22 shots in the first period. At that moment it was Zvolen netminder Marek Simko who kept his team in the game allowing just a single goal. Kosice had to pay a heavy price for their lack of efficiency in front of net. As the game went on, Zvolen took more control of the game and eventually turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory thanks to goals of Lukas Jurik and Andrej Podkonicky.
With HC Kosice fighting for their last chance their offence finally clicked in game 4. Dusan Pasek scored a hat trick in a game in which Kosice took a 6-0 lead and eventual 6-2 victory before sending the series back to Zvolen.
Kosice drew first blood with the early goal they had hoped for. Patrik Svitana let a wrist shot go from the left faceoff circle less than three minutes into the game which seemed to have the Kosice offence resurgent.
But after that it was the same old movie again. Zvolen pulled off a repeat performance that they showed in the first three games of the series and stoically executed their hard-nosed and difficult to beat game plan. Helped with some miraculous saves of Marek Simko, Zvolen kept the score close and were not shy of luck either.
After 35 minutes, Andrei Podkonicky found the puck in front of him after cleverly using his right skate. His backhand effort was only partly parried by goaltender Alexander Hylak and flew high into the air. In an effort to stop the puck from going in Martin Strbak made a last ditch catching effort while tumbling over his own netminder but failed miserably causing the home crowd to erupt.
In the third period both teams wasted a string of chances to earn their team the lead until “King Kamil” stepped forward and did the thing he had been doing twice before this series.
With time running out on the clock and the fans already anticipating on an overtime period, Peter Zuzin broke free on the right side and had a tape perfect pass to Podkonicky in front of net. Kosice goaltender Hylak made a brilliant save but was helpless when Brabenec outfought Dusan Pasek at the far post to tip home another game-winning goal in yet another one goal difference game.
The player himself remains fairly modest about his heroics. “It was just coincidence,” he claimed afterwards. “The first one came during a penalty shoot out, the second one due to a mistake in the Kosice defence and today’s goal was a simple tip-in. The whole team deserves the credit more than I do. I was just piece of the puzzle that fell perfectly together in the playoffs.”
Kosice forward Gabriel Spilar was realistic after the game and admitted defeat. “We should not complain about a lack of luck after our series against Nitra and Poprad earlier in the playoffs. I guess we had used up all our luck for the playoffs at the time we started the final series. Zvolen has an experienced squad and scored at the right moments.”
The title is just Zvolen’s second one in Extraliga history and first one since 2001. It did come somewhat surprising but therefore not less deserved.
With Slovan Bratislava having departed the league to play in the KHL, there was huge concerns Slovan’s main rival HC Kosice would take the reign and dominate the Extraliga. Perhaps and outsider team like HC Skalica, with the league top scorer Zigmund Palffy in their troops, would be able to cause some disturbance but virtually the title race was already decide before it even started.
Although Kosice participated in the Extraliga finals for the sixth consecutive years, the season played out differently than many expected.
Having started without high expectation, SHK Piestany finished fourth and eventually fell to Zvolen in seven games in the semi-finals. The team took over the spot that Slovan Bratislava had left and proved to be an immediate hit in the Extraliga.
HKM Zvolen led the league from start to finish thanks to a roster with several experienced Slovak Extraliga players and a very successful defensive system deployed by coach Peter Mikula. Several players had career seasons and surely took their game to another level.
The new champions also showed to be masters in deciding close games, winning 12 out of 16 games in overtime or a shootout this season. With that they justified the ancient sports cliché that it doesn’t matter how often you score but it’s when scoring the goals is what really matters.