THE HAGUE, Netherlands – With their third title in five years, HYS The Hague reclaimed supremacy of the Dutch Eredivisie. The team coached by former NHLer Alexander Selivanov led the league from start to finish and finished the playoffs unbeaten. Arch-rivals Tilburg Trappers were beaten in three games in the final.
“It’s a great, great time, look at the atmosphere here in the arena,” the winning coach said. “We fully deserved it after winning all six playoff games. It’s been a super series.”
Although HYS The Hague had won five of the six games during the regular season series, it was Tilburg who came out of top in the Dutch Cup semi-final. Three unanswered third period goals in a span of just 90 seconds paved the path to a 6-3 victory in Game 1 before the show moved to Tilburg.
The second game, in front of 2,200 spectators, was a very close encounter which needed penalty shots to be decided. After HYS The Hague defensemen Eddie DelGrosso’s attempt was initially ruled off, referee Debby Hengst changed her mind and revoked her decision resulting in The Hague taking a 2-0 series lead.
“The puck was sitting on my leg guard and I saw the ref making the no-goal sign,” Tilburg goalie Ian Meierdres said afterwards. “Then I moved and the puck ended up in the goal. It’s a pity the game is decided in such a way and not in a 20-minute overtime.”
After taking an early lead in Game 3, Tilburg gave up four goals and had their backs against the wall. For a moment it looked like the team would be able to mount a dramatic comeback and nearly did, but fell short by one goal and thus second place in a 5-4 loss, giving HYS The Hague its first league title since 2011.
“If you win a best-of-five series in three games you can say it is deserved,” realized HYS forward Jan-Jaap Natte. “I think experience was the key to our victory. We can ice three mature lines and can use speed in our advantage.”
Having qualified for the playoffs without too much problems, HYS were given the opportunity to take revenge for last year’s loss in the playoff final when they had to play the 2011-12 champions Smoke Eaters Geleen in the semi-finals.
By putting up a very dominant performance, HYS immediately sent out a message to any team that thought their lack of roster depth might become an issue. With scores of 11-0, 8-5 and 7-2, the blue and red squad showed zero signs of slowing down or even giving their opponents a slight chance to take the momentum away.
“Playoff hockey is different,” said Selivanov. “These games are won by the mind and my team is mentally very strong at this moment.”
With their own playoff series wrapped up, the attention switched to the other series final between Tilburg Trappers and Friesland Flyers. This series also ended up in a sweep but with far tighter scores including an overtime win and penalty shoot-out.
But Tillburg wasn’t able to keep the magic going agains HYS in the final, and after the Game 3 loss said goodbye to veteran defenceman Rody Jacobs, who has played for the team since 1995, as well as coach Barry Smith. The American head coach will be coaching the Dutch national team during the upcoming Division IB championships in Ukraine before embarking a new adventure for next season.
Chiefs back in command
LEUVEN, Belgium – For the third time in its existence IHC Leuven Chiefs were crowned Belgium’s best. In an all decisive third game in the final series, White Caps Turnhout was beaten 5-2.
The Chiefs’ Dries Steijnen with the Belgian trophy. Photo: IHCL.be
With just one overtime loss in 18 games, Leuven Chiefs headed into the playoffs as the clear favourites.
“Reaching the Belgian Cup final and winning the Belgian championship were our targets this season,” said Leuven media officer Bart de Keyser. “We knew Turnhout and Phantoms Antwerp would be our main competitors.”
Floating through the quarter and semi-finals, Leuven got off to a hot start in game 1 against Turnhout thanks to a 5-1 victory. But the White Caps were not going to surrender as easily as previous opponents had done.
The team was forced to recover from disastrous last season marked with on and off-ice incidents and started this season with a rejuvenated squad. Turnhout ran out to a 3-0 lead in game 2 and never looked back. Although Leuven Chiefs managed to cut the deficit to a single goal, a third decisive game was on the line.
With tensions running high, both teams were even for the first 40 minutes. Leuven gained the edge and went up 2-1, setting up the decisive in which the Chiefs first not only survived a 3-on-5 short-handed situation but also managed to extend the lead to 3-1.
It proved to be turning point of the game. Both teams exchanged another goal before Yoren De Smet scored an empty netter as icing on the cake for Leuven.
“To have made it to the finals with this young but talented team is already far more than we dreamt off,” White Caps chairman Johnny Baudewyn commented. “The future of this club is very promising.”
Whether that means that they or Chiefs Leuven will make the step to the Dutch league, as top Belgian team HYC Herentals has done, remains to be seen. As of this moment there is no such indication. It is apparent that the gap between Herentals and Chiefs Leuven has grown large. This was best seen during the Belgian Cup final in which Herentals was allowed to participate and easily skated away with the cup after a 10-2 victory, so a move to stay competitive might be in order.