Future in safe hands
by Henrik Manninen|15 APR 2019
Croatia´s Vilim Rosandic staying calm under pressure to enjoy a shutout against China.
photo: Ivica Veselinov
While the odds appear to be firmly stacked against Croatia for an instant return to Division IB, a small consolation will be the rise of 22-year-old Vilim Rosandic as their starting netminder for years to come.

With a mouthwatering final round of games still to be contested at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division II Group A, top-seeded Croatia is currently occupying third place after their prospects to win gold have slipped out of their own hands.

With Australia being top of standings on 10 points, they are followed by hosts Serbia on 9 while Croatia amassed 8 points. During the final day, the Croats first require a regulation time win against Australia, before rooting for medal chasing Spain to grab at least two points off Serbia during the closing game of the Division II Group A played in Ice Hall Pionir in Belgrade, Serbia.
Australia and host Serbia lead the standings of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A going into the last game day.
photo: Ivica Veselinov
Wholesale changes have seen 12 players from the last year´s roster miss out the chance to try and lift Croatia straight back up to Division IB. While key men such as Borna Rendulic, Ivan Puzic and Mislav Blagus are among the ones sorely missed in Belgrade, one player returning following a two-year hiatus is up-and-coming netminder Rosandic.

Now thoroughly enjoying his first senior World Championship as Croatia´s starter, he has far from given up on their chances to still be able to squeeze past both Australia and Serbia to claim top spot.

“In this division, players make a lot of mistakes, so if all of our guys are working hard, play the system right, we have a chance to win,” said Rosandic ahead of Monday´s vital clash with Australia.

“We also have a couple of skilled guys, Shaone Morrisonn from Asia League who played 500 NHL games and Tom Zanoski. Both play pro hockey which is something our opponents might not have,” said Rosandic. Morrisonn is married to a Croatian woman and played in Croatia during three seasons.

Despite his tender years, Zagreb-born Rosandic made his debut for Banska Bystrica in the Slovak top division, Extraliga as an 18-year-old.

“Hockey is all I have ever played. I started to skate at the age of three and as the level in Croatia was not so high, I left Zagreb for Slovakia as a 13-year-old,” said Rosandic, who picked up skating in the Croatian capital thanks to his older brother Mislav, today a blueliner for the Slovak national team.

“My brother moved to Slovakia when he was 13. I came over a year later to Dubnica where we started our Slovak life. We spend three years together before going separate ways but we both basically spent all our junior years in Slovakia,” said Rosandic.

While his older brother showed promise and so far represented Slovakia at both U18 and U20 World Championships, Vilim soon found himself thrown into the deep end as a netminder in Slovakia´s top division.

“I was 18. I was backing up for two months for Banska Bystrica during a season with many player changes. I came on in the first period and we won, so it was a great first experience with pro hockey. Then next year I was back in the juniors,” he said.

From the anonymity of Slovak junior hockey, he was once thrown into the world of senior hockey as the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B was contested in his native Zagreb. In front of a crowd of 2,800 inside Dom Sportova he got off to a nightmare in his first start in a World Championship at senior level.

“I had already come on against Romania in the previous game which had been great at the age of 19. I then started in the next game against Estonia. I conceded goals right away. Two shots, two goals, but in the end we came back to win the game 5-3. Then I played against Lithuania in the final game as we beat them in a shootout,” he said of a tournament where Croatia finished fourth which now feels like a lifetime ago.

“I am 22 now and it is such a huge difference to when I was 19. It doesn´t matter which level you play at, but taking a step from junior to senior hockey is a big step. Everything is bigger, stronger and faster, so it was a great experience,” said Rosandic.

Stepping up to play regular senior hockey in Slovakia, Rosandic then got two starts for Croatia at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Belfast and was becoming ready to oust Mate Tomljenovic as Croatia´s starting netminder. Having returned to his native Croatia, he enjoyed a fine season with Medvescak Zagreb in the Austrian-based cross-border league EBEL in 2017/18 before being struck by injury right before the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas, Lithuania.

Sidelined for six weeks, it was to be the start of a 12-month roller-coaster ride as financial troubles started to mount over Medvescak Zagreb which in the end saw player contracts being ripped up as they left the club en masse.

“It is hard when you are not able to only focus on hockey and then overnight, we were just told we could leave the club. I was one of the few who first stayed on, but we were losing hard and after a month I wasn´t able to do it anymore,” he said as he jumped at an opportunity to continue the tail end of this season with Nice Aigles in the French Ligue Magnus.

“The French top division is in my opinion underrated. It is a good league and so are the imports. The top teams, such as Rouen, Grenoble and Angers, are strong. So I liked my time there and we also qualified for our first historical playoffs. Although we lost against Grenoble, it was satisfying to know that at least we lost against the French champions,” he said.

With Medvescak Zagreb, in the end, deciding to pull out of the EBEL in January this year, the future of Croatia´s flagship now appears to be in doubt. For Rosandic, his ascent is heading upwards and he is relishing a new challenge come next season after first trying to defy the odds and end the current season on a high with Croatia. 

“It has been a stressful season and I want to turn the page and then in the new season fully enjoy my hockey. But first, I´ll do my best here at the World Championship to try to win promotion and then we´ll see what the options are,” he said.

Watch the Croatia vs. Australia game live in the game centre at 13:00 CET!