Licina: “It’s pretty special”
by Martin Merk|14 DEC 2019
Sisak-born Tomislav Licina had his men’s national team debut in his hometown as Croatia beat Bulgaria 12-1 in its Olympic Qualification campaign.
photo: Igor Soban / Pixsell

When Croatia hosts international ice hockey, as it will do next spring with the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A, the venue is traditionally Dom Sportova, the house of sports, in the capital of Zagreb.

That’s no surprise. Zagreb is the most populous city and none of the other big, mostly coastal cities in the country has a permanent, full-size ice hockey rink.

Sisak, with a population of about 48,000 the tenth-biggest city in the country and about halfway between Zagreb and the border to Bosnia & Herzegovina, is thus Croatia’s second-largest hockey town. It battles in the Croatian championship as the only club not from the capital with several Zagreb-based clubs.

The local club was founded in 1934 and the old version of the local ice rink, Ledena Dvorana Zibel, opened as a rather simple open-air rink in 1971 with an international game between Medvescak Zagreb and Tesla Pardubice from Czechoslovakia. In 2017 it was converted into an indoor arena for about 2,000 spectators.

The Croatian Ice Hockey Association used this opportunity to bring the Men’s Olympic Pre-Qualification Round 2 Group M to Sisak as the first IIHF-sanctioned international ice hockey tournament for the city and for any Croatian city but Zagreb. For once the national team players, mostly from Zagreb, travel further southeast to be watched by hockey fans in Croatia’s second city for hockey. Having just four national teams in each group (compared to six in most tournaments of the World Championship program) makes it easier to use a smaller facility.

That’s most special for Tomislav Licina, the only player from Sisak on the roster. For the former U20 national team player it was also his first game with the men’s national team. The young forward played on the fourth line but enjoyed each of his eight shifts in the 12-1 win over Bulgaria to start Croatia’s Olympic Qualification campaign in his hometown.

“I was born in Sisak, grew up in Sisak. It’s pretty special and I’m proud of it,” said Licina, who also had some club experience in Zagreb but currently plays the Croatian championship for his hometown club KHL Sisak.

“It’s a small town with a lot of heart. Hockey heart and in general,” he describes the city, which serves as capital of the Sisak-Moslavina country.

It has been a good start for the team so far with the high-score win against Bulgaria. “We mostly outskated them, we were the better team on the skates. That’s why we won,” Licina said after the Friday night game. “It was pretty easy but you never know what comes tomorrow. It can be an easy game today but a tough one tomorrow.”

Croatia will play Turkey on Saturday, like Bulgaria another team from lower tiers of the World Championship program that they don’t play normally and where the home crowd expects a clear win. And then comes the much-anticipated battle for tournament win with neighbouring country Serbia with a less predictable outcome. The tournament winner will move on to the third round of the Olympic Qualification and keep hopes for Beijing 2022 alive.

It’s definitely some days of fine hockey for the population in Sisak, which was named as a European City of Sports for 2019 by the non-profit organization ACES Europe thanks to its various facilities and sports programs and 38 per cent of its inhabitants being engaged in sports.

And those not in Sisak can follow all games in the live stream in the game centre on