Centennial celebration with championship
by Juraj Hudak|04 MAY 2022
The Slovan Bratislava players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Slovak Extraliga.
photo: hcslovan.sk
Slovan Bratislava won the Slovak Extraliga during their 100-year anniversary season. The special achievement came after an incredible performance in the final series against HK Nitra, which Slovan won 4-2.

“The pressure was huge, but we believed in this team. If they play their own hockey, I’m afraid. We played a tough series against HC Kosice in the semi-finals, and we knew the same performance against Nitra can bring us the title,” said Slovan head coach Andrej Podkonicky after the deciding 5-2 victory in the sixth game.

The former player experienced a special season. In February he won the historic bronze medal with the Slovak national team at the Beijing Olympics as an assistant coach to Craig Ramsay and now he celebrates the title with the legendary Slovak club.

“It’s a reward for work what I do. I just find myself on the right path,” acknowledges the young coach who brought Slovan to the ninth Slovak Extraliga title.

But this club had to wait for this chance for ten years. After winning the title in 2011/12, they decided to move to the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) where they spent seven seasons. In 2019/2020 the club came back to the domestic league, which however was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The following season Slovan Bratislava lost in the semi-finals against the later champion from Zvolen. But this year everything went the right way for Slovan.

“I am proud of this team. We played for each other. But it’s not only about the players. We had a great staff from the locker room to the people in the offices and team management,” said Michal Sersen.

The Slovan captain remembers all those past years with ups and downs in KHL and then moving back to home league, where he finally celebrates the fourth title with Slovan.

“This is so special for me. To rise up the trophy a champion during the 100-year anniversary of the club is something which I wasn’t even dreaming about. It’s a big honour for me,” admits Sersen.

It was a bitter taste for the players of the host club that only won two games in the final series. Despite that, it was incredible run for the team from Nitra.

“It’s all about goals, chances and following the system. Slovan did it better,” said Nitra head coach Antonin Stavjana.

“Slovan won four games and that’s why they are the champions. We lacked of experienced and healthy players. Our key players were demolished and their performance wasn’t as we were expecting,” concluded Stavjana.

But the Czech coach had a couple of young and talented players who could be the future stars. Only because of them Nitra made it to the final. “There is nothing worse than losing the final,” said 23-year-old Samuel Bucek, who scored 54 goals in the season.

“But we just struggled in our chances and didn’t score goals, that’s hockey. But the season was incredible. No one would say that we can end up in to the final. But it will take us a long time from now,” said young forward who won the MVP of the season.

Slovan forward Marcel Hascak knows how it is to be on the losing side. He played for his hometown team HK Poprad, which lost in the final against Zvolen a year ago.

“I exactly know how Samo (Bucek) feels right know. I was scoring goals last season and became the best player, but someone else was celebrating the title. Such hard memories for me,” acknowledged the 35-year-old forward, who scored 84 points last season.

But now it was different for him. The entire team made a big run during the whole season. Even with the change of the coaching staff in February – Robert Dome was replaced by Andrej Podkonicky. And the new coach had to make lineup changes straightaway.

“We had a winning streak after that, which motivated players in a positive way. We just told them to keep working hard, which could bring them this achievement at the end,” said Podkonicky.

“We brought Marcel Hascak, who didn’t play much in Brno, but we knew he is leading scorer. He had difficult playoffs but he helped us so much in the regular season,” the 43-year-old coach said.

Although Nitra was a tough opponent for Slovan, Podkonicky acknowledged that the rivalry in the semis against HC Kosice was harder. Slovan had to play seven games in that series with Game 7 being decided in overtime.

“Nitra has a young team, no one expected them to be in the final. They made a good job, but Kosice was the harder challenge for us,” Podkonicky added.

Liptovsky Mikulas stays

While Slovan and Nitra were fighting for the title, Liptovsky Mikulas was facing relegation against Zilina. But the last-ranked team of the season had to fight for the place in the Extraliga in only five games. 

Liptovsky Mikulas won the series 4-1 and maintains their place in elite league for the next season. In the fifth game Liptovsky Mikulas didn’t give their opponents any chance and blanked Zilina 4-0 on home ice.

“We had a different goal for this season but we are so grateful for remaining in the Extraliga,” said captain Martin Kriska, who scored a hat trick in the final game of the series.

“It was even the first time in my senior career. I am so happy that I did it in such an important game for us,” added 37-year-old forward of Liptovsky Mikulas.

On the other side Zilina had to deal with a bitter loss. They were fighting to move up to the Extraliga for a second year in a row, but they failed again. Last year they lost the series against Spisska Nova Ves.

“Someone has to win; someone has to lose. And we are the losing team again. These is such a cruel time for us, but that’s hockey. We put everything in it, but it didn’t work out. Our opponent was better,” said Zilina forward Jaroslav Markovic.