Last week Velvet Hockey brought you part one of it's 2013/14 Czech Extraliga preview, looking at the teams who (in the author's opinion) will make up the bottom half of the league. A week on, and it is time to turn to the contenders. From the tradition of Sparta Praha to the youthful Hradec Králové franchise, read below for all the summer news and line-up discussion.
HC Sparta Praha – Is this the year?
Last season: 1st
Last season’s top scorer: Petr Ton (40yo, 50GP 35+32 +27)
Last season’s top goaltender: Tomáš Pöpperle (44GP 1.61GAA 93.6%)
Oh Sparta. Another season where they looked invincible in the regular season, only for it to unravel in the playoffs. It has now been seven years since they last won the Extraliga title, and the Tipsport Arena faithful are starting to get restless. Coaches have come and gone, and one must imagine that Josef Jandáč is on a short leash and the bosses will not be forgiving if results don’t go their way.
|Will Jaroslav Hlinka thrive without Ton?|
Photo: Atte Rissanen, CHL
There is a new dawn at Sparta. Gone is long time hero Petr Ton, Tomáš Rachůnek has moved to Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Tomáš Pöpperle will no longer tend the Sparta net after he signed with KHL newcomers HK Sochi. Joining from Slovak champions HC Košice is Rastislav Staňa. The veteran shot stopper was in inspired form with Košice, posting a 94.4% save percentage in the playoffs. Staňa has never played in the Czech Extraliga before, but has a wealth of SHL and KHL experience and will surely be an asset at this level.
Sparta have taken the adage of offence wins games but defence wins championships, as they have assembled what looks to be the best defence in the Czech Republic. The signings of Marek Ďaloga, Michal Barinka and Juraj Mikúš are a sign of shrewd recruitment, and means that it is going to be very difficult to score goals past Sparta this coming season. Karel Pilář, Jan Svrček and Jan Piskaček remain from last season’s roster, forming an incredibly promising top six.
Up front, the task has been to replace the goals lost by the departure of Petr Ton. Sparta look to be doing this by committee rather than the signing of one star player. Imports Robert Sabolic and Zack Torquato will add some welcome scoring touch, while Martin Réway, one of the most hyped Slovak prospects in recent years, joins Sparta at the tender age of 19 instead of returning to the QMJHL.
37 year old Jaroslav Hlinka may notice a downturn in his form with the loss of top line partner Petr Ton, but look for the former Karlovy Vary pair of Petr Kumstát and Lukáš Pech to add more points than they did last season. 6‘6‘‘ forward Kumstát tallied 18 goals in 2013/14, edging closer to the 27 goal career high he posted in 2011/12 with Karlovy Vary, which made Sparta so adamant to bring him and Pech to the Czech capital. Tomáš Rolínek will captain the side, the former Metallurg Magnitogorsk forward finally settling back in the Extraliga, while Jan Buchtele and new signing Lukáš Cingel will be on task to add further scoring depth. Buchtele scored 35 points in his first season with Sparta in 2013/14
With a number of top players entering their second seasons with the club following the rebuild in 2013, I can see Sparta being even more dominant this season, and with a strengthened back end, it could very easily be their year.
One to watch: Martin Réway (Forward. Last season – Gatineau Olympiques: 43GP 20+42 +13)
|Martin Réway will look to impress with Sparta|
Photo: Vaxjo Lakers, CHL
Top scorer: Jan Buchtele
MVP: Rastislav Staňa
HC Oceláři Třinec – New arena, same goal
Last season: 2nd
Last season’s top scorer: Martin Růžíčka (28yo, 52GP 26+29 -8)
Last season’s top goaltender: Šimon Hrubec (43GP 2.15GAA 92.5%)
|Třinec celebrate winning the Steel Cup.|
Photo: Marian Ježowicz, hcocelari.cz
Třinec come from one of the smallest markets in the Extraliga, but have consistently produced Extraliga contenders for a number of seasons. A true hockey town, the new Werk Arena was presented to the team this off-season, and is a brand new facility to replace the crumbling old rink.
It is a new look team for the new rink as well, as it is out with the old and in with the new. Martin Růžíčka, who broke Ziggy Pálffy’s Extraliga playoff points record on the way to the 2011 title, leaves after signing a two year contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk. Radek Bonk, Jan Peterek and Václav Varaďa have called time on their careers, while David Květoň has signed with Mladá Boleslav.
Goaltending is the only area where there is some stability, as Třinec will put their faith in Šimon Hrubec, who impressed in his first season as an out and out starting goaltender. You have the sense that it is Peter Hamerlík’s last chance to prove himself at the Extraliga level this season, as the 2011 championship winning goaltender really struggled last season.
|Will the grass be greener on the other side for Žejdl?|
Photo: Marian Ježowicz, hcocelari.cz
Třinec have crafted a whole new forward line-up for the 2014/15 season, headlined by the Extraliga return of Zbyněk Irgl. The 33 year old Czech national team regular has not played in the Extraliga for seven years, after leaving Vitkovice, and moves to Třinec after scoring 20 points with Dinamo Minsk last season. Irgl still has plenty of gas in the tank, and while I think he will be a key part of Třinec’s success next season, fans will have to be patient as veterans returning to the Extraliga have often needed a season to become re-accustomed with the league.
Tomáš Plihal signs after a successful spell in Finland, while Vladimir Dravecký and Kamil Kreps will be looking for some stability in their careers with Třinec. Dravecký is a player I rate highly, and believe he should’ve got more of a chance at Slovan than he did. He was over a point per game with Swiss NLB side Ajoie last season, and he can really contribute up front. Another major summer signing is Lukáš Žejdl, from Slavia Praha, who I think is one of the best young forwards in the Extraliga.
Despite all the signings, it could be 32 year old centre Jiří Polanský who is the vital piece of the Třinec puzzle. Two straight seasons of 46 points show that he is truly in the prime of his career, and 5 points in the opening 2 games of the Champions Hockey League season show that the Brno native shows no sign of slowing down.
On the blueline, Rostislav Klesla makes his return to Třinec calling time on his 654 game NHL career. Klesla looked rather uninspired when he played for Třinec during the 2012 lockout, so the Steelers, who won the apt-named Steel Cup in August against Košice and Severstal Cherepovets, will be hoping for better things from their marquee blueline signing. Klesla will join the likes of Marek Trončinský, who gained notoriety during pre-season for scoring this goal during pre-season.
With the addition of Klesla, Třinec have a very strong defence on paper, and Lukáš Galvas, Tomáš Linhart and young gun Vladimir Roth all have the experience and quality to deliver another title to Moravia.
One to watch: Lukáš Žejdl (Forward. Last season – Slavia Praha: 47GP 6+20 +2)
Maybe it’s the Slavia fan in me, but Žejdl, in my opinion, is a top quality young forward who should be getting first line minutes this season. After scoring 26 points with Slavia last season, the big bodied physical forward made the move to the east to play for Třinec, where I think if given top six time, he’ll top 30 points, although that will change if he is forced onto the third line by the log jam of forwards.
Top scorer: Jiří Polanský
MVP: Jiří Polanský
PSG Zlín – Looking for the illusive repeat
Last season: 3rd (But won the Extraliga playoffs)
Last season’s top scorer: Petr Leška (38yo, 52GP, 6+38 +8)
Last season’s top goaltender: Libor Kašík (24GP 1.88GAA 93.6%)
|Pre-season has been kind for Zlin so far|
Photo: Jiří Zaňát, hokej.zlin.cz
Ten years after the Moravian club won their first Extraliga title, PSG Zlín reclaimed the Czech crown in style, mauling Kometa Brno in the 2014 Final. Captain Petr Čajanek lifted the Masaryk Cup to the delight of the Zimni Stadion Ludka Čajky, and capped what was a majestic year for the team that plays in blue and yellow.
It is perhaps unsurprising given Zlín’s devotion to developing home-grown talent, that only a few players have left the club during the summer months, and most have moved on to better leagues. Antonin Honejsek has earned himself a contract in Finland, whilst the New York Rangers signed young defenceman Petr Zámorský, who at 22 years of age, made his World Championship debut for the Czech Republic this year. Zlín moved quickly, penning a deal with veteran defenceman Tomáš Žižka. The 34 year old former NHLer has consistently been one of the top two way defencemen in the Czech Republic for a number of years. Radim Tešařík, after three seasons with Zlín, retires from the game on a high after winning his fifth Extraliga title.
Jiří Marušák will therefore anchor the defence, and his veteran presence will be necessary to help the next generation of Zlín blueliners. Martin Matějiček, Dalibor Řezníček, Patrik Urbanec and Tomáš Valenta are all in their early twenties and have the potential to form a true dynasty of Czech hockey. What makes it all the more special, and what makes Zlín such a likeable club, is that all of these defencemen are from the Zlín region and most were products of Zlín’s youth system.
Also a Zlín junior, Libor Kašík was voted the Czech Extraliga’s best goaltender after posting a 93.6 save percentage in the regular season, which he almost matched in the playoffs. The 22 year old goaltender, who had only played a handful of senior games before last season, truly shone in his first full senior season. Like Plzeň’s Matěj Machovský, Kašík may suffer a sophomore slump, but the ever reliable Luboš Horčička is arguably the Extraliga’s best backup goaltender. People thought Zlín would be in trouble following the departure of Jakub Sedláček to the KHL, but in Kašík, they may have uncovered an even better goaltender.
|Libor Kašík was voted the Extraliga's best goaltender last season|
Photo: Pavel Hrabovský, hokej.zlin.cz
Up front, what would a Zlín team be without Petr Leška and Jaroslav Balaštík. Now 38 and 34 respectively, these two have been the first names on Zlín’s team sheet for nearly a decade, bar Balaštík’s sabbatical with Mláda Boleslav. Leška, who continues to top 40 points each season, is the true face of Zlín hockey, and while the goal scoring touch is starting to leave him, he is still one of the premier playmakers in the Czech Republic. Petr Čajanek returns, and last season’s top playoff scorer has finally become the Extraliga player Zlín needed him to be following his return from the KHL in 2011. Ondřej Veselý, Petr Holík and Bedřich Köhler provide an ample secondary scoring touch, while the signing of Roman Vlach, the son of head coach Rostislav Vlach from Karlovy Vary should easily cover the goals lost by the departure of Honejsek.
All in all, I don’t think Zlín will be able to consistently win enough games to finish top of the regular season table, but I think they have an incredibly good chance, come playoff time, to challenge for the repeat.
One to watch: Petr Holík (Forward. Last season: 51GP 7+16 -4)
Now 22 years of age, Holík may be small in stature, but his high skill level certainly makes up for any deficit in height. The Zlín native dropped off slightly following his 35 point 2012/13 season, but still tallied 23 points and made his Czech senior debut in the Euro Hockey Tour. If paired with sharpshooter Roman Vlach, look for Holík to be pushing 30, if not 40 points this season.
Top Scorer: Petr Leška
MVP: Petr Leška
HC Pardubice – Charging up the table
Last season: 7th
Last season’s top scorer: Tomáš Nosek (21yo, 52GP, 19+25 +44)
Last season’s top goaltender: Július Hudáček (28GP 2.39GAA 92.3%)
What has gone wrong at Pardubice? The 2012 Extraliga champions have been simply awful in the last two seasons, and it’s up to head coach Zdeněk Venera to turn the tide and make Pardubice championship contenders once again. It has been a rough few seasons for Pardubice in the transfer market, as the likes of Petr Koukal, both Jan Kolářs and Robert Kousal have all been snapped up by KHL teams, and it has happened again this offseason. Last season’s top scorer Tomáš Nosek, still only 21 years of age, has been signed by the Detroit Red Wings after going undrafted in the last few seasons.
|Tomáš Halasz has big skates to fill at Pardubice|
Fortunately, Nosek is the only big time player to be leaving Pardubice, as they have managed to retain a strong core of young forwards now entering their prime. Lukáš Radil, Tomáš Zohorna and Radoslav Tybor are three great players to build around, whilst retaining the services of (forward) Jan Kolář was vital after the 33 year old failed to crack the KHL. Radovan Somík also remains, now entering his 8th season with Pardubice. Look for Radil to continue his development into one of the leading scorers in the Extraliga, as the 24 year old tallied 32 points and earned his Czech Republic national team debut last season.
Tomáš Marcinko is Pardubice’s big money forward signing, with the Slovak national team forward, who played at the Olympics, joining the club to provide a solid two way centre who works hard at both ends of the ice. Pardubice don’t need Marcinko to be a 30 goal scorer, they simply need him to be a solid pivot, which Pardubice have somewhat lacked over recent years.
Pardubice will go into the 2014/15 with a brand new tandem in goal though, as Tomáš Halasz and Slovene national team goaltender Robert Kristan join from Olomouc and Nitra respectively. Halasz, who helped Olomouc gain Extraliga promotion last season, has already impressed in a Pardubice jersey, especially after his miraculous performance in the Champions Hockey League against Linkoping. Kristan, the definition of a journeyman joins after a very solid season with Nitra in Slovakia. This new look tandem should certainly do better than the trio of Hudáček, Salfický and Martin Růžíčka. The latter, who backstopped Pardubice to the 2012 title, will look for pastures new following his release after over a decade with his home-town club.
I think the losses of Jiří Vašiček and Marek Ďaloga will be a big blow to Pardubice’s blueline, but with Aleš Píša, Václav Kočí, Václav Benák and Blaz Gregorc returning, the Bohemian side should still be in good hands, and that’s before we even mention the return of one of Pardubice’s favourite sons, Petr Čáslava. The 34 year old defenceman has spent the last four seasons in the KHL, and returns after a pretty poor season captaining Severstal Cherepovets. The mammoth blueliner will not only be a rock on the blueline but will add some necessary scoring on the powerplay
Player to watch: Radoslav Tybor (Last season: 44GP 16+8 +11)
|Slovak forward Radoslav Tybor. One to watch|
Top scorer: Lukáš Radil
MVP: Petr Čáslava
HC Kometa Brno – Ensuring stability
Last season: 6th
Last season’s top scorer: Vojtěch Němec (28yo, 50GP, 20+18 +6)
Last season’s top goaltender: Marek Čiliak (36GP 2.14GAA 91.3%)
The team from the Czech second city has come a long way in the past five years. Replacing Znojmo who sold their Extraliga licence in 2009, Kometa have been the one team in recent memory which has come up from the 1.liga and truly shown itself to be competitive. Kometa have made it to the Extraliga final twice in the past three seasons, but have fallen both times at the final hurdle. It has been agony for some of the most passionate fans in the Czech Republic, but a sign of how far hockey in Brno has progressed over the past decade.
|Brno's home-town hero in pre-season|
Photo: Vladimir Koláček, hc-kometa.cz
Last season saw Kometa lose in the final to Zlín, once again beating Sparta Praha on their march through the playoffs after finishing in 6th place. It was a strange season, as while Kometa’s big names really struggled to find any sort of scoring form, a number of players had their breakout seasons. Most notably, Vojtěch Němec, who at 28 years of age, had previously only managed to score 8 points in a season. However, the Češka Lipa native, more accustomed to spending time in the 1.liga, truly shone scoring 38 points as well as a further 14 in the playoffs.
Alongside Němec was Vilem Burian, who was also another 1.liga regular before tallying 21 points last season. Up front, Kometa have one of the deepest forward line-ups on paper, as Tomáš Svoboda and Jan Hruška have provided ample secondary scoring to the likes of Jakub Svoboda and Hýnek Zohorna over recent years. Last season was one to forget for the latter two forwards, as Svoboda only managed 25 games in an injury plagued season, whilst Zohorna could only muster 13 points last season. If Svoboda and Zohorna can turn things around, Kometa may be on to a winner, and that is even before we have discussed Kometa’s two big money summer signings.
|Petr Ton crashes to the ice during the Rona Cup|
Photo: Vladimir Koláček, hckometa.cz
Firstly, following his bust up with head coach Josef Jandáč, where the Sparta coach benched his top scorer in Game 7 of the playoff semi-finals, Petr Ton has added insult to injury by joining Kometa Brno. Ton, who was the Extraliga’s top scorer after racking up a massive 67 points in 50 games last season, will fit right in on Kometa’s top line, alongside other new signing Tomáš Vincour. The native Brňák struggled to match the high expectations placed on him at Ak Bars Kazan last season, and leaves the KHL to sign for his hometown team. If he stays for the whole season (he has KHL and NHL out clauses in his contract), look for Vincour to be top of the scoring charts. Vincour scored three goals for Kometa as they romped to victory in the Rona Cup in Slovakia a few weeks ago. The team scored fifteen goals in three games to take home the famous pre-season tournament. Most recently, a 2-2 draw with Slovan Bratislava certainly highlights Kometa’s credentials.
Kometa’s forward line-up is as good as any in the Extraliga, but unfortunately, their defence just does not stack up to the other top contenders. Tomáš Žižka has moved to Zlín but has been replaced by Františk Ptáček, and while Jozef Kováčík and Petr Kuboš provide a strong back line, it just lacks the defensive quality needed to lift the Extraliga title. Another area where Kometa will falter will be in goal, and not just because they have Martin Falter. Marek Čiliak was the starter last season, and a 91.3 save percentage will simply not cut it if Kometa want to raise the Masaryk Trophy. At 24 years of age, it is a make or break season for the Slovak netminder.
Player to watch: Michal Kempný (Defenceman. Last season: 51GP 7+8 +10)
At 23 years of age, Kempný, in my opinion, is one of the elite offensive defencemen in the Czech Extraliga. I saw a lot of him during his loan spell with Slavia in 2012/13, and in all honesty he impressed me more than Petr Kadlec, and his booming shot is a vital asset on the powerplay. With the added firepower Kometa have added up front, look for Kempný’s point totals to increase further.
Top scorer: Petr Ton
MVP: Tomáš Vincour
HC Škoda Plzeň – The rebuild continues
Last season: 3rd
Last season’s top scorer: Radek Duda (35yo, 47GP 17+24 +6)
Last season’s top goaltender: Matěj Machovský (36GP 1.67GAA 93.6%)
|Jozef Balej powers away in pre-season|
Photo: Milan Podpera, hcskoda.cz
A couple of teams each year notice a significant drop off in performance in the Czech Extraliga. Last season, Litvínov fell from 6th to 11th, while Kladno were 7th placed finishes in 2012/13, before being relegated last season. Plzeň, who were champions in 2013, had a strong season in 2013/14, finishing in 3rd place with an aging roster. Head coach Milan Razym, who won the Extraliga in his first season with Plzeň, has a lot of work to do to prevent what I predict will be a tougher season this time round.
It is definitely a case of out with the old and in with the...still quite old. Radek Duda, Martin Straka and Tomáš Vlasák have all left the club in one way or another this summer, with 37 year old defenceman Petr Kadlec being one of the Plzeň’s major summer acquisitions. Kadlec has over 1,000 games to his credit with Slavia Praha before leaving in June. The signing of Lukáš Pulpan from Chomutov may also turn out to be a shrewd piece of business.
In the wake of these losses, Plzeň’s forward line up looks decidedly weakened. The elder statesmen, Václav Pletka and Ondřej Kratena remain after positive seasons for both, but at 35 and 37 years of age respectively, one might assume their performance will start to wane. Pavel Kašpařík and Tomáš Sýkora are also entering the twilight of their careers, but may still have one or two good seasons left in them. Additionally, the defence has taken a blow, as Tomáš Frolo, Tomáš Slovak and Jiří Hanzlík have all left, leaving Kadlec as the only defenceman over the age of 30.
|Plzeň celebrate a victory over Nurnburg in pre-season|
Photo: Milan Podpera, hcskoda.cz
Razym has worked to add immediate replacements, bringing back Nick Johnson who impressed in his first spell with the club, as well as veteran Slovak forward Jozef Balej, but the bulk of recruitment has been focused on younger players. Dominík Kubalik and Matěj Beran both join Plzeň upon completion of their Major Junior careers, whilst the signing of former Sparta Praha forward Dominík Simon, who scored a beautiful penalty shot at the 2014 World Junior Championships to beat Canada, may turn out to be one of the signings of the season.
The true wildcard in Plzeň’s lineup will be 21 year old goaltender Matěj Machovský. The Opava native joined Plzeň after a three year spell with the Brampton Battalion in the OHL, and in his debut season in the Extraliga was simply faultless, finishing the season with the Extraliga’s top save percentage. Machovský backed up Patrik Bartošák at the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, but took to the Extraliga like a duck to water. I think Machovský will struggle to replicate his numbers from 2013/14, and with Lukáš Mensator as his backup, any poor form will have direct consequences on the team’s result.
One to watch: Dominík Simon (Forward. Last season – Sparta Praha: 47GP 7+4 +5)
Simon is one of a number of young, exciting Czech forwards who have somewhat gone under the radar but look set to have great European careers. The 20-year old Prague native, a product of the Sparta system, has represented the Czech Republic at every youth level, and was the second top scorer for the Czech Republic at the 2014 World Juniors with 4 points in 5 games. Most notably, he scored this to beat Canada at the 2014 World Junior Championships
Watch for Simon to be one of the breakout stars in the Extraliga this season if he can get quickly accustomed to Milan Razym’s system.
Top scorer: Vacláv Pletka
MVP: Matěj Machovský
HK Hradec Králové – Sophomore Slump
Last season: 5th
Last season’s top point scorer: Jiří Šimánek (35yo, 47GP 25+17 +19)
Last seaon’s top goaltender: Pavel Kantor (45GP 1.80GAA 92.4%)
|Rastislav Dej made the move from Karlovy Vary last summer|
Photo: Stanislav Souček, hkmountfield.cz
The MOUNTFIELD franchise upped sticks in summer last year, moving their franchise from Češke Budějovice to Hradec Králové in the wake of financial issues. While it left a void of hockey in CB, which thankfully was replaced by the Motor franchise, for HK it was a great move for a city which has been looking for top level hockey for a number of years. Last season’s fifth placed finish was a remarkable achievement, helped by an incredible defensive effort which saw the side have the second best defensive record in the Extraliga last season. A quarter-final loss against eventual champions PSG Zlín was unfortunate, with Zlín winning three of these games in overtime. In fact, HK went to overtime 17 times in the regular season alone in 2013/14.
Captain Jiří Šimánek was the symbol of HC MOUNTFIELD’s resurgence last season, and showed what a fresh start can do, as the 35 year old veteran centre scored 42 points and earned himself a spot back in the Czech Republic national team after an absence of three years. Jaroslav Kudrna also turned back the years last season, scoring 34 points in just 35 games after a disappointing year in Liberec last season. Both Šimánek and Kudrna return and are joined by new summer signings Dávid Skokan and Roman Kukumberg. Skokan impressed last season for Slavia, scoring 18 points and being a reliable two way player, and Kukumberg joins HK after a three year spell with Slovan Bratislava, two of those being in the KHL. However, behind these four and Tomáš Mertl, I think HK are a little light up front. Rastislav Dej is a solid two way player, but is never going to be troubling the top points scorers.
|Slovak NT regular René Vydarený impressed last season|
Photo: Stanislav Souček, mountfieldhk.cz
Therefore, it is integral that HK continue playing their defensive brand of hockey instilled by coach Peter Draisatl, father of 2014 NHL Draft first rounder Leon. The Slovak trio of Peter Frühauf, Peter Mikuš and René Vydarený were in top form last season, providing a solid backbone to which protect Pavel Kantor. The 23-year old was tasked with replacing Jakub Kovář in the CB net, but looked out of his depth in 2012/13. However, with a solid defence in front of him, Kantor looked every bit the Extraliga starter many predicted him to be from his days in the Češke Budějovice system. HK have also made strides to make their defence even better. Tomáš Slovak joins from Plzeň, along with Jiří Vašíček, who in my opinion is one of the premier two way defencemen in the country. Completing HK’s top six is Bohumil Jank, one of the best young Czech defencemen.
With only two wins out of five in pre-season, I think that on paper Hradec Králové have strengthened, but I can see them just falling short of last year’s standards. I think they lack depth up front, and are relying on players who perhaps overachieved last year. They will still make the playoffs, but will have to go through the play-ins
One to watch: Bohumil Jank (Defenceman. Last season: 24GP 1+2 +1)
Jank is not one to watch in terms of excitement, as the 22 year old blueliner plays a no-nonsense defensive brand of hockey. However the Milevsko native brought through the CB system has represented his country at every junior age level and his great performances last season were rewarded with his senior team debut in the Euro Hockey Tour. Standing at 6’2’’, Jank is the sort of defenceman that teams win with, and he is only going to get better.
Top scorer: Jiří Šimánek
MVP: René Vydarený