Sunday, March 20, 2005

 

EuroUpdate: More March Madness

The semi-finals are set, plus the latest from Europe.

1. Markus Naslund will join Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg in NOT playing to Team Sweden at the upcoming World Championships. All I can say is, "Who's next"? If the Sedinbots, Mattias Ohlund, and Daniel Alfredsson want to join them on the sidelines, why wait? :) Team Sweden's loss is Team Slovakia's gain, after all.

2. SC Bern of the Swiss League set a European attendance record and was the top club for the 4th straight year in figures released by the Euro-centric IIHF recently.

With 15,360 average attendance per game, it's strange that they were the ONLY Swiss club to make the Top 20. No love for the other teams, Swiss people?

4 Czech clubs made the Top 20: Pardubice, Slavia, Sparta, and Plzen. The Germans and Swedes had 5 clubs each in the Top 20. It's no surprise that no Slovak clubs made the top list, as many of the stadiums don't hold more than 2,000-3,000 people.

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Czech Extraleague Semi-Final Matchups



#1 Hamé Zlin vs. #7 Vitkovice

I made the dumb mistake of totally writing off the well-coached Vitkovice squad prior to their demolition of the tinmen of Sparta Prague. It would be foolish to discount Vitkovice totally, but the on-paper matchup looks just as unbalanced for Vitkovice as it did in the first round.

Unfortunately for Vitkovice, Zlin doesn't suffer from heart problems (aka New York Rangers disease). The best defensive squad of the regular season and last year's champions, Hame Zlin have the incredible depth that Sparta have, only with much more balance and actual forwards who know how to backcheck!!
Instead of floaters like Jan Hlavac and an uninspired Martin Havlat, Zlin has gritty 2-way players like Radek Bonk and Petr Cajanek.

Key Players: Pavel Kubina - The MVP of the first round, Kubina did a great job to help shut down the potent Sparta offense while piling up 2 goals and 5 assists in 5 games.

Marek "Cinderella" Pinc - The Vitkovice goaltender hasn't yet turned into a pumpkin and may yet steal another series for the Ostravans.

Petr Cajanek/Radek Bonk - The C/LWers have been splitting each others ice time and their first round production wasn't anything to jump around about (3 and 2 points in 6 games, respectively). While the balanced Zlin attack had no problems scoring, it would help immensly if these two could join in on the parade.

Predicition: Zlin in 6 - Vitkovice could steal 2 at home, but the clock is about to strike 12

#3 Pardubice vs. #5 Liberec

Both teams are coming off of tough 7-game first round series. While the heavily favoured Pardubice squad almost fell to Kladno, Liberec managed to fight off a 3-2 deficit to overcome the favoured Slavia Prague.
(break it down!)
Goaltending: Jan Lasak (PAR) vs Milan Hnilicka (LIB).
Both teams have goalies with shaky NHL resumes and a tendancy to run HOT/COLD. Right now, both goalies are red-hot and makes this a fairly even matchup. Lasak has the proven 'winning' experience that Hnilicka does not, which could come in handy.

Defense: With the addition of Jaroslav Modry from the injury ranks, Liberec boasts a rather deep defense. Modry, Jiri Fischer, and Tomas Kloucek join Ducks uber-prospect Ladislav Smid and Gölbez favourite Valdemar Jirus to give the White Tigers a big, tough defense corps to protect Hnilicka from 90-foot blasts.

Pardubice counters with a very good Extraleague-based group of its own, but Michal Rozzival is the only NHLer on their D-corps. A nice edge to Liberec here.

Forwards: Liberec has the spunky duo of Radim Vrbata and Ales Kotalik plus the never-seems-to-develop Vaclav Nedorost. Compare this to Pardubice who has Milan Hejduk, Jan Bulis, and Ales Hemsky. Pardubice also has great Extraleague stars like Michal Mikeska (leading regular season scorer), Jiri Dopita (the Oilers fan favourite), and waterbug Petr Prucha.
While Pardubice's forwards can let their defense slip somewhat, they are still much deeper and skilled up front than Liberec. It's quite a big advantage.

Prediction: Liberec in 7 - I like to pick one upset every round and this has the best potential. Pardubice had far too many problems defensively against Kladno, and Liberec has the defense to stop many of the weapons in Pardubice's arsenal...plus the fact that Pardubice has a 'choker' label around its neck for the past many years.

Slovak Extraleague Playoff Matchups



#1 Zvolen vs. #4 Kosice

The most lopsided matchup of the semi-finals, Zvolen boasts more depth, quality, and star power than the underdogs from Kosice.

Goaltending: Krazy Karol Krizan was the Extraleague's best goaltender this past season, and it will up to Kosice to steal his medication if they want to score any goals. Kosice's Jan Laco is red-hot himself, but he doesn't have the proven resume of success that Krizan has.

Offense: Both teams feature rosters full of Extraleague stars that nobody outside of myself and most Slovaks would recognize. Even so, Zvolen has the edge with their depth and experience.

The 'X-Factor' will be the performance of the NHLers for each respective squad.
Zvolen has featured the Orszagh-Handzus-Zednik line for most of the season. This unit has been asked to play a more defensive role (Given how many offensive-minded forwards Zvolen already has), and has done a great job in this respect. The problem is that their offensive abilities haven't truly shown themselves this season. You get the feeling that this line could tear a whole in the Extraleague if they ever 'clicked'.
Kosice has Jiri Bicek (who has played well) and Martin Cibak (who has played poorly). That's an obvious mismatch, and the Zvolen squad has the absolute advantage on the Offense department.

Zvolen also boasts a much more robust defensive corps.
Kosice's advantage? The home crowd! Kosice went 20-5-2 in their home rink this season (which has a maximum capacity of 2,000 fans). Until they get new and improved digs, their home stadium packs a whole lot of heat with a rabid and hardcore group of fans.

Prediction: Zvolen in 6 (Kosice gets 2 at home and that's it)

#2 Slovan Bratislava vs #3. Dukla Trencin

The evil Slovan team versus the 'Factory' in the best looking semi-final matchup since Anna Kournikova played anyone in such a match.

Defense: Slovan has the best Goals-Against-Average during the regular season, but can't decided which goalie to play! Just like the Minnesota Wild, Slovan has been rotating their goaltending duo (Libor Barta and Pavol Rybar). Both played 3 games in the first round, and you'd have to think that could backfire on them at any time. Dukla, on the other hand, relies more on a team-based defensive effort rather than the exploits of their goalie Miroslav Hála.

Defensively, Lubomir Visnovsky has been, by far, the most valuable defenseman in the Slovak Extraleague this year (just like old times). The defensive advantage goes to Slovan, and they will need it against the Three Musketeers.

Offense: Every Extraleague goalie has nightmares of facing the trio of Pavol Demitra, Marian Hossa, and Marian Gaborik. Now that Hossa has recovered from the ankle injury that kept him out of Round One, it will be open season on poor Barta/Rybar once again.

Since Martin Hanzal is still suspended for smoking a doobie, Slovan could have a shot if they can somehow slow down or stop the Big 3. Still, Dukla has a potent second line of Extraleague stars (Jan Pardavy, Peter Fabus, and Anton Lezo).

Slovan features a more 'balanced' attack consisting of Miroslav Satan and his Extraleague minions. Slovan does have the advantage of more depth up front (4 lines of good players), so they can hold their own in any shootout.

Which Dukla team will show up? When Hossa and Gaborik left for a vacation in Sweden, Dukla couldn't buy a win most nights. Now that those 2 are back, Dukla seems unbeatable again.
If Slovan can't keep out of the penalty box and/or do a great job on the penalty kill, they will overwhelmed.

Prediction: Dukla Trencin in 6

Comments:
There was a spelling mistake in your entry, since I know there is no way Radek Bonk was described as "gritty". "shitty" would have been correct.

-Hockey Spelling Popo
 
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